When Devin Hillsdon-Smith left his job in Indianapolis and headed down the interstate to the River Ridge Commerce Center last year, the avid backpacker realized he had chosen to take a less traditional path than most lawyers, but he knew the destination would be worth it.
He saw the vision for River Ridge, which had rapidly risen from the dust of the old Indiana Army Ammunition Plant after it closed in the 1990s. With 6,000 picturesque acres along the Ohio River, and virtually every amenity for business and companies such as Amazon choosing to locate there, he knew River Ridge was gaining steam. And he wanted to be a part of it.
“I get excited about economic development,” said Hillsdon-Smith, Deputy Director of the River Ridge Development Authority. “There’s so much transformative potential for business and the communities that surround it. And I’m a fan of adaptive-reuse.”
Hillsdon-Smith graduated from Indiana University’s Robert H. McKinney School of Law and practiced law briefly before joining the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC). But economic development was really where he wanted to be, and he spent more than five years at the IEDC, where he served as Director of Interagency Affairs and Redevelopment before coming to River Ridge.
Activity at River Ridge, which stretches from Jeffersonville to Charlestown in Clark County in Southern Indiana, produces a regional economic output of over $2.4 billion. The commerce center is home to more than 60 companies employing more than 10,500 people. In addition to one of the largest Amazon fulfillment centers in the nation, its tenants include companies such as Niagara Bottling, PharmaCord, Autoneum, Medline Industries Inc., Bose, Enjoy Life foods, Mister P Express Inc. and Collins Aerospace.
Hillsdon-Smith’s vision for River Ridge is to continue to grow the diversity of industries and the number of high-paying jobs. With approximately 4,000 acres left to develop, and shovel-ready tracts ranging from small parcels to a 1,000-acre megasite, River Ridge is poised to accelerate its status as a development juggernaut.
And it’s not hard to see why. Positioned near four major interstates, Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport and the Port of Indiana – Jeffersonville, River Ridge offers unparalleled logistical advantages.
“But we’re more than logistics,” Hillsdon-Smith said. “We’re a great spot for manufacturing, technology and research. And the new 600-acre Gateway Office Park will offer another wealth of options for high-tech companies, professional service firms, research and development, and corporate headquarters.”
Quality of life is another factor companies are increasingly considering when choosing where to locate. With the adjacent Charlestown State Park, walking paths, green spaces and an outdoor amphitheater, “we want to redefine what people think of when they think of a commerce center,” Hillsdon-Smith said.
But he said the most useful tool to encourage the area’s growth and development always comes down to the people.
“River Ridge is blessed with a diverse and experienced team with a background in all areas,” he said. “And we are committed to being part of the community. Getting out and understanding the community’s needs and priorities helps us make more informed decisions and more strategically go after those companies that fit.”
He said River Ridge is a great example of how communities can work together to promote economic development.
“The community leaders in Charlestown, Jeffersonville and Utica all work together and partner through us to promote growth and bring new jobs and tax dollars to the region.”
With Southern Indiana’s small-town charm and the big-city perks of Louisville just 20 minutes away, “there are so many reasons River Ridge and the businesses that locate here will continue to grow,” he said. “It really is the best of all worlds.”
When he isn’t working to grow River Ridge into a regional powerhouse, Hillsdon-Smith, a native of Canada, enjoys Canadian history, travel, politics, backpacking, Barclays Premier League, live jam band music and vinyl.