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When David Rhoa was looking to expand his business to a second location, he did his homework, researching various cities in a three-state area.
It didn’t take him long to conclude that South Bend would be the ideal spot.
A leading provider of document creation, mail assembly, mail processing, presorting, data management, digital marketing and distribution services, Lake Michigan Mailers had been located in Michigan since its beginnings in 1977 and headquartered in Kalamazoo, Mich., since 1999.
|David Rhoa, president of Lake Michigan Mailers|
Rhoa, president of Lake Michigan Mailers, had already been researching the possibilities for a new location for some time.
On a visit to a business exposition hosted by the Chamber of Commerce of St. Joseph County in 2006, he learned of the Business Growth Initiative, a unique partnership between the City of South Bend and the Chamber. The initiative was formed in 2006 as a way to reach out and support local businesses.
“The City of South Bend recognizes that government does not create jobs,” says South Bend Mayor Stephen J. Luecke. “Most of our expansion will come from existing companies in the community, not by recruiting from the outside. Our job is to facilitate development by the private sector. It is important to maintain good communication with the business community, to identify and assist local companies that have the potential to grow.”
As an outgrowth of the initiative, Rhoa was introduced to Phil D’Amico, who was then newly appointed as director of business growth. D’Amico quickly arranged a meeting to discuss what South Bend could do for Lake Michigan Mailers.
At the time, Rhoa says, he was struck by the city’s “culture of growth.”
“As a person coming into the market from outside, it’s clear to see that South Bend wants to grow, to diversify and to be on the leading edge of economic development,” Rhoa says. “I find that very encouraging. We looked at cities in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, and it became quickly apparent that South Bend offered an environment that was very welcoming of new business.”
It also became very clear to Rhoa just how far that welcome would extend.
“After we made the announcement that we were coming to South Bend, Phil said to me, ‘And, of course, you’re going to apply for a tax phase-in,’” Rhoa recalls.
Rhoa was floored. He hadn’t even considered that, coming as he did from many years of experiencing an abatement process in Michigan that was essentially closed to his type of business.
“I said to Phil, ‘But we’re not a manufacturer,’ and he responded, ‘That doesn’t matter. We’re interested in creating jobs in South Bend.’ Our previous experience with tax abatements had been extremely negative, so I just assumed we weren’t going to qualify,” Rhoa says.
Not only did the company qualify, but Rhoa found, to his surprise, that the process was remarkably smooth and easy, aided in large part by the efforts of Robert Mathia, assistant director of economic development for the City of South Bend.
“Bob worked really hard for us,” Rhoa says. “He was a real asset as it related to navigating the entire process, answering questions about forms and so on. We had applied for tax abatements before, but they didn’t have anybody like him. What a difference!”
With that issue taken care of, Rhoa worked with D’Amico to find an appropriate location, presenting a list of requirements the business would need: a spot where roads were in good shape, one that would be easy to enter and exit, and one that was located close to the city.
“We literally went shopping for property with Phil,” Rhoa says. “He gave us the local flavor and found us exactly the right location in the Toll Road Industrial Park just off Cleveland Road.”
There, the company built a 13,000-square-foot facility on vacant land, using South Bend vendors whenever possible.
“We had a commitment that we were going to invest in this area,” Rhoa says. “We used a local Realtor to obtain the property. I could go to Phil and say, ‘I’m looking for someone to provide a security system,’ and he could immediately give me two or three names. He was a great networking resource at every stage of our expansion. Everything you can imagine that goes in that building — furniture, paper, pens, light bulbs — came from local suppliers.”
All told, Lake Michigan Mailers invested more than $2 million in the project.
“God bless the Hoosiers,” Rhoa says. “South Bend is open for business. Whether you’re dealing with residents, local businesses, the City … everyone is very open and welcoming. That’s exactly what businesses are looking for.
“For a company expanding here from Michigan, it was a breath of fresh air.”