A steering committee of eight Southwest Central Indiana leaders and stakeholders – including Indiana University Vice President of Engagement Bill Stephan – began in mid-2013 to identify various assets, opportunities and resources that can be better coordinated and used to improve economic prospects for the region’s residents and communities.
The need for this effort was reflected in recent key economic indicators for the region, which includes Brown, Crawford, Daviess, Dubois, Green, Lawrence, Martin, Monroe, Orange, Owen, and Washington counties. Indeed, Southwest Central Indiana hosts highly concentrated industrial clusters anchored by globally competitive firms and advanced technology. Yet the region’s employment fell 0.3 percent between 2009-2012 – a time of sluggish economic recovery – while the national average grew 2.6 percent. Furthermore, the region’s per capita income of $34,657 was 21 percent lower than the U.S. average.
As part of this Lilly Endowment-funded initiative, a study was commissioned from the Battelle Technology Partnership Practice. Battelle TPP is the economic development arm of the Battelle Memorial Institute, the world’s largest nonprofit research and development organization. The result was a 132-page report that calls for Southwest Central Indiana, over the next decade, to “lay the foundation for a sustained, high-growth recovery that enables the region to ‘leap forward’ and become a leading job- and wealth-generating economy.”
Among the report’s many recommendations were six strategies that IU-Bloomington can embark upon to promote such growth. A summary of those items includes:
- Advancing a sense of regionalism by creating a rural development center of excellence that would coordinate resources in Southwest Central Indiana in areas such as information, communication, technology, financial services, career immersion, entrepreneurial opportunities, business management, administrative services, data centers, social science research, emerging economies and international development. The center would focus on rural health-related issues, long-term socioeconomic issues of rural development and preserving the rural identity of America in order to study, analyze and solve issues that face rural America.
- Fostering a high-value quality of place by furthering investments in areas such as the region’s historical facilities and thriving cultural arts scene – in large part driven by IU-Bloomington – to take advantage of opportunities being created by the new I-69 Corridor and create “live-work-play” environments.
- Advance workforce development and talent through the use of career immersion efforts that are aligned with federal, state and local efforts. Among such recommendations is the creation of an applied sciences institute at IU-Bloomington that would interact with Naval Surface Warfare Center-Crane (NSWC Crane) and other industry clusters in the region.
- Focused efforts to retain, expand and attract jobs within the industry clusters that provide the region’s greatest opportunities for economic growth. Such efforts include expanding or developing degrees in engineering and applied technologies while working in consultation with industry partners and NSWC Crane.
- Establish a collaborative applied research environment between Indiana’s research universities and NSWC Crane that can leverage each other’s assets to ensure the global relevancy of research and economic growth. The establishment of an applied research center would aid in relationship building without placing such burdens on individual IU faculty or Crane’s technical staff. It also would enable both to explore and pursue federal research, commercial opportunities, endowed chairs and exchange personnel in mutual-interest areas such as cyber security, radiation and material sciences.
- Catalyze a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem and culture by establishing entrepreneurial hubs in areas such as the Bloomington Certified Technology Park. Such hubs would focus on cluster industries that are innovative or technology based, that provide facilities and lab equipment, offer professional development and coaching/mentorship through entrepreneurs-in-residence, and offer access to risk capital. In turn, this would accelerate the creation and commercialization rate of start-up companies in the region.
At present, our staff within the Office of the Vice President of Engagement is assembling a document that will outline how IU-Bloomington plans to respond to the Battelle report’s recommendations. Although the document will not be completed until March, the responses that emerge may lead to a number of news announcements over the coming months and years – so please stay tuned. In the meantime, you may view the entire Battelle report here.