BY CINDY GERLACH
PHOTOS BY CHRISTINE PETKOV

The Lafayette Life Insurance building on the corner of Teal Road and 18th Street in Lafayette has been transformed. The building, vacant since 2011, now houses a modern center for learning, for exploring. Students from all area high schools get career training that will prepare them for either postsecondary education or to enter the workforce. 

The idea for a career academy was the inspiration of area school superintendents. Les Huddle, Lafayette School Corp. superintendent, took a look one day at the building, which sits conveniently across the street from Jefferson High School, and had an idea. So he made phone calls to Rocky Killion and Scott Hanback, his counterparts in West Lafayette and Tippecanoe County respectively, to discuss the potential for that property and what it might do for students. 

“The original vision was for the three school corporations to partner together and build a facility that would serve the students from all three corporations,” says Huddle. 

And the Greater Lafayette Career Academy was born. It provides opportunities for students in their junior and senior years to seek training and certification in a variety of areas, all of which will help prepare them for their future, says Miranda Hutcheson, director, Career Technical Education at GLCA.

The vison grew, with partnerships from Ivy Tech, Purdue University and area industry. 

“Once GLCA entered into a design stage, the partnership was expanded to include others as [Greater Lafayette Commerce], Ivy Tech and local businesses and manufacturers,” Huddle says. “This inclusive model provided the design team with the ability to match the students’ needs with the community needs. The result of the multiple partnerships resulted in a quality facility that offers quality career pathways for students in our county to explore and succeed in.”

The courses vary in their offerings, their style, and their ultimate goals. In some cases, the courses are more introductory, giving students an idea of what to expect in certain fields, helping them decide if they want to continue in that career path. In other programs, students will leave with a certification or dual credit. 

As a public school building, the Career Academy is held to those same requirements as the home schools, Hutcheson says. Students with an Individualized Education Plan or who need classroom accommodations will receive any assistance they require.  

The fully remodeled building boasts 65,000 square feet of space — about 20,000 square feet were added to house the construction, automotive and manufacturing spaces. The result of the $30 million project is state-of-the art classrooms, labs and workspace, all of which help students achieve their goals of workforce preparedness. 

Students who enroll at the GLCA remain enrolled at their home schools. They will take courses on that campus in the morning and then move to the GLCA for the afternoon session. Students drive themselves or, in some cases, transportation is provided. 

The programs offered are designed to help students prepare for the future. Current offerings may include automotive services, aviation operations and flight, aviation maintenance, computer science, construction trades, cosmetology, criminal justice, culinary arts and hospitality, education careers, emergency medical technician, engineering design and development, fire and rescue, manufacturing, medical assistant, networking and cybersecurity, precision agriculture, pre-nursing (CNA), radio/TV, and welding. 

Program offerings will vary. And not all programs are offered every year, Hutcheson says. They will differ based on student enrollment and staffing. 

Purdue has been a partner in some programming, and industry partners have already stepped up; some are offering incentives — which can include guaranteed job interviews, increased base pay and signing bonuses — to students who complete the Governor’s Work Ethic Certificate, a statewide competency-based program that rates competency in categories such as persistence, respectfulness, initiative, dependability, efficiency, academic readiness and discipline. 

Because the courses are so different, the work in each varies. Much of it is hands-on — students in culinary arts work in a test kitchen, while students in the automotive program work on cars. 

And the result, at the end of the year, is that some students take their skills to actual customers. In construction, the students build — and sell — playhouses. In the culinary program, the group opened and operated a lunch bistro for three weeks. 

Not to mention fun perks for students: When it was time to test out auto detailing, students got to bring in their own cars for that custom service. 

Each Friday is Life Skills Friday. Students have a chance to rotate through all he programs, seeing what each offers, learning skills and touring the building. Each program will offer a different activity — students learned about personal finance, how to hang a picture, and how to change a tire. 

Most instructors bring some real-life experience to the role. Lafayette Police Department officers help teach the criminal justice classes, for example. But there can be challenges for instructors in this environment, Hutcheson says. In a new facility with a new program, they may be the only instructor in that area, without any colleagues to directly work with. Thus, she says, the administration works to help provide resources and networking, such as the statewide conference it hosted in the spring. Because, Hutcheson says, she knows the instructors want to bring the best they can to these students. 

“They are committed to education,” Hutcheson says. “Most of them have industry experience. Their knowledge is invaluable to these students.”

