ALBION — For its second-ever director since its inception, the Noble County Economic Development Corp. is tapping one of its board members to take the lead.
The organization announced Wednesday that it has selected Gary Gatman as the next executive director.
Gatman is already set up in his new office in Albion and getting to work.
“I am thrilled and excited,” Gatman said Wednesday. “This organization is really important to the success of the county. There are a lot of great organizations and I feel honored really to be in a position to work along with these organizations. I’m excited, thrilled, honored, humbled.”
Gatman has been a resident of Noble County for about eight years and has been part of the economic development board for about the last 2 1/2. But he’s been involved in workforce and economic development for more than two decades, with previous experience as part of the regional Northeast Indiana Works organization.
He and his wife, Pattie, also co-own a small business Room 2 Room, an e-commerce outfit that buys estates and then parts out and resells items, that she will now take over as he leads the county development group. Gatman said that has given him some additional insight into operating a small business in Noble County.
“The time was right for me to say this is an opportunity I would love,” and leave the business to his wife, Gatman said.
The Noble Economic Development Corp. received about a dozen applications to replace former director Rick Sherck, who retired at the end of 2019. Sherck had led the organization since its founding in 2006.
Gatman, the board’s small business representative, rose to the top of the pile.
“We had outstanding interviews with all candidates and feel we have chosen a good leader to take the Noble County EDC to the next level.,” said Kendallville Mayor Suzanne Handshoe, president of the EDC board.
The economy in Noble County is very different from the one that existed shortly after the EDC’s founding, when the area went to pot during the Great Recession.
When unemployment spikes amid heavy blows to the dominant manufacturing industry, the top focus in Noble County was jobs, jobs, jobs.
Now, with unemployment at historic low levels, employers have jobs they can’t fill because there aren’t enough workers to work them.
Therefore the challenges immediately ahead for Noble County in economic development have more to do with trying to solve the limiting factors that are capping out the workforce, things like having available housing, having available child care and building worker skills.
“We’ve got a significant challenge with housing, so we have enough housing stock and have the resources to support workers,” Gatman said. “A large percentage of our workers commute in from other counties, but we’d like them to be here, living here, paying taxes here, growing wealth here.”
Supporting small businesses and growing those remains important to create new opportunities as well as supporting the area’s already existing employers to help them grow or adapt to a changing economy, Gatman said.
The old focus of creating new jobs isn’t at the top of the list any more.
“If there is a new place that is looking to open up a new operation we’re certainly going to be aggressive,” Gatman said. “But we’ve got to take care of our own businesses here and those businesses are struggling to find workers.”
The other main focus Gatman hopes to take is networking and pulling together other organizations better. While the EDC is focused on economic development, there are many other local nonprofits and groups working in areas like education, skill training, social support and other topics. If those groups can identify problems and work collectively toward solving them, they’ll all have more success than everyone working in their solo lane.
“That’s probably the biggest thing we’re going to do going forward is get all of our organizations collectively working together,” Gatman said. “There’s a lot of work to be done and a lot of opportunity for people to be involved and have the right people at the table. You’re moving the needle and experiencing some success. ... Over time those collective movements in the right direction in the county, you’re looking for the collective impact of all those groups.”