BRISTOL — A growing number of industrial facilities are sprouting up from farmland in this little Elkhart County town, and Ray Barnes feels like a sort of pioneer in that respect.
He and his partners opened their new Alliance Aluminum Products Inc. facility at 1649 Commerce Drive in October after launching the company in 2008 about a half-mile away on Collins Court. Since then, three more companies have broken ground on new buildings nearby, and another will do so soon.
"We were kind of a leader in getting that started and we feel good about it," said Barnes, whose company buys, warehouses and distributes aluminum extrusions for a variety of industries. "It’s just boomed out there. We knew once we went in there, it would take off because there was a need for it."
Barnes said the growing company looked at existing buildings in Elkhart and Goshen but felt renovation would be too costly.
"We love the location of Bristol,” he said. “It’s a little bit out of the way, there’s good accessibility with the (Indiana) Toll Road. There’s a small-town atmosphere, so you can fly under the radar a little bit.”
Also under construction nearby, Alliance Sheets, a corrugated packaging maker, is building a 169,800-square foot plant that looks to employ up to 50 people making about $20 an hour. Satellite Industries, a Minnesota-based manufacturer of high-end sanitation products, is erecting a nearly 119,000-square-foot facility and is expected to ultimately employ about 70. And Lami-Plast, an Elkhart plastics factory, is constructing a new plant.
Further east, across C.R. 29, Elkhart-based Reschcor, another plastics maker, plans to build a new 76,580-square-foot facility.
It’s all taking place on 140 acres of farmland formerly owned by the Blakesly family. The town recently annexed the land and is about to order street signs for Blakesly Parkway, the new name for C.R. 29 from the railroad tracks to the toll road, said Bill Wuthrich, Bristol’s town manager.
"It’s going to be a very fine addition to the town," Wuthrich said. "We’ve extended water and sewer."
Wuthrich said the companies won’t employ huge numbers of people by themselves — each plans to have 50 to 60 workers — but together they will create a significant number of jobs. Because the firms are receiving property tax abatements, the town won’t immediately see much new tax revenue from the development. The gradually rising taxes they do pay will be captured under a tax-increment financing district to build streets, roads, sewers, a sewage lift station and a new wellfield, according to Wuthrich.
But that will change in 10 years, once the abatements have been phased out and the infrastructure improvements have been paid for.
"I tell people it’s just like buying a house,” Wuthrich said. “The first 10 years you don’t have any equity, the bank gets it all.”
Randy Stone, project manager for Elkhart-based J.A. Wagner Construction, which is developing some of the sites, said he expects the Alliance Sheets building to be completed in December, while groundbreaking on the Reschcor facility could begin within the next month.
"It’s a good location," Stone said. "It’s a new industrial park, new infrastructure, new street. It also has some rail access and it’s real close to the toll road interchange."
Stone said rail access, a must for manufacturers 30 years ago, became much less critical with development of the interstate highway system. But that’s changing as companies find they can ship their products in containers on rail cheaper than by truck, he said.
Wuthrich said there are about 40 acres of the former 140-acre Blakesly land left unsold, and the town hopes to see the development continue.
"Everyone is pretty well excited about it,“ he said. ”We haven’t had very many negatives.”