Goals for the students will vary, Hutcheson says. Some will gain enough knowledge or earn a certification that will allow them to find employment in their field after high school graduation. Other students will go on to seek a two or four-year degree. And some students, having tried out a program, will determine that it is not the best fit and move in a different direction. Which, she says, are all successful outcomes. 

Because, she says, there is a bit of a misconception about the students who attend GLCA. It is not a repository for students who lack motivation or drive; it’s quite the opposite. 

“We serve all students who are interested in a career, with all abilities and all interests,” she says. “Kids choose to be here. The programs are competitive. They know that to be here is a privilege and not a right.” 

Enrollment continues to increase; Hutcheson is seeing a 50 to 70 percent increase each semester. The facility is designed to house about 950 students, but Hutcheson says they can be flexible and creative, using sone offsite locations. 

The goal is to help all students find their passion — whatever it may be. But it is, Hutcheson says, about the whole student. This is a place where they can spend some time figuring out and exploring who they want to be as they move into their postgraduate life.

“It’s a safe space to transition to adulthood,” she says. And in the halls of the GLCA, there are no limits.

“Now that the GLCA has been operating for several years and the pandemic has slowed, we are seeing more and more students enrolling in a variety of career pathways,” Huddle says. “Many of the GLCA students will continue on to some form of higher education, and many will leave the GLCA with skills that will allow them to enter the local workforce.”

And, Huddle says, it has truly been a boon to the entire area. 

 “The GLCA success is due to the local school corporations and our community partnering together to provide a unique educational opportunity for all of our students,” he says. “With the school and community partnering together, the GLCA can now be looked upon as a valuable community resource for our entire county.”

The students, though, truly benefit, and they say it best. Harrison student Elijah Froiland shared his thoughts in a Tweet in February 2021:

“Choosing to go to the GLCA has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The instructors are extremely kind and you can tell that they really want you to succeed. This has really made my senior year special.”  ★

For more information, go to: glcareeracademy.com

BY KAT BRAZ
PHOTOS PROVIDED

[ INVESTING IN THE FUTURE WORKFORCE ]

Arconic Foundation, the philanthropic arm of one of the largest manufacturing companies in the region, invests in skill-building learning experiences that enhance individual opportunity, specifically within STEM education and manufacturing workforce development. 

One initiative the foundation supports is Manufacturing Month, held in October. The interactive online portal launched by Greater Lafayette Commerce (GLC) teaches K-12 students about manufacturing and the wealth of career options available to them in the manufacturing sector. 

The virtual experience complements Manufacturing Week, which includes in-person workshops, an expo at the Tippecanoe County Fairgrounds and tours of local manufacturing facilities, all geared to educate K-12 students about the vast opportunities and career pathways available to them. 

“Arconic is a big supporter of Manufacturing Week,” says Scott Greeson, community advocate for the Arconic Foundation. “A number of years ago, the manufacturing industry began to see a shortage in the number of skilled workers. GLC and the mayor’s office wanted to develop a program to educate youth about careers in manufacturing, and Arconic jumped on board right away. Not only supporting Manufacturing Week but providing funding to convert those resources to an online format that instructors can access and integrate into their curriculum.”  

Greeson held a number of jobs at Arconic before retiring in 2018 as a tool and die design engineer and transitioning to his role as community advocate for the foundation. 

“I am very passionate about getting kids to realize that manufacturing is a respectable career path,” Greeson says, “that it is a good way to earn a living for your family, support your community as well as the entire state. With a little bit of planning, you can launch your career right out of high school and make an outstanding income from the get-go.”

Greater Lafayette Career Academy received funding from Arconic Foundation to outfit its makerspace, and the Lafayette Crossing School of Business and Entrepreneurship based in the Northend Community Center used grant money to furnish a computer lab.

“It’s not just about igniting a spark that leads someone to a career in manufacturing,” Greeson says. “It’s allowing kids to have access to the skills they need at the earliest possible age. Helping them to understand that they can use their hands and mind to create and build things that will make a difference in their community.”     

[ PREVENTING YOUTH SUICIDE ]

In December 2021, North Central Health Services (NCHS) announced its commitment of more than $1.1 million in Preventing Youth Suicide grants and support to 12 school corporations throughout North Central Indiana. The grants will support schools in six counties launching evidence-based youth suicide prevention programs, reaching an anticipated 35,000 students by the 2024 school year. 

