February 1, 2004 - Indianapolis Monthly
By: Tammy L. Rader
Despite the recent recession, Hamilton County still has its foot on the economic accelerator. The County remains the fastest-growing in the Midwest, defying national trends. Experts say that between 1990 and 2010, the county's population will nearly triple, with about 10,000 new residents moving in per year.
"The perception is Hamilton County has a high quality of life for its residents," says Jeff Burt, president of the Hamilton County Alliance. "The things people look at first and foremost are the schools and the jobs being created. The communities have done a good job of managing growth." Current residents already reeling from growth may not want to hear that the county will be home to 370,000 residents by 2020.
"That will continue to place a lot of demands on the counties and municipalities, particularly as it relates to water, sewer and roadways," Burt notes. "People's expectations in Hamilton County are that those services will be of a high quality and delivered right."
Jobs are one of the reasons people locate in the county. Over the past decade, thousands of jobs have been created in the northern Indianapolis suburb, to the tune of 4,000 to 5,000 net new positions each year. While the quantity has slowed over the past few years, the fact that additional workers were needed at all ran counter to most of Indiana's counties, which lost jobs.
The biggest growth sector in the last two years has been health care and related services. Both St. Vincent Carmel Hospital and Riverview Hospital in Noblesville have completed expansion projects, while Clarian Health has a facility under development.
Riverview spent $19 million on a Women's Pavilion, which opened in September of 2003 and provides a spa-like atmosphere for hospital patients. "We really were meeting the needs of our community members, who are highly educated and have very high expectations," says Pat Fox, vice president of patient care services at the hospital.
The pavilion houses maternity services in addition to a Women's Center for mammograms, bone scans and other diagnostic treatments. The facility incorporates a variety of water features into its decor to create a quiet and realxing environment. "It does not have the feel of a hospital," says Fox. "it looks like a hotel inside, with a lot of artwork and natural touches." All the maternity center rooms are private, outfitted with TVs, DVD players, large bathrooms, rocker/recliners and pullout couches. The goal is to make the birthing experience as comfortable and as memorable as possible. Riverview is planning additional changes, including an expansion of the emergency room department due to growinig community needs.
With the development of Hamilton County's medical sector has come a plethora of outpatient surgery centers, additional doctor's offices and other health-service providers. "In a sense the hospitals have become a bit of a magnet for a variety of clients and vendors that they work with," Burt says.
Elsewhere in Hamilton County, white-collar firms are also contributing to the county's growth, and have helped pick up the slack from recent downsizings by larger corporations. Irwin Mortgage has a large new structure in Fishers, employing 650 people; Allete Automotive Services occupies new headquarters in Carmel with 400 people, ITT Education Services hired 175 additional workers after relocating to Hamilton County; and ADT/Tyco has a new building, also in Fishers, employing about 400 workers.
Another company new to Hamilton County is Old National, with financial centers in both Carmel and Fishers. Plans call for adding another three branches in the county in 2004. The well-known affluence of Hamilton County is one of the attributes that attracted the oldest and largest Indiana-based bank. "When you look at the numbers and research, Hamilton County is one of the fastest growing in the country," says John Coughlin, a vice president at Old National. "We're really looking to attract that high-end client as much as possible."
Old National has instituted a "metro strategy" for the county, which differs from its approach in other locations. Financial centers in Hamilton County have a small-town-bank feel, doing away with the traditional teller lines. Clients transact business from comfortable chairs, and enjoy access to a cyber cafe and complimentary Starbucks coffee and desserts. "We want our clients to feel like they can come in here and spend a little time and be comfortable," Coughlin says. The centers are designed to be full-service venues, housing insurance, investments and private banking all under one roof.
Liberty Financial Services joined the Hamilton County business scene six years ago, and the small mortgage brokerage and financial planning firm appreciates the county's growth. "For our type of business there's no better place to be," says Angie Cheetham, Liberty Financial's office manager.
The company did a slew of mortgage refinancings in 2003, with customers taking advantage of low interest rates. "People are refinancing to take equity out of their home and pay off credit cards or other debt," Cheetham says. "We also get a lot of new construction loans." New home construction permits in Hamilton County have leveled from their peak of 3,770 in 2001. Residents considering building a home have been more cautious due to the overall economic environment, with many opting to refinance their current homes to save money.
The new construction, along with the refinancing trend that has spurred remodeling projects, has been profitable for Carmel Kitchens. Owner Jeff Reed bought the business in 1975 after graduating from college with a degree in finance. He comes from a family of entrepreneurs in Shelbyville, and recognized a good opportunity to be in business for himself.
Reed saw a definite upswing in business in 2003, and expects this year to be just as promising. The medium to high-end market that Carmel Kitchens serves was affected by the recession, but is recovering nicely. "The economy must be stabilizing to a point," Reed suggests. "Here in Indiana we're a little more conservative than in some states. It's definitely the start of something good."
April Ozlowski, owner of the specialty children's clothing and shoe store Teeter Totter, couldn't agree more. A fixture in the Merchant's Square retail scene for the past three years, the store carries several lines of upscale children's clothing.
