Editor's Column - Mike Corbett

Editor Mike Corbett


Businesses don’t usually announce employee raises in press releases so I opened it. Here’s a slightly edited version of its contents.

In response to the recently passed legislation affecting corporate tax, Gene Miles, President and CEO of First Farmers Bank & Trust recently announced a new corporate wage and community support program that commits to four points of emphasis.

  1. Raise the minimum hourly starting wage by $2.50 for all new FFBT employees.
  2. Provide a minimum year-end bonus of $750 annually to all full time FFBT employees.
  3. Invest a minimum of $250,000 annually to community development and support of local branch markets.
  4. Invest a minimum of $150,000 annually to FFBT employee development and education.

It goes on to say that this is a commitment to the bank’s community and people.

It’s not uncommon for businesses to designate funds for community and employee development but raising its minimum starting wage by $2.50?  You don’t see that every day.

So I reached out to First Farmers’ Communications and PR Director Tade Powell. Here’s his reply:

“The basis comes from our continued focus on supporting successful employees that understand and appreciate our corporate culture while being competitive enough to attract new talent in our markets.  The fiscal benefits of the corporate tax changes allow us to reallocate that revenue towards strengthening our team.”

So, it’s a reward for good employees and an effort to compete in the labor market. But, significantly, it’s also a direct response to the new federal tax law.

I find that encouraging because I know many people are skeptical that lowering business tax rates will lead to better outcomes for rank and file workers. Trickle down economics has always included an element of faith that businesses will reinvest that money in people. Here’s evidence of that very thing happening.

Since then I’ve heard of other businesses, including WalMart, making similar pronouncements.

A combination of a tight labor market, a willingness to invest in employee and community development, and favorable tax legislation are combining to provide a win-win for businesses and their people.

I have no idea how many workers make minimum wage at this bank, but the fact that its willing to voluntarily raise their pay as a direct response to federal tax legislation is a welcome development. It’s also a way for people to see a direct connection between federal legislation and Main Street economics. The cause and effect are crystal clear. I hope we hear more stories like this in the future.

See you around the county,


Editor's Column - Mike Corbett

Editor Mike Corbett

The Polar Bear Express is operating this year, but it’s in Kokomo instead of Noblesville. You can’t blame the Indiana Transportation Museum for taking its business where its welcomed instead of where its rejected. The ITM operated the popular Christmastime excursion train for years between Noblesville and Fishers.  I’ve been walking on 8th Street when the train went by, waved to the kids as they enjoyed what may well have been their only train ride ever. It was pure magic.

Hamilton County residents gladly paid upwards of $35 a ticket to give their kids this unique experience, and the excursion sold out at that price for years. But due to the misguided ambitions of a couple of local mayors, the Polar Bear Express has moved to Kokomo this year. That’s right, a thriving business that operated here for years without public subsidy is forced to another community by our own elected officials, who don’t see any value in providing an entertainment attraction of this type.

Logansport, on the other hand, does. In fact, its throwing a parade to welcome the Nickel Plate to its community. So the Polar Bear Express, based in Noblesville for years, is operating between Kokomo and Logansport this year, giving Howard and Cass County residents an opportunity that we no longer have. That experience, that revenue, that cultural icon is going elsewhere because we can’t see the potential for excursion train rides on our own railroad track.

The controversy is too complicated to explain in detail here but, in a nutshell, the cities of Noblesville and Fishers want to tear up the Nickel Plate Railroad tracks (the second oldest railroad line in the state) to build a hiking/biking/walking trail. The issue is currently before a federal panel that will decide if the cities can “railbank” the right of way and take out the tracks.

Converting rails to trails is a common practice but authorities usually target abandoned rail lines. In this case, the line was still in use, so our local leaders kicked ITM (self-supporting) off the tracks to make way for the trail, which will cost the cities millions.

I am an ardent trails supporter and an avid bike rider. I love trails. We need more of them in Hamilton County and I will support well-conceived and well-designed plans that go where people want to go. This is an ill-conceived idea that doesn’t seem to meet any market demand, and is sacrificing a popular and thriving non-profit business that has been contributing to our quality of life for more than a generation.