“The schools will be working with an entity called Education Development Center (EDC), a global nonprofit that advances lasting solutions to improve education, promote health and expand economic opportunity,” says Stephanie Long, president and CEO of NCHS. “EDC is a national leader in the field of social and emotional learning, mental health and suicide prevention.” 

In addition to grant funding for the program, participating school and district teams will receive support from EDC on how to integrate mental health within their education systems as well as technical assistance to provide schools with training and systems support to build robust evidence-based suicide prevention efforts. The program has six key components:

  • Written protocols for helping students at risk of suicide
  • Written protocols for response after a suicide
  • Developing community partnerships to ensure students receive necessary support and services. 
  • Identification of youth at-risk for suicide
  • Promoting protective factors that enhance students’ well-being
  • Engaging key stakeholders, including parents and school leadership, in suicide prevention messaging, planning and training. 

According to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, suicide is the third leading cause of death for ages 10 to 24 in Indiana and the second leading cause of death for ages 25 to 35. Centers for Disease Control data indicate that Indiana suicide rates have increased along with suicidal ideation for youth 10 to 24. 

“We looked at not only national data, but Indiana data and some local data from our schools indicating that students have felt extra stress as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Long says. “Our community needs health assessment completed in 2021 identified mental wellness as an area that could use some impact.” 

The Preventing Youth Suicide grants expand on work many of the schools have done to implement social-emotional competency, drug resistance and mental well-being curriculums. Coupled with the Resilient Youth Initiative grants, NCHS has granted more than $7.3 million back into community schools to support their efforts to maintain a protective culture for children and youth. 

“We’ve got excellent schools and educators in our community who are always striving to grow what they are doing,” Long says. “The Preventing Youth Suicide grants are an opportunity to provide them with necessary funding to support their work and connect them with experts in the mental health field.” 

[ EXPANDING ACCESS TO TECHNOLOGY ] 

Students throughout the region have benefited from a three-year e-learning project that Wabash Heartland Innovation Network (WHIN) launched in November 2020. Coinciding with the COVID-19 pandemic when many students were learning from home, the project has improved internet access in homes across WHIN’s 10-county service region to enhance e-learning opportunities. 

“WHIN allocated $5 million from our Regional Cultivation Fund (RCF) to enhance e-learning throughout the region,” says Pat Corey, vice president of engagement for WHIN. “Thus far, we’ve awarded more than $1.3 million in grants, impacting about 27,000 students. And we expect to fund a whole lot more.”

Established five years ago through a nearly $40 million grant from Lilly Endowment, WHIN is a consortium of 10 counties in north-central Indiana (Benton, Carroll, Cass, Clinton, Fountain, Montgomery, Pulaski, Tippecanoe, Warren and White) leading the adoption of digital technology with the aim of becoming the first recognized smart region in the nation. 

“WHIN’s 10 counties form a living laboratory for advanced technology,” Corey says. “It’s a unique organization. There’s no other 501(c)(3) in the country that has accepted the challenge of accelerating digitalization. Indiana has a 20 percent gap in productivity in its advanced industry sector, and the country as a whole has an 80 percent gap in productivity in its agriculture sector. Closing those gaps is what’s going to keep Indiana competitive.”

Community Schools of Frankfort were awarded $157,000 from the RCF in February to equip school buses with hotspots, add hotspots to outdoor learning areas and help students with MiFi devices at home. 

A $10,000 grant to Frontier School Corporation turned FFA land plots managed by partner school districts into digital agriculture testbeds and living labs for students, area farmers and ag businesses to experiment with data collection in practice. 

MSD of Warren County School Corporation received a $105,000 planning grant to create a Department of Education-approved, dual-credit precision agriculture course and externship program for high school juniors and seniors. The curriculum will be made available to all WHIN school districts. 

Another grant in the works at Benton Central Jr.-Sr. High School will develop coursework in sensor-based technologies to get students excited about careers in data. Once the pilot career builder program is complete, all the school corporations in the region will have access to the new resource for their students. 

“Students don’t realize that the world of big data is here, and they need to be ready for it,” Corey says.  ★

BY KEN THOMPSON
PHOTOS PROVIDED

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic made working from home mandatory for many workers, the concept of coworking spaces was beginning to take root.

The cofounders of MatchBOX Coworking Studio – Jason Tennenhouse, Dennis Carson and Mikel Berger – saw a need for a professional space for early stage entrepreneurs, according to Amanda Findlay, managing director of MatchBOX.

