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Berne businesses excited about the clock tower project

BERNE, Ind.-Berne has a reputation for being a friendly town that attracts people from all over the area. Visitors enjoy the laid-back lifestyle and friendly atmosphere, and they come to buy furniture, jewelry, cars and trucks and a variety of other items.

Like other small towns, though, Berne is feeling the pinch of today's economic crunch. It is becoming increasingly difficult for businesses in Berne to survive, and while residents of the city would like to see things stay the same, with industry leaving, that isn't possible.

"Business is down," said Dwight Habegger of Habegger Furniture. "We can tell by the smaller number of customers coming to Berne. We need something that will bring more people through our doors."

Fred Clauser of Clauser Furniture said, "All cities have a choice-they can either stay the same and slowly die off-or they can invest some money and change-try new ideas that will help their town turn the corner and start to grow."

The influx of outside shoppers is a key factor to the survival of Berne. Karleen Sprunger of Richard's Jewelry said, "Retail can't survive on the business of local people alone. Sixty-five to seventy-five percent of our business comes from outside of town. We draw people from a 50 mile radius that extends up to Fort Wayne and over into Ohio. This outside business is crucial."

"The past few years Berne hasn't been growing," said Clauser. "Housing has been stagnant and manufacturing is on the decline. We need a shot in the arm to get this pattern turned around."

Stability for the local economy was what prompted the creation of the Berne Community Development Corporation in 2002. Since then, members of the group have studied the economic condition of Berne, and have also looked at other areas to see why some survive and others do not.

As a result of its studies, the CDC has determined that tourism is the answer to the future of Berne. With manufacturing leaving-and not coming back-Berne must build upon the attributes that naturally attract people to Berne. That is why the group has begun the aggressive and far- reaching plan to build the Muensterberg Plaza and Clock Tower.

"A project like the clock tower will be a big draw," said Clauser. "People will want to see it and spend time learning about Berne and its heritage, and once they're here, they'll eat, shop and spend money. As more money is spent locally, we businesses will be able to give more to local charities, youth activities, sporting and music groups and other worthwhile local projects."

"We feel very strongly about the need for this project," said Ron Sprunger. "It will bring more businesses to Berne. It won't just improve the quality of life for us in the present, but it will help us look to the future of Berne as well."

"Growth brings more business, which brings more jobs, which brings more people and their incomes, which brings more excitement and pride in the city-and the cycle goes on and on," said Clauser.

"I am 150 percent in favor of the clock tower project," said Habegger. "This is the best thing that has ever happened to Berne."

Some residents have expressed concern that building the clock tower will take money away from local projects like sewers and streets, but Habegger said, "We can do both," noting that infrastructure and economic development are of equal importance to the city.

The clock tower project will be fully funded by private donations, with no money coming from tax dollars. Karleen Sprunger said, "We need to realize that this isn't going to take money away from other projects, but it will add to the quality of life for all of us for years to come."

Clauser said, "One of the beautiful things about the clock tower is that the entire project is being financed through private donations. Not a penny of taxpayer money is being used. Everyone is being asked to be a part of the fundraising because it's a big undertaking, but no one has to contribute-it's all voluntary."

Businesses in Berne are excited about the economic boom that will result from the construction of the clock tower and adjoining plaza.

"This will change Berne for the better-no doubt about it," said Habegger.

"We feel very strongly about this," said the Sprungers. "We're losing businesses, and we need to do something to bring them back. The clock tower will do that."

"It's all about making our town alive and growing," said Clauser.

Former residents of Berne are also excited about the project, and several have already contributed. "It has been very rewarding to see the large number of former residents who want to give back to the little town where they grew up and learned the values that still guide them," said Clauser. "It's a great tribute to Berne and its way of life."

"When people from the outside start coming, the people of Berne are going to say, 'Wow,'" said Habgger. "And out-of-town people are going to wish that their towns could have such a thing."

"We would like to see everyone pull together on this project," said Karleen Sprunger, "because we believe in what it will do for the quality of life for all of us."

From the perspective of many of Berne's businesses, the reason for constructing the Muensterberg Plaza and Clock Tower seems clear. In the words of Habegger, "The future of Berne relies on this."

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