Pick your issue: government overreach, tourism, cultural preservation, love of trains, economic development, taxes, free enterprise, government transparency or just plain bullying. This episode has elements of all of these.

To pick just one that applies specifically to the mission of this magazine: our local governments ought to encourage private enterprise, not throttle it with heavy handed political tactics that deprive our residents of a valuable, irreplaceable and cherished public asset.

To learn more, check out the website www.savethenickelplate.org.

Happy Holidays. See you around the county,


Editor's Column - Mike Corbett

Mike CorbettI was fortunate enough to be elected Republican precinct committeeman in my precinct (Noblesville 12) in the last election. The major responsibility of that job is to staff the polling place for elections, but we also have the privilege of helping choose a successor when a member of our party steps down from elected office, as Luke Kenley did from the state Senate recently.

It’s a unique experience because, although we are electing a senator, the process is much different from a normal election. There are only 98 precincts in Senate District 20 and each committeeman gets one vote. Candidates are required to win by a simple majority, so from a candidate’s point of view, it’s a relatively easy campaign in that he/she can literally speak one-on-one to every person who will cast a vote. That’s likely one reason so many people (seven) ran for the seat.

From a committeman’s point of view, it’s a chance to meet candidates at a level you seldom see in politics. I had meetings that lasted more than an hour with five of the seven candidates, spoke to a sixth on the phone and received letters, post cards or phone calls from all seven of them. All were more than willing to spend time explaining their positions and answering questions. It was remarkable.

The caucus itself was remarkable for its low-tech approach. Instead of computerized balloting systems we’re used to for primaries and general elections, this election was conducted with colored paper ballots stuffed into a shoe box with a hole cut into the top. It was a refreshing change and drove home the point that as much as we complicate the electoral process, it’s really pretty simple.

I came away from this election impressed with the level of talent we have here in Hamilton County. Any of these seven candidates could have done this job well. I was also impressed by the fact that by the fourth ballot, with four candidates still in the race, three were women. In the end, we elected a woman who is also an immigrant. I am proud of our party and our county for living up to the ideal that everyone gets a fair shake here. Victoria Spartz is a hard worker with a business background and she earned this position. I have high hopes and high expectations for her.

Ethics Column

I am delighted to welcome a new columnist to our lineup this edition. Business ethics is an important topic that doesn’t get enough attention. I think its valuable to remind ourselves of the importance of conducting business on sound ethical principles. Our previous ethics columnist retired a few years ago and I’ve been on the lookout ever since. I think we’ve found a winner in Charlotte Westerhaus-Renfrow. I hope you agree.

My Annual Pitch

One of my favorite sayings is: Nothing happens until someone sells something. It’s unclear who originated that thought but it is fundamental to a capitalist system, and I’m happy to do my part. So here it is: We are in budgeting season for next year. If you have a need to market your product or service to Hamilton County’s business community, you are reading the most cost-effective publication to reach that market. Let us go to work for you. I’d be happy to send you more info on advertising if you email me at the address below.

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Editor's Column - Mike Corbett

Editor Mike CorbettI’ve spent my entire career in the media. My background is TV news and newspapers. I came of age when news organizations respected the church/state separation of advertising and editorial. That is, the news side of a publication is separate from the advertising side. The two don’t mix. Editorial decisions are made using editorial values: newsworthiness, compelling story, good visuals. Advertising decisions are made based on our business needs but stories aren’t for sale.

There has always been a little wiggle room in those values, especially in local media where advertisers and newsmakers are often the same people. And, of course, it’s easy to see how they might conflict when you are talking about a business magazine, where businesses are both content and advertising. Still, whenever anybody asks, we always say that news decisions are based on news values and advertising decisions on business values.

The world has changed in the course of my career and the media’s church/state line gets blurrier every day (come to think of it, it’s not as clear as it once was for the real church and state either). Our ad salesman, Dave Bechtel, who hasn’t spent his career in the media, challenged me the other day. He thinks we should use editorial coverage as a sales tool. Every business has a story, he figures, so why not tell the stories of those businesses who support us financially? After all, lots of other magazines do it and even some newspapers do.