“The cofounders … were inspired to bring a coworking space to Lafayette because of their own involvement and interests in local entrepreneurship,” Findlay says. “The coworking model is loosely based on the concept of hackerspaces, or shared, community-run spaces for tinkering and tech.”

MatchBOX, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, was ahead of its time in Indiana. Findlay says the concept of shared and community-focused workspaces started to emerge in larger cities during the late 2000s.

“Even before the recent and necessary rise in remote work, MatchBOX saw a need … founders growing their businesses, freelancers and contractors operating in the gig economy, and anyone dissatisfied with their home office.”

Breanna Benn, whose responsibilities as client relations and facilities support manager include The Purdue Railyard coworking space, has heard the dissatisfaction stories from some of its clients.

“They’ve worked from home, they’ve got small children and that’s been a distraction while they’re home,” Benn says. “They are coming to The Railyard for a place to go to concentrate and get out of their home.”

Both MatchBOX and The Railyard occupy large buildings. MatchBOX is located in downtown Lafayette and occupies a 12,000-square-foot space that once belonged to a car dealership. The Railyard’s site – inside Herman and Heddy Kurz Purdue Technology Center — is 26,140 square feet, which Purdue boasts is one of the largest single coworking spaces in the United States.


Each coworking space offers convincing arguments to lure potential clients.

“As an extroverted armchair anthropologist, I find community to be the most compelling value of a coworking space,” Findlay says. “Entrepreneurs, freelancers and remote workers are all susceptible to professional loneliness. Research has shown that a sense of belonging is a fundamental human need, and having ‘work friends’ has a positive impact on professional happiness, motivation and productivity. For someone without an office full of colleagues, there are few opportunities to build friendships in the workspace outside of coworking.”

Findlay adds that a coworking membership is much less expensive than rent for a private office. Access to shared resources such as printers, meeting rooms and fast, reliable WiFi are benefits included in MatchBOX’s membership. So is a coffee bar, phone booths and a reserved desk area. There’s also free access to the MatchBOX Makerspace and acceleration programs for members. 

The Railyard’s amenities include a café, a mailbox and a business address at the Research Park. 

“Being a member of The Railyard you also have access to our networking events,” Benn says. “We just started up a network event called ‘The Mix.’ We invite, essentially, anybody who wants to come. It’s a good opportunity for startup companies, entrepreneurs to really network with people in their industry.

Findlay says the most popular service MatchBOX provides is meeting rooms. 

“For professionals interacting with clients face-to-face, the meeting rooms are a standout resource,” she says. “Renting rooms as needed or meeting in coffee shops or other public spaces can be expensive or distracting. Our members enjoy access to spaces that are accessible but professional to host and facilitate meetings. 

“For entrepreneurs starting or growing businesses, our office hours program has proven helpful in getting more complex questions answered, especially for the first-time entrepreneurs who are still learning the ropes.” 

Now that Greater Lafayette is moving out of the pandemic, Findlay believes MatchBOX will continue to grow.

“There will always be jobs that are more or less amenable to remote work,” Findlay says. “I think that the infrastructure for remote work was already decent and has recently been improved out of necessity. In-person or on-site work perhaps is no longer the default or assumed way that employees will get their jobs done.”

Another side effect of the pandemic was people coming to the decision that maybe their current job isn’t satisfying or paying enough to continue.

“One exciting potential outcome for MatchBOX and Greater Lafayette is that we might start to see that a person changing their career or employer won’t necessarily need to relocate and build an entirely new network,” Findlay says. “We’ve had several MatchBOX members change jobs while working in the studio, and their new employer is on the other side of the country, but their office and their routine and their ‘work friend’ circle all stayed the same. It’s a much less disruptive experience that allows people to detach the town they live in from the location of their employer and stay in a community they love while growing professionally.”

Membership numbers are beginning to grow at The Railyard, approaching 100.

“Before the pandemic we were probably within the 80s,” Benn says. “It hasn’t grown to a huge increase quite yet, but everybody I’ve talked to wants this for the same reasons, so we believe we’re going to grow even more.

“I’m planning to have more events and more networking opportunities. A lot of people are looking for that now. They’ve been in their houses and haven’t met new people. We’re just trying to come up with new ways to have people interact with one another.”

The Railyard has something else in common with MatchBOX, a tie to transportation. 

There’s a homage to the Purdue Schenectady No. 1, the first full-scale locomotive used in the Purdue Locomotive Testing Plant in the late 1880s and early 1900s. 

