If it Ain’t Burr Oak, Don’t Fix It!

My friend Eric Freeman used to say that when he stepped down as Culver Chamber President, he would take on Burr Oak.  The title of this post was to be his motto for Burr Oak’s renaissance.  He thought “If it ain’t Burr Oak, don’t fix it!” would catch on.  Unfortunately for Burr Oak, Eric changed jobs and moved to Indy before he could lead them to greatness.

NIPSCO Burr Oak Substation (thumb)

NIPSCO Substation west of Burr Oak

I drive through Burr Oak daily without giving it much thought unless I’m stopped by a train.  The recent hub-bub about new NIPSCO line routes and the expansion of the NIPSCO substation adjacent to Burr Oak have had me thinking about it more lately.  This is partially due to the county-wide discussions promoted by MCEDC (Marshall County Economic Development Corporation) and how to make our communities more conducive to development.  MCEDC is constantly working on a dialogue with Marshall County communities about how to make themselves more conducive to positive development and economic growth.  There is a lengthy checklist of what industry looks for, but if you apply some of the big ones to Burr Oak, there is potential.

Norfolk Southern mobile museum Exhibit Car

Rail Access  –  Check!  Burr Oak not only has rail access, but has an existing rail side track  –  something difficult to obtain and expensive to build these days.  Plus getting a new one approved that crosses an existing state highway would be nearly impossible in today’s regulatory environment.  Norfolk Southern runs as many as 35 trains a day through Burr Oak on this track.

Electric Service Capacity  –  Check!  Just hit the above NIPSCO link to see the amount of power that will be passing through the new substation.  (All routes lead through Burr Oak.  There is a map showing the routes considered here.)  

Available Workforce  –  Check!  Marshall County as a whole draws much of its workforce from adjacent Starke and Pulaski counties.  Burr Oak’s location towards the southwest corner of Marshall County and its close proximity to State Road 8 make access to the labor force convenient.

Good Schools  –  Check!  Burr Oak sits between Culver and Plymouth.  Plymouth is becoming known throughout the state as one of the better and most progressive public school systems in the State of Indiana.  Culver is home to one of the preeminent internationally known private schools in the nation.

Picture of sailboats in front of Culver Academies Chapel borrowed from the Culver Chamber website

Quality of Life  –  Check!  As MCEDC often promotes, Marshall County in general is a nice place to live.  Burr Oak is close to Culver for recreation, restaurants, golf courses, etc.  Rural living around Burr Oak is available and economical.  Lake shore residences are available in nearby Culver and the Chain of Lakes area including the Lake Latonka development just minutes away.

Highway Access – Semi-Check…  Burr Oak suffers from the same perceived negative as the rest of Marshall County  –  No Interstate access.  But look at what they do have…  They are on a State highway, within a few miles of two other state highways and within 10 miles of two four-lane state highways.  There are 12 million people within 100 miles!  (Source)

From here, the list becomes spotty.  There isn’t a water system or sewer system in Burr Oak.  While not every industry needs these infrastructures for production, many require them for fire safety.  Which brings up emergency services.  They would need to be provided by Culver which still remains a mostly volunteer service.  There isn’t high speed internet service.  The recently approved expansion of the Metronet into Plymouth and Marshall County is positive for those area, but expansion into southern Marshall County is at least several years away.  Burr Oak proper doesn’t have much to offer in the way of commerce, but it is ripe for something to happen.

So, what makes a community thrive or die?  As I’ve listed here, Burr Oak has a lot of positives.  In some cases positives that outweigh those in other Marshall County communities.  Personally I think it is the drive of community leaders.  Burr Oak needs an Eric Freeman with a vision for the community!  Every community talks about wanting a strong economy, but few are doing something about it.  Communities often rise and fall as community leaders appear and disappear.  Many times these leaders are shooting stars.  They come on to the scene out of nowhere and burn brightly.  To continue the analogy, some of them disappear on the horizon as they are recognized and drawn to bigger challenges, while others fizzle out when their passion or support disappears.  It is unfortunate that communities often don’t recognize these forces until they’ve lost them.  (Source)

Plymouth had PIDCO (Plymouth Industrial Development Corporation) in the late 50’s and through the 60’s and 70’s.  They aggressively pursued community involvement encouraging small investments from people in the community in order to gain broad acceptance of goals.  They bought land, partnered with the city to get infrastructure in place and then pursued and captured new businesses for Plymouth.  Unfortunately they have become less of a player and are no longer as aggressively pursuing these opportunities.  They are suffering from some mission drift and divided attention.  Their name still contains “Industrial” but their website has been renamed “Plymouth Alive” and talks about downtown commercial business pursuits.

Culver also once had an Industrial Promotion Committee as part of the Culver Jaycees.  This group was responsible for bringing McGill Manufacturing Co., Inc. from Valparaiso to Culver with a new 60,000 sf facility.  (The building is currently occupied by Elkay.)   But from all indications, the group fizzled quickly after that first success and the Culver Jaycees as a parent group has been dissolved as well.  (Source)

MCEDC is attempting to fill the voids left by these groups, but sometimes it is difficult when there is not engaged community leadership.  The County Development for the Future meetings that MCEDC has sponsored quarterly is an attempt to foster new stars in each Marshall County community.  The biggest success story so far is the Town of Argos and their purchase of 75 acres for future development. (Annexation Article)  They are well on their way to making this a Shovel Ready Site registered with the IEDC (Indiana Economic Development Corporation).  Following their example, Bourbon is in the process of annexing additional property for development.  Who will be the next community to step up to the challenge?


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