Some opportunities are too good to pass up.
That’s what a group of local folks thought when they heard that Fort Wayne was selected to host the Indiana Democratic Party’s state convention this week. The event is expected to draw between 2,000 and 2,500, many who’ll be first-time visitors.
Dan O’Connell, director of Visit Fort Wayne, has estimated that the event alone might generate up to $400,000 for the local economy. But some folks wanted to leverage that economic effect by organizing non-political events to show off the region’s manufacturing base and tourism draws. The hope: Visitors will come back, and area residents will learn more about local employers.
Carmen Darland, chairwoman of the Fort Wayne 2012 Convention Committee, said the highlight will be the Northeast Indiana Manufacturer’s Showcase.
From trucks to chickens to wine, we make it, she said.
Rachel Bennett Steury, a committee member, said the event is designed to celebrate the region’s manufacturing base. She is the Auburn-based field coordinator for the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a partnership between labor and management.
About three dozen companies were invited to participate at the Embassy Theatre and Indiana Hotel, which are across the street from the convention. Organizers approached various companies, with an emphasis on the unexpected, Bennett Steury said.
We didn’t want a whole bunch of the big guys. We wanted things you didn’t even know were made in northeast Indiana, she said.
Some smaller companies that agreed to participate include Folkcraft Instruments, a Woodburn dulcimer maker; Ellison Bakery, a local cookie maker; IQ Meats Custom Butchering, a Butler butcher shop; Bowmar LLC, a local aerospace and defense contractor; and Arrowhead Popcorn, a LaGrange snack company.
More familiar employers are also on the list, including General Motors, which assembles pickup trucks in Allen County; Michelin, whose BF Goodrich plant manufactures tires in Woodburn; ITT/Exelis, a local aerospace and defense contractor; and Rea Magnet Wire, a local maker of magnet wire, which is found in every item with a motor.
Darland believes that as awareness of local companies grows, people will be more inclined to support them.
Read on to learn more about some lesser-known showcase participants.
Business: The company makes sour garlic-jalapeno-dill pickles, pickled jalapeños and mustard.
Address: 103 E. Toledo St., Fremont
Employees: Two; production is outsourced to companies in Bloomington and Kalamazoo, Mich.
2011 revenue: $480,000
What’s next: Owner Rick Corcimiglia just signed a contract that will put jars of Rickle’s Pickles in 5,400 Ace Hardware stores across the country.
Annie Oakley Perfumery
Business: The company creates, blends, fills and packages perfumes and toiletries.
Address: 300 Johnson St., Ligonier
Employees: Six to 10
2011 revenue: Not disclosed
What’s next: Owner Renee Gabet is designing new collections for different niche markets. The company is also creating an artisan park for the community near its headquarters.
Wakarusa Dime Store
Business: The store sells 450 kinds of candy, including its famous recipe jumbo jelly beans, which are about the size of an adult thumb.
Address: 103 E. Waterford St., Wakarusa
Founded: The store opened in 1907; jumbo jelly beans were first created in 1969
2011 revenue: Not disclosed
What’s next: Owner Mac McNally said the company will sell about 100 tons of jumbo jelly beans this year. He launched a fundraising division two years ago and is building up the sell-by-color division, which works with wedding parties and corporate event planners.
American Made Shopper
Business: The store sells only products made in the U.S. About 30 percent of the store’s inventory is made in Indiana.
Address: 2010 N. Wayne St., Angola
2011 revenue: $300,000
What’s next: Owner Jeff Face said he’s exploring the Fort Wayne market, looking for investors and retail space to lease for the company’s second location. He’s also considering the South Bend market.