I objected that the implicit agreement between the editor and the reader is that editorial content is not for sale unless the reader is alerted that they are reading an ad. He asserts that distinction is a media industry myth, that 95% or more of our readers don’t distinguish between the two and don’t care if they are alerted. If he’s right, I should probably change my thinking.

So that prompted our first ever reader survey. I’m taking advantage of the opportunity to learn a bit more about you, our readers: your preferences, your values, your ideas. If you’ve read this far you likely have an opinion on this and a few other questions, so please take a few minutes to take our survey (it shouldn’t take long…only ten questions).

The link is on our website: www.hamiltoncountybusiness.com. Click Take our Survey on the right hand side of the Home Page. You can remain anonymous if you wish but to make it interesting we’ll draw randomly from the entries who provide an email address for a dinner and date night: a pair of tickets to Motown the Musical on March 28 at Old National Centre and a $50 gift card to Stacked Pickle. We’ll leave the poll open through the month of February. If we get a significant response I’ll be sure to share the results with you.

See you around the county,

Editor's Column - Mike Corbett

Editor Mike CorbettOf all the business stories we tell, one of my favorite themes is the concept of reuse: taking raw materials that others rejected and finding a new way to use them. It requires vision, ingenuity and creativity. That’s why I found this issue’s cover story so appealing. It bothered Jud Scott that thousands of trees that had succumbed to the ravages of the Emerald Ash Borer were being trashed. He figured there must be way to put that valuable hardwood to use. So he started harvesting it and is now turning it into locally sourced furniture. 

It took similar vision at White River Campground in Cicero, where Hamilton County Parks recently unveiled three new bridges across the White River to Koteewi Park. Well, they’re new to Hamilton County, but two of the bridges were salvaged from Washington and Wayne counties and the third was reconstructed from 100 year old plans. 

These are beautiful examples of turn of the 20th Century engineering technology and serve to remind us of our heritage while providing a useful passage between two parks. INDOT saves these old bridges until enterprising people can find new uses for them. The county parks department did just that, and offers a great example of how some creativity and initiative can enhance the quality of life here. 

Of course, we sometimes fail to muster the required initiative as well. You may recall the 100+ year old grain elevator in Noblesville that ceased operation a couple of years ago. It’s now an empty lot and all that lumber from our native trees was sold to people in other parts of the world, who saw value in it that we didn’t. It’s a shame we let that go. I know we can’t save everything but it’s disappointing that a structure that played such an important part in Noblesville’s history is now just a memory with no reminder that it was even there. I’m told some of the limestone from the foundation will find its way to the new park downtown.

Event Updates

Earlier this year I announced a variation on our Hamilton County Home Show for next year that I thought showed a lot of promise. A friend suggested we add pets to the mix to differentiate ourselves and expand the audience. I’m sorry to report that after several months of trying we were unable to recruit a critical mass of pet vendors to complement our home improvement vendors, so we’re calling off the Home and Pet Show for now. I thank the vendors who stepped up but I think we’re all better off cutting our losses now. We don’t want to present a mediocre show. All who paid will receive full refunds. 

We’re also retiring Business Spotlight, the monthly networking event at the Fishers Hilton Garden Inn co-sponsored by this magazine. We love to promote local business and the monthly events were going well, but it was a logistical challenge for coordinator Roxanne Leija, who was doing all the heavy lifting. So we’re going to let those sessions go. We made some great contacts there so maybe we can revive something new in the future.

A Final Note:

Harold Kaiser died in November at 96. Harold was an early subscriber to this magazine and provided encouragement when I needed it most. He was a small-town boy from Cicero who saw incredible change in Hamilton County and left his mark on the real estate industry here. OneZone’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Carmel is named after him and rightly so. 

See you around the county,

Editor's Column - Mike Corbett

Editor Mike CorbettThis edition is personal. Two of the stories here are close to my heart. I have been on the Noblesville Preservation Alliance board of directors for years and I’m a woodworker. Both topics are featured in this edition. As an editor you try to keep your subjects at an arm’s length in an effort to be as objective as possible. Pure objectivity, of course, is elusive, but it’s a worthwhile goal. 

