Move leaves county trying to keep grant here

COLUMBIA CITY — Whitley County and the local economic development company began a process months ago to take grant money from Greatbatch Medical and funnel it elsewhere in anticipation of Thursday’s announcement the Columbia City plant will shut down and move jobs to Allen County.“We asked that the money be transferred to another company,” said Whitley County Commissioner Tom Rethlake. I know Alan Tio (Executive Director of the Whitley County Economic Development Corporation) was down in Indianapolis twice trying to get that done in the last couple of months.Greatbatch announced Thursday it was moving its Columbia City operations about 17 miles east to western Allen County.The move will take the 105 jobs in Columbia City, add about 76 more and occupy a new 80,000 square-foot facility on Kroemer Road just south of Sweetwater Sound, Inc.They hope to have operations moved by spring of 2012.In March of last year, Whitley County was awarded a $195,000 Community Economic Development Block Grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs.The money was, at that time, earmarked for Greatbatch Medical to expand the company’s operations in Columbia City.Tio said this morning he began the process of naming a new company to receive the grant in anticipation of Greatbatch’s Thursday announcement.“The short answer is yes,” he said. “We had an indication (of the move).”Tio said he’s not prepared to announce the name of the company he hopes will receive the grant.While Tio worked to find a new beneficiary for the grant, the two active commissioners who served last March when the grant was announced, as well as a former commissioner who was the commission’s president at the time, were in the dark about Greatbatch’s plans.“It sure was a shock to me, I had no idea they were moving,” said Rethlake.“I guess they moved to Allen County to be more visual, but where I guess they’re going, no one’s going to see them there.”Mike Schrader, former commissioner who served as president and made the initial grant announcement last year, was equally surprised.“I never knew anything about it,” said Schrader.“When I heard there was going to be an announcement, I thought they were going to say they were moving their (corporate) headquarters to Fort Wayne. It would have been nice to have known this was going to happen.”Schrader’s shock was shared by Commissioner Don Amber.“I was sure caught off guard, I was completely taken by surprise,” said Amber today. “I had no clue, I thought they loved it here in Whitley County.“My question is, did we do everything we could to try to get them to stay and expand in Whitley County?”Rethlake summed up the disappointment of the commission.“I’m sorry to see them go, but I guess you can’t fry all the fish, can you?”A representative from Greatbatch Medical in Columbia City referred inquiries to company spokesman Chris Knospe, who did not return phone calls from The Post & Mail.