The Railyard boasts antique railroad memorabilia as well.

“It’s funny that a lot of people don’t know the whole story,” Benn says. “It is interesting to a lot of people.”

MatchBOX isn’t just a home for business professionals. It also appeals to artists, creative writers, podcast hosts, gamers and cosplayers.

“We’re definitely here for the hobbyists,” Findlay says. “For the makerspace specifically, the cosplay and gamer crowd enjoys building props for their costumes or game play. Custom mini-figures and carrying cases seem to be popular in the boardgaming community.”

MatchBOX also provides scholarship opportunities and programming in place to support early stage entrepreneurs and members of the Greater Lafayette community, Findlay says.  ★

To find out more about MatchBOX, visit its website at mbx.studio or call 765.588.9295. 
To learn more about The Purdue Railyard or to become a member, contact Breanna Benn at 765.588.3470 or email PurdueRailyard@prf.org

BY CINDY GERLACH

Teledyne FLIR’s slogan is “Everywhere You Look”. 

For 20 years, this company in Purdue’s Research Park has been improving technology, “helping people around the world save lives, protect the environment and enhance productivity. We’re building more than innovative technologies; we’re striving to build a more sustainable, more efficient, safer future.” 

Teledyne FLIR, a company started by two Purdue graduates who worked with Dr. Graham Cooks, is owned by parent company Teledyne, a large multinational conglomerate. FLIR is a leader for its applications in thermal imaging and chemical detection, says Clint Wichert, director; site operations. 

The company is best known for its highly specialized chemical detection instruments. There are broad applications for these instruments, which use mass spectrometry, allowing for very specific chemical identification. They can separate specific chemical mixtures, allowing the identification of minute amounts of potentially hazardous chemicals. 

“Our instrument is really the best to use in these applications,” Wichert says. 

This highly specialized equipment can be used by the military, first responders and by hazardous materials units. 

It can, for example, detect fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is highly addictive and possibly fatal when taken in high doses. It is often mixed with other drugs on the black market; this technology can detect fentanyl at even 2 or 3 percent, when it is mixed with acetaminophen — a dangerous and potentially lethal combination.

Improvements in technology have made these instruments smaller and more compact over the years, and they are now portable, meaning they can now be transported to a site. With a three to nine-month backlog in some modern forensics labs, this means less time to identify a substance, and less chance that substance will be contaminated during transport. 

“This technology is really the gold standard for chemical identification,” says Wichert. 

The instruments are sensitive and complex. For years, they were large; with the computer required, pumps and the power source, they took up a great deal of space. But the same technological progressions the world has seen in all other areas have helped make this technology more portable and accessible. 

“We’ve worked progressively over the past 20 years to miniaturize the technology,” says Wichert. “Something that used to weigh 120 pounds is now down to under 40 pounds. This same kind of tech progression has happened and been pioneered in West Lafayette.”

The company employs around 50 people and hires many Purdue graduates but also gets talent from Indiana University and Rose Hulman. Employees are drawn to the Lafayette area and working in the Research Park, with its proximity to the Purdue campus and ability to continue the collaboration with Dr. Cooks. 

As the company continues to grow and expand, it looks forward to expanding these life-saving technologies, Wichert says. 

“It’s been great over the last 20 years to really have the support of the community and of Purdue,” he says. “We work with experts, and we like to be able to tap into this talent pool, both technology and manufacturing. We’re happy to be part of this community.”  ★

BY KAT BRAZ
PHOTOS PROVIDED

The night of April 14, 2004, seems like a lifetime ago to Donte Wilburn, the Lafayette businessman honored as the 2021 entrepreneur of the year by the Indiana Small Business Development Center. That night, Wilburn, then 22 years old and a junior at Purdue University, sped through the streets of Lafayette, desperate to get his friend to the emergency room. The two had just been involved in a drug deal gone bad. Wilburn’s friend was shot four times. 

“That night altered my life forever,” Wilburn says. “I had been living a dual life since I was in 10th grade at Harrison High School and someone taught me how to sell drugs. I continued selling in college, but that night was supposed to be my last big drug deal. I could have died.” 

Wilburn’s friend survived the gunshot wounds. And eight months later, Wilburn pled guilty to conspiracy to deal marijuana, a Class D felony. He was sentenced to three years of community corrections. He went to jail but was allowed to leave to attend school and work. The only place that would hire him with his felony record was a local carwash. During that time, he earned his bachelor’s degree from Purdue. 

