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Strategic Plan for Economic and Community Prosperity in Southwest Central Indiana

A Message from the Steering Committee, November 25, 2014

Rich with cultural and physical amenities as varied and unique as the 48 cities and towns that comprise our 11 counties and 4,499 square miles, Southwest Central Indiana has long been known as an oasis of lakes, forests and wildlife in a state famous for its farming and agriculture. Home to one of America’s oldest artist colonies, its largest state park, and what has often been known as the eighth wonder of the world, we are proud to have attracted visitors, vacationers and guests from around the world seeking out the beauty and serenity of our natural resources, the draw of our arts and entertainment, and the energy of our many recreational and athletic venues and events.

To the 400,000 people who call our region home, however, Southwest Central Indiana has so much more to offer than just the charm of its idyllic rural setting. It is place where people choose to raise their families, grow their gardens and explore the outdoors but it is also the home of world class manufacturing, research and innovation assets. Bloomington is ranked as the #1 small city for medical device and equipment manufacturing. Jasper has been acclaimed as one of America’s top 25 small towns. Martin County is home to the third largest Navy base in the world. Bedford and Bloomington were named the Indiana Chamber’s City of the Year the last two years and both Bedford and Huntingburg have recently been named as Stellar Communities of the year by the State of Indiana. And how fortunate we are that Monroe County is home to one of the world’s premier research institutions in Indiana University. Add to the list entities like the Battery Innovation Center, the Cook Center for Entrepreneurship, Westgate Academy, and the Center for Technology, Innovation and Manufacturing at Vincennes University Jasper and a bold picture of global sophistication and innovation emerges to complement the cultural and physical assets of our region.

The Process

In 2012, our Steering Committee was formed for the express purpose of leveraging our assets in a way that could lift up and enhance our communities in a long term and sustainable way. Each member of the Steering Committee is deeply invested in the region in one way or another. Many of us are homegrown and those who are not wish they might have been. We are deeply tied to our communities and represent organizations that value the purpose and intent of this work. It was with great enthusiasm that we embarked upon the task of developing a strategic plan for economic development in our 11 county region.

Leveraging the generosity of the Lilly Endowment, we established an aggressive timeline and employed a number of strategies to allow the Steering Committee to understand the complexities of our region, to analyze the realities of today, and to explore the potential for strategically exploiting our most compelling opportunities to achieve greater outcomes in the near future.

We owe our thanks and gratitude to the hundreds of individuals and organizations who took the time to participate in this effort. From the beginning the Community Foundations in each of the 11 counties played an integral part in convening conversations with key stakeholders, facilitating information gathering, and shaping our efforts to reflect the whole of our region. The plan attached to this document might have looked very different without the benefit of input from key stakeholders in listening sessions in every county, interviews with community minded individuals and key industry partners, and focus group meetings to address key subject areas including quality of life, education, workforce, industry engagement, and entrepreneurship.

The Steering Committee created a subcommittee structure to allow us to dig deeply and efficiently into key areas of focus. Our five subcommittees were populated by steering committee members and subject matter experts as we studied specific issues like infrastructure needs, regional connectivity, technology transfer, career immersion, stem education, and quality of life. In the area of education, every institution of higher education in the region participated enthusiastically in the process. Each one made a presentation to the Steering Committee and we were able to visit most of the campuses. In addition, the committees toured key industry and employer sites across the region and participated in a number of conferences related to key subject areas.

Several consultants were employed to help collect and analyze the wealth of data that was made available through numerous sources including the aforementioned meetings and interviews, regional data collated by the Indiana Business Research Center, and previous work product from across the region including strategic plans, economic development strategy documents, land-use studies, and more. We engaged students from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University to help analyze issues. To complete our information gathering, the Steering Committee conducted a number of benchmarking studies including an extensive tour of other comparable regions in the United States. We learned a great deal from their challenges and their successes and deeply appreciate their generous approach to sharing information and strategies.

Battelle Memorial Institute, Technology Partnership Practice, was our primary consultant throughout the process. Over a nine-month period they helped the Steering Committee formulate the visions, strategies and actions that have evolved into the comprehensive plan included with this document. Their team was selected as a result of an extensive resume related to engagement with military partners, technology transfer plans, economic development plans in rural areas, and a strong history of working with Indiana clients including BioCrossroads and Central Indiana Corporate Partnership. We also valued their experience creating statewide plans for Ohio’s Third Frontier Initiative and Georgia’s Research Alliance relevant.

The Steering Committee employed Battelle’s expertise in facilitating meetings, critically analyzing econometric data, and creating the foundational strategic planning document which was shaped to incorporate our vision. We relied upon their experience to ensure that our plan was informed with measurable metrics that will prove to be relevant over the long term.

