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Posted on Tue. Jan. 01, 2013 - 12:01 am EDT

Year in review: Top Fort Wayne, state business stories

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What you said

Here's how you ranked the business stories of the year in our online polls, from most to least important:

Right-to-work passes, 21

Parkview Regional opens, 7

Aqua Indiana struggles with drought, 3

Black Friday now Thursday, 2

Companies coming to town, 1

Right to Work passes

Indiana became the Rust Belt's first right-to-work state Feb. 1. The contentious bill prompted House Democratic lawmakers to hold up business at the start of the session by staying away from the chambers while they suggested amendments and putting the bill before voters in a referendum. Outnumbered in both chambers, the law finally passed and bans union contracts that include mandatory fees for representation.

The law didn't sit well with labor unions and other opponents who said it was an effort to break down organized labor and drives down working wages.

Gov. Mitch Daniels supported the law, arguing that the state was missing opportunities to attract businesses because it was not a right-to-work state.

Democrats, outnumbered by Republicans 60-40 in the House didn't leave the state as they had in 2011. Instead they sequestered themselves behind closed-door meetings at the Statehouse off and on in January. As Republican Speaker Brian Bosma imposed $1,000-a-day fines on the absent lawmakers, the Senate – where Republicans held a 37-13 majority – started to debate its version of the right-to-work bill.

Outnumbered, the Democrats returned and the vote was held.

Aqua Indiana struggles with drought, keeping independence

During the summer's drought, Aqua Indiana's water utility in southwest Allen County struggled to keep up with customer demand. It eventually had to connect to the city of Fort Wayne's supply in late June. In August, it announced it had added an 11th well that would give its customers access to an additional 500,000 gallons of water per day. During July's heat wave, water usage reached an average of 5 million gallons a day.

In November, Mayor Tom Henry announced the city would move forward by the end of the year with a plan to take over the southwest utility. Meanwhile, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission gave Aqua Indiana until Oct. 1 to submit a new master plan to the state.

The private utility serves about 12,000 customers in southwest Allen County, 70 percent of which live in Fort Wayne, said Ted Nitza, a special consultant to City Utilities.

Aqua's water quality and pressure have long drawn complaints from southwest Fort Wayne residents, and the company's rates are about twice as much as City Utilities. At least 20 neighborhoods' residents, accounting for 30 percent of Aqua's customers in Allen County, have signed petitions asking for the city to take over the utility, Ted Nitza, a special consultant to City Utilities.

If council approves the takeover, it could still take years for the city to get control of the utility and even longer before the full price becomes clear, based on the city's previous buyout of Aqua's north-side assets. Eight years after the city first announced its intent to take over Aqua's north side customers, the two parties are still locked in a court battle over the correct price. The city paid about $17 million, but Aqua Indiana President Tom Bruns says the assets were worth twice that.

Black Friday now Black Thursday

Before the Thanksgiving turkey had even grown cold, many shoppers bundled up and headed out to do their Christmas shopping. In a bid to keep them in the black, retailers opened up even earlier on Thanksgiving Day to offer deals on many popular products.

Walmart, 1710 Apple Glen Blvd., and Target, 1102 S. Thomas Road, opened at 8 and 9 p.m. Nov. 22, respectively, and they were crowded. At Target, about 800 shoppers were in line minutes before doors opened.

Walmart never closed but had "doorbuster" specials stacked on pallets and shrink-wrapped, earmarked for sale after 8 p.m. One group tore the wrapping off a pallet of goods at about 7:45 and started packing them in their carts. Store managers then opened other pallets early, too.

Parkview Regional opens to patients

Parkview Regional Medical Center on the city's north side appeared to open without a hitch March 17. Prepared for everything from snowstorms to traffic jams, the transfer of 113 patients from the Parkview Randallia campus to Parkview Regional came under clear skies and amid warm weather. The nine-story center near the intersection of Interstate 69 and Dupont Road features all-private rooms with 446 beds. The construction of Parkview Regional cost more than $500 million and produced a facility of more than 900,000 square feet.

Among its features:

•Specialty centers for heart, neurosciences and orthopedics

•Helipad for Samaritan helicopter

•Full-service 24/7 ER with board-certified emergency physicians

•Critical care and surgery with improved patient-flow areas for patients, families and staff

•Verified Level II Adult and Pediatric Trauma Centers

•Ronald McDonald House for families of hospitalized children

Companies coming

General Mills' new distribution facility on Bluffton Road near Interstate 469 officially opened Sept 5. When it was announced last year, local officials said it would bring 60 jobs in addition to the 78 jobs associated with the existing General Mills facility nearby. General Mills would not say how many people are employed at the new operation or allow photographers to shoot photos or video inside it. Franklin Electric of Bluffton broke ground on its new headquarters at 9255 Coverdale Road in southern Allen County. The $36 million SDI LaFarga, a joint operation between Fort Wayne-based and Spain-based companies of a copper rod and wire plant opened this year east of New Haven. The project initially said it would hire 35, though it could expand later.

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