So when an NPA board member suggested we run a story on the organization, my default position was to avoid temptation and pass. But, that’s not really fair either, to purposely dismiss a topic just because I’m involved in it. The answer is to put a good writer on it (keeping editing to a minimum and my mitts out of it) and to keep an open mind. That’s what I did and I’m happy with the result. But in the interest of full disclosure, I’m deeply involved with historic preservation in Noblesville. 

That involvement dovetails nicely with my interest in woodworking as I spend most of my free time renovating our 150+ year old house in Old Town. It was meant to be about a ten-year project and I’m a little behind schedule but it’s a hobby, so I’m not too hard on myself. I do appreciate the craftsmanship that went into these old homes and I feel it’s our duty to preserve as much of it as possible. 

In the case of our house, much of the craftsmanship was destroyed in previous renovations, so I’m trying to re-create what it might have looked like. There are no blueprints and few photos so I end up using my imagination a lot. It can be frustrating and time consuming when things don’t turn out exactly how I imagined, but it’s rewarding to live in a place you are rebuilding as long as you (and your wife and family) are patient. 

I’m an amateur but I’m getting a little professional training at Noblesville’s new Ivy Tech campus. I am delighted that they are offering construction-related courses in response to a demonstrated need in the community. As noted in this edition’s story about IWI (and is evident in the photo on page XXX), there’s a need for young workers with those skills. 

Here’s a suggestion: I’d love to see Ivy Tech specialize in training students in some of those traditional woodworking skills that have largely disappeared with modern construction techniques. Many of our old homes were built by first generation immigrants who brought skills learned in the old apprenticeship traditions. We’ve let those skills and traditions lapse, but there will always be a demand for high-end workmanship. I can envision a thriving partnership between Ivy Tech and Nickel Plate Arts in an effort to revive those old world skills. It would be great to see it happen here in Hamilton County.

See you around the county


Editor's Column - Mike Corbett

Deadlines and commitments 

Editor Mike CorbettWhat to leave in…what to leave out… 

Those lines from the Bob Seger classic Against the Wind have been running through my mind for the past several days. 

Editing is all about choices and we had to make some tough ones for this edition. The seed for our cover story was sown by Shauna Metzger, owner of Li’l Bloomers in Noblesville. Li’l Bloomers has been open about a year and the beauty of talking to new business owners is hearing their new perspectives. 

It seemed to Shauna that more businesses in Noblesville’s downtown were owned by women than you might expect. I started doing an informal inventory in my mind and I had to agree with her. There are lots of them. Sounds like a story, I said to myself. So she and I agreed to collaborate on the story and find out if our perceptions were true. 

That’s where the choices come in. Does downtown include more than the Courthouse Square? How far off the square do we count? Are we talking just retail or services businesses that may not have storefronts? Does “woman-owned” mean owned solely by a woman or do partnerships with husbands, siblings and significant others count? There’s a lot to consider and we quickly realized we couldn’t conduct a totally inclusive inventory of woman-owned businesses. 

So I’d like to offer a framework for this edition’s cover story: it’s a feature about the preponderance of woman-owned businesses in downtown Noblesville, but it’s not meant to be exhaustive. We couldn’t possibly cover every woman-owned business so we didn’t try. We took a sampling and provide some insights. We did try to invite as many women as we could think of to the cover photo shoot (thank you Shauna!). However, some couldn’t make it, some didn’t get the memo and no doubt we just missed some. 

To those we missed, I apologize. But it doesn’t change the gist of this edition’s cover story, which is that women are having a huge impact on business in downtown Noblesville. That is worth celebrating, especially in October, which is national Women in Business Month. Cheers!

It’s Budget Season 

Here’s my annual pitch. If your market is other business people and you want to reach the business community in Indiana’s fastest growing county, why not consider advertising in our pages? We offer an affordable way to reach people who are seeking better ways to run their businesses and your product or service may offer that solution. If so, let us be your marketing partner in getting the word out. We circulate to every chamber of commerce member in Hamilton County six times a year and we can help you build your brand in this thriving business community. Best of all we’re as local as you can get. All money invested in our magazine stays right here in Hamilton County (except federal taxes). Dash off an email and I’d be happy to reply with details. The economy is humming…this is no time to be timid. 

See you around the county