The Strategies

The accompanying plan defines key strategies and action steps that are meant to reflect a number of key overarching ideas that we believe are essential to success in the region. We would summarize them as follows:

  • First, our 11 counties must coalesce into a true region of collaborative thinking and planning. A regional identity and brand must be created. From our benchmarking work, we know this will prove to be crucial. Using some of the world renowned scholars currently on faculty at Indiana University, an effort to create a center of excellence that studies and provides solutions to the new normal of rural poverty would allow the region to benefit from the expertise the University brings to the issues that plague rural communities and, in return, the region could serve as a testbed, of sorts, for applied cutting edge research.
  • Second, creating a high quality of place must be a priority. The fact that the nation’s newest stretch of interstate runs through four counties in the region, and will impact at least several more, is a transformative opportunity that cannot be missed. Bringing knowledge based businesses, along with other sought after industry clusters, rather than haphazard, lower value businesses and occupants will help to define the region in a positive way. Offering one of a kind, premier amenities for residents that fully utilize the scenic, ecological, cultural, historical and recreational advantages will attract both talent and visitors. Improving the connectivity of the region by cellular and internet improvements will also help anchor the knowledge based economy. This will prove essential in keeping our young people in the region and enticing our daughters and sons back to the region for both the high quality of life and highly skilled, high paying jobs.
  • Third, the development of the region’s workforce, particularly through enhancing K-12 and post-secondary experiences will be a key component to the plan. Through data-based industry workforce needs assessment, strong career immersion opportunities, strategic communication strategies with parents and students around education and career opportunities and pathways, and industry aligned higher education opportunities for the region’s students at WestGate Academy and the Battery Innovation Center, the region will better compete in the knowledge economy.
  • Fourth, we must take advantage of the distinct opportunities that exist only in this region as it relates to industry retention and attraction. Having identified the most compelling growth opportunities, and identifying targeted value chain enhancements that can come from existing industry clusters, as well as retention of regional specializations, a framework for targeted efforts by economic development professionals, elected officials and trade associations will now exist. Identifying the strongest organizational framework to support those identified industries will be an early key to success. Creating funding mechanisms for start-ups and accelerating their growth and scalability will also be important. Diverse types of funding, including a centrally managed infrastructure fund, seeded by a variety of funding sources to potentially include state dollars, philanthropic dollars, state and/or county CEDIT, TIF or other legislatively authorized funds will be necessary. Engagement by Indiana University in expanded offerings of applied technologies, sciences, and systems engineering design will further prepare students of the region for the jobs of the region.
  • Fifth, stronger collaboration and connectivity between the region’s public technology assets, at Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane and Indiana University will help strengthen Crane’s technical capabilities, and leverage IU’s strong research base. Integrating the institutions’ leadership, vision, strategy, collaboration, research and day to day interaction will enhance the value of both to the state and to the nation. It creates research opportunities and rewards for Department of Defense career scientists and engineers, as well as the academy at IU.
  • Sixth, a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem will be critical to creation of an innovation culture and job creation in the region. Creating an indigenous pipeline of tools and funding that supports a series of Entrepreneurial Hubs to enable innovation and technology based start-ups will help grow the culture. While successful ecosystems generally need to develop organically, there are demonstrably effective strategies that the public and private sector can employ to aid in the creation of the “rainforest”.

Next Steps

The Strategic Plan reflects the overarching vision of the Steering Committee for a strategic plan for our 11 county region. We have as a group and in coordination with our consultants dedicated more than 2,000 hours to the development of this plan. We have debated, discussed, and thoughtfully considered the ideas of others and of our peers. Together we offer the accompanying plan as the bedrock of our regional plan. We believe it provides a blueprint for enhancing the economic engine of our region. It leverages strong public assets already in place and provides achievable steps for attracting additional assets to complement our strengths.

There are many details and decisions yet to be made and the importance of the buy-in of key anchor institutions cannot be overstated. It is the hope of the Steering Committee that there will be a number of key benefactors, investors, and donors who come to own different pieces of this comprehensive plan. From the outset, this plan was always intended to provide a comprehensive set of strategies and actions. No one solution was ever going to allow us to achieve our goals of growing and attracting talent, increasing net in-migration, offering compelling opportunities for our families, retaining our strength in key industry clusters and expanding in others that align with our core assets, and realizing the potential of I-69. For this plan to succeed, many partners will need to take a seat at the table. It is the path for catapulting this area into one of the Midwest’s key economic engines for global competitiveness.

It is our hope that this plan will serve as the catalyst for a transformative era in this region’s history. We believe that the strategies and actions defined in this plan will take at lease a decade to implement. While we may begin to see some immediate impact, we know patience will be required as progress will be achieved incrementally. With the right leadership, support, funding, and champions, we are convinced that this plan will allow us to create an economic engine unique to Southwest Central Indiana.

Steering Committee

Brian Blackwell
Director of Engagement for Naval Surface Warfare Center at NSA Crane.

Duane Embree
National Director of Military and Defense Initiatives, Ivy Tech Community College and Executive Director of the Office of Defense Development for the State of Indiana. Retired as the Technical Director of Naval Surface Warfare Center at NSA Crane.

Paul Mitchell
President and CEO of Energy Systems Network, an initiative of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership. Previously in the Office of Governor Mitch Daniels as Policy Director for Economic Development, Workforce, & Energy, and acted as Governor’s liaison to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission and Office of Utility Consumer Counselor.

Dan Peterson
Vice President of Industry and Government Affairs for Cook Group, located in Bloomington, Indiana, with a twenty plus year history with Cook Group.

Tina Peterson
President and CEO of the Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County in Indiana. Previously served as Executive Director for the Monroe County Community School Foundation.

Becky Skillman
President and CEO of Radius Indiana, a regional economic development organization serving 8 of the 11 counties in the region. Indiana’s former Lt. Governor and state senator for 12 years.

William Stephan
Vice President of Engagement for Indiana University, overseeing all of the university’s functions linked to economic development, technology commercialization, and marketing.

Cmdr. James Stewart
Commanding Officer of NSA Crane

Read the complete Strategic Plan