Ozlowski, a Carmel resident, opened the store when she couldn't find unique items in the area for her then one-year-old. "It seemed crazy that there wasn't anything here," she says. " We did a lot of demographic work and ended up point blank where we're sitting. I don't think we could get a better location."
Although the economy limited Teeter Totter's growth last year, business was still good. Ozlowski finds sales are on the upswing, and anticipates that the increase will continue. "I think Hamilton County is a booming place to own a business right now, and it just continues to grow," she says.
The retail sector has helped the area maintain its record of job expansion. The explosion in retail employment has added 1,000 new jobs per year from 1994 to 2001. "It's because we have the population here right now," says Burt. "Instead of needing to go to Castleton or someplace down on 86th Street, people can shop closer to home."
The hot spots in Hamilton County's ongoing retail development include State Road 37 in Noblesville; 96th Street, Allisonville Road and the town center in Fishers; Rangeline Road, Keystone Avenue, 116th Street and Carmel City Center in Carmel; and 146th Street and U.S. 31 in Carmel and Westfield.
One of the area's newest shopping centers, still under constrctuion is Clay Terrace. The "lifestyle center", located at the initerchange of 146th Street and U.S. 31, is a joint project of Lauth Property Group and Simon Property Group. The $100 million retail and office center will have upscale shopping, a variety of dining options and space for outdoor concerts and other activities.
Meanwhile, Saxony, a mixed-use project with retail, business and residential components, is currently in the works in Hamilton County. Located on I-69 at exit 10, Saxony spans 395 acres in Fishers. "Saxony brings together a variety of different uses in a way that makes sense and is appealing to people," says Richard L. Arnos, president of Republic Development Corporation. "The county's environment encourages outdoor activity."
Saxony's development will occur over the next 10 years, and will include about 1,500 to 2,000 dwelling units ranging from single-family homes and apartments to townhomes, both owner-occupied and rental. Living quarters will range from 500-square-foot apartments to homes costing more than $1 million.
Parking in the retail sections and garages in the residential areas will be designed to be aesthetically pleasing. "Under Saxony's planning, parking will be behind the buildings so it won't be as noticeable to people walking by," explains Arnos. "This encourages people who live in and visit the area to stroll along streets, window shop, and get coffee or a sandwich outside." When it comes to homes, garages will be behind the house, to the side, or nestled in close to the structures.
As planned, Saxony will consist of 70 percent retail and commercial space, with an "entertainment village center" that includes upscale shoppng and restaurants. Buildings in the village center will be tightly compacted, resembling areas such as downtown Noblesville or Broad Ripple. "The village area itself will probably be more fun and funky, but not over the edge," remarks Arnos. "It will be whimsical, not staid and dull. There'll be glass, lights and interesting architecture instead of big boxes." The village is meant to be a destination place that residents can walk to from their homes. The commercial-office component of the project is intended to feed into the village center, supporting the community's stores and restaurants. Construction of the village center will be constructed in phases beginning in 2006.
Republic Development Corporation is extremely enthusiastic about the opportunities in Hamilton County. The company cites recent economic growth, high average incomes, excellent school systems, a well-educated workforce, new efficient roadways and forward-thinking municipal governments as county attributes. "It's unusual to find all in one place, particularly throughout a county," says Arnos. "All of those things really make Hamilton County a winner." The average annual income in the five-mile radius surrounding Saxony is approximately $110,000.
Building activity continues to show strength in Hamilton County. Those who want to live in the center of Carmel now have several options, as a large number of apartments and other dwellings have been built or are currently under construction. Developers Kosene and Kosene broke ground in October on Carmel City Centre, a new townhome and condominium project at the corner of City Centre Drive and 126th Street. The 135 units will range in price from $165,000 to over $400,000, and will offer one to three bedrooms.
People's lifestyles are changing. "What we're building in Carmel, you've never seen in Carmel or Indiana before," reports Todd Miller, partner of Kosene and Kosene. Parking garages will be underneath the residences, with elevators leading to upper floor units. Flats all on one level will be available in addition to traditional multi-floor living areas. The maintenance free units will look out over Carmel's new reflecting pond and park in City Centre. "The units will be within walking distance of grocery stores, restaurants and city hall, " he continues.
Carmel's reputation as a great place to live prompted Kosene and Kosene to pursue the project. To fill its residences, the company works with many of the big corporations in town that have employees relocating from elsewhere, including Eli Lilly, Anthem, and State Farm. "Everyone tells the new employees that Carmel is the place to live," Miller says. "The growth of the county is great, but that's not necessarily our buyers. They are most likely going to be empty-nesters downsizing or young professionals who travel a lot. They're only in town one week a month, but they still want all the upscale finishes like granite and hardwood."
Miller predicts that despite all the growth, the county will continue to prosper. Burt agrees, but cautions that communities will have to put efficient and effective plans in place. In addition to demands on water, sewer and roadways, people will expect quality recreational opportunities along with increased fire protection and public safety. As these issues come to the forefront, the county is expected to continue its record of responsible and responsive economic and residential growth.