Ligonier Mayor Patty Fisel says her cellphone is on 24/7, and she means it.
Among her duties as the third-term mayor of the city in northwest Noble County is providing more housing for a population of 4,400 that doubles in size when the workforce is at work. Workers come from all over northeast Indiana, Michigan and Ohio to take advantage of industrial-sector jobs.
“She's the hardest-working lady I know,” says John Mangona, a local Realtor and president of the Ligonier Industrial Development Corp. The group oversees the city's industrial park, created in 1952 at North Main Street and Perry Road on the city's northwest side.
The economic boom has created a demand for housing of all kinds, and the city, its schools, and infrastructure are poised for the potential influx of residents.
“We just upgraded our sewage department. We are just starting to redo our water department. We are ahead of the game on that,” Fisel says. “I don't see any major problems with us expanding like this.”
The city is set to gain up to 400 more jobs when Forest River, the RV manufacturer from Elkhart, signs a contract with the Ligonier Industrial Development Corp. to purchase 50 acres in the industrial park.
That is on top of the 100 jobs it brought to the industrial park last year after Forest River purchased a vacant factory to build its Puma line of travel trailers.
Seeing the city's need for housing, Fort Wayne-based Granite Ridge Builders contacted Fisel in November to talk about a 127-acre tract of land up for development by a private owner.
The land, currently zoned agricultural, at the junction of U.S. 33, U.S. 6 and Indiana 5 on the city's south side, was annexed at the end of 2017. Granite Ridge wants to develop 65 acres and build two-story, three- and four-bedroom homes costing up to $220,000 with a monthly payment of $700, said Dave Thieme, Granite Ridge new homes specialist.
“We know there's a large demand up there in Ligonier,” Thieme said. His company, with 15 crews, is building in northern Indiana, southern Michigan and western Ohio. “A lot of small towns have those (building) needs,” because of the economy and a lack of housing.
Currently, Riverside Villa, a new complex of 54 federally subsidized, one- and two-bedroom apartments developed by the Indianapolis firm Herman & Kittle, is being rented.
One-bedroom apartments rent from $218 a month to $539; two-bedroom apartments from $257 to $642 a month, Fisel said.
The complex features a security system, a clubhouse, a business center and a dog park and is within walking distance to the downtown area and industrial park.
For people who work or move to the area, another attraction is the city's 5-mile Strawberry Valley Cultural Trail, which will connect the industrial park to the downtown listed on the National Historic Register, ultimately connecting “bronze statues and five parks,” Fisel said.
“I think they could handle another one (apartment complex),” Mangona said. “At least one more. Everybody moving to town with jobs and stuff, a lot of them aren't going to be able to buy a home.”
Fisel says there is plenty of lower-income housing, including five trailer courts, but starter homes are in demand. The mayor and her team are waiting for the results from a housing study that Noble County is conducting with Purdue University, but they have not been given a date on its completion.
The Granite Ridge homes will be built under a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that guarantees up to 100 percent of a loan note to approved lenders in eligible rural areas, which “a lot of these counties fall into,” Thieme said.
Homeowners buy the home with no money down, Mangona said, except for closing costs that can run 2 percent or 3 percent.
Since the plan hasn't been finalized, Thieme would not estimate how many homes would be built on the 65 acres. But he said Fisel is pushing for Granite Ridge to get started as soon as possible.
“If it's not that ground, it's going to be something else,” Thieme said.
Several phone calls to Forest River were not returned. The contract for an additional 50 acres in the industrial park is not signed, but Fisel is confident it will be.
Fisel, a great-great-grandmother who worked as a commercial artist for 20 years, bought a downtown building, restored it and opened a business after her husband died in 2003. Fisel said she got tired of the city government she called “inactive” and ran for mayor.
The 76-year-old powerhouse who once drove a race car is not finished.
“It would be nice to have a filling station on the north side of the city,” Fisel said.