Michiana 2027: How will Elkhart County adapt to the future?
ELKHART COUNTY, Ind.- Many things can happen over the decades. ABC57 is tracking Elkhart County's progress and just to show you how the county is already shifting, according to the census in 1997 the population stood at around 175,000.
10 years later, it's almost 200,000.
Entrepreneurs were the ones who put this area on the map. Several RV companies started out small, but have since become household names. Entrepreneurial efforts are really the name of the game in the county.
And business owners hope to keep that trend going. “You saw a lot of cornfields, everywhere,” says Jorge Campos, chairman of the Center for Healing and Hope, a clinic for the uninsured.
“Now in Goshen you have overpasses, the houses are different, there are a lot more apartment complexes, and everything just got bigger.”
That same growth actually motivated Campos. “I started working lower class, loading trucks to sweeping floors to ultimately being the vice president and now having my own LLC.”
Campos was born in Mexico but raised in Goshen. About 12 miles away, you’ll find Andrew Reynolds and Doug Kessler owners of DNA Creative, a company specializing in marketing and social media management in Elkhart.
“We see a huge opportunity because there are all kinds of companies out here that are just starting up and just starting to really expand and explode and we want to be part of that to help them,” says Reynolds.
Over the last 15 years, Elkhart County has been steadily changing. The shift happening in Goshen was even recognized by the state.
“We’ve had some great strides over the last 15-20 years being named the community of the year from the state chamber this year,” says Nick Kieffer, President of the Goshen Chamber of Commerce.
Goshen’s charm could help the county expand. In 2015, more than 200,000 people lived in Elkhart County, according to the U.S. Census.
Kieffer says in ten years that number will increase. “Based on patterns of growth I think we could probably see 250,000 easy. It would be a fair guess looking over the last couple of censuses.”
More people means more jobs and more jobs means more space is needed, so planning is already underway.
“We have jobs available, so how do we house them when they come here? It’s a good problem to have, but it’s a challenge at the same time,” says Kieffer.
A 180 unit apartment complex is going up on the south east side of Goshen and in Elkhart DNA Creative is literally in the middle of these new developments.
“The new apartments are being built and actually right out my window you can see where the construction is trying to take place,” says Reynolds. “There is more development happening in other corners in this area we just feel great to be right here.”
That wasn’t always the feeling in this area. Kieffer moved to Elkhart County in 2007, during the recession, a time when the chamber had to acclimate to the needs of businesses.
“Chambers were the google before google,” he says. “We’ve had to adapt our technology and what we provide and how we provide and make sure we are providing necessary tools.”
Kieffer adds resilience is what shaped and molded the businesses you now see all along Goshen’s streets. “You saw companies and organizations take an inward look at what they were doing. What you’re seeing now in our community and our businesses, the look of 10 years ago is playing out today.”
So ten years from now, what will be in store?
“2027, we’re all going to be flying around and it’s going to be great,” says Reynolds. “I think it’ll be thriving, large, all kinds of businesses and we won’t be dependent on the RVs. I think we’ll be something completely different.”
“The RV industry and what they do and their impact in our community is fantastic,” adds Kieffer.
Change is already happening. “There aren’t a lot of young business owners in this area and that’s something that I hope to encourage people outside of Elkhart in different states even is to invest in Elkhart,” says Kessler. “We have a lot of solid, strong businesses.”
Along with that change, the chamber is also altering. “We have to be the leaders of development,” says Reynolds.
Young entrepreneurs say, right now, there’s no better place to be. “Anyone that’s looking for a community to launch their business in, I believe Elkhart is that community,” says Doug Kessler.
“As long as you’re willing to work hard for the opportunities, Elkhart County will give you those opportunities,” adds Campos.
The Goshen Chamber of Commerce, like all chambers, provides counseling for small businesses.
Since 2016 in Goshen a program called Pitch Night, which is their version of Shark Tank, awards small businesses.
The last Pitch Night was just this September and four companies received funds. The next one is in September of 2018.