“Underneath my graduation gown I was wearing an ankle monitor,” Wilburn says. “I asked the correctional officers if I could have one hour after graduation and they gave it to me. I took my girlfriend to Logan’s steakhouse and proposed to her. Before the food came out, I had to go back to jail.” 

Donte Wilburn, owner of Premier Detailing and Wash LLC, is presented with the 2021 Entrepreneur of the Year Award by David Watkins, Indiana Small Business Development Center State Director. (photo courtesy of Nikos Frazier / Journal & Courier)

As a graduate and newlywed, Wilburn threw himself into his work. He wasn’t afraid of hard work, but he didn’t like what he saw in the carwash industry. Employees were paid minimum wage for grueling labor. They were treated poorly and looked down upon. 

“I was complaining and thinking, ‘I’ve got to get out of here,’ ” Wilburn says. “Then I heard a small, still voice tell me, ‘Ya know, if you don’t like it, change the industry.’ ” 

And that’s what he set out to do. He became a system manager and when that company closed down, he went to clean cars for Mike Raisor Automotive Group. In 2011, Raisor gave Wilburn the opportunity to reopen Premier Auto Detailing. Wilburn and his father renovated the facility, which opened on November 1, 2011, with 13 employees. Impressed with Wilburn’s tenacity and leadership in the company, Raisor offered to sell him the business and the property. Wilburn closed the deal in 2018 and became owner of Premier. 

“When Mike told me he was going to sell me the business, I broke down and cried,” Wilburn says. “There were a lot of trying times, but God came to me and showed me a grand vision of how he would bless me if I blessed the people in this industry. When Mike says those words, ‘I’m selling you this company,’ I realized that the vision I had in the middle of the night in 2008 was real. It was unbelievable.” 

Wilburn continued to grow the business and opened a second location in Kokomo in 2020. He now has dreams of franchising 50 locations throughout the country. In 2021, he became one of four new owners of the Legacy Courts sports complex in West Lafayette. The partners have expansion plans to create a Legacy Park that includes fields for baseball and soccer in addition to its indoor basketball courts. Wilburn and his father also invest in real estate. 

Nearly 20 years after that fateful night, Wilburn can hardly believe his good fortune. He and his wife, Tesha, are the parents of three children: Trinity, 13; Titus, 10; and Truitt, 4. Wilburn never had big dreams growing up. He certainly never imagined the life he leads now. 

“If one shifts their direction, it alters their destination,” Wilburn says. “If I would have known the opportunities and possibilities that lay before me when I was 18, where would I be now? My goal is to live a life that inspires others to come behind me. I want to give them hope that no matter how bad your situation is, you can come up out of it. I want my children to know that whatever they dream, they can attain.”  ★

BY KEN THOMPSON
PHOTOS BY CHRISTINE PETKOV

From its modest beginning as a small repair shop founded by John M. Stall II in 1953, Stall & Kessler has become Lafayette’s oldest jewelry store the old-fashioned way.

Building love stories one diamond at a time, Stall & Kessler’s reputation for quality and service earned it Greater Lafayette Small Business of the Year honors for 2021. Stall & Kessler emerged from a list of finalists that included Mecko’s Heating and Cooling, Starr Associates, Richelle in a Handbasket, Indoff Office Interiors and Advantage Title, Inc.

Greater Lafayette Commerce has been selecting Small Business of the Year winners since 1993. No business was honored in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Small Business of the Year award is something that we consider to be a tremendous accomplishment,” says Kristopher Kessler, co-owner. “It has taken decades for us to become what we are to have received it and reflects on more than ‘just an award.’”

Kessler credits the award to his customers and the Greater Lafayette community, which has embraced the foundation of principles and policies created by John Stall II, John Stall III, Jeff Kessler and Sandy Utz.

“Without the loyalty and support of our customers and our community we wouldn’t be around today,” Kristopher Kessler says. “Some things never go out of style: consistency of quality, outstanding customer service and a dedication to excellence in all that we do are principles we strive for. Regardless of what happens in our time – past, present and future – we believe that these core principles will always be in style.”

Stall & Kessler boasts that it has been “celebrating 68 years of love stories.” One story in particular has remained with Kessler.

A woman in her 60s or 70s came in holding a small, delicate ring. She asked a typical question: do you repair jewelry? Oftentimes, the affirmative answer yields a story behind the ring. This lady’s tale, though, was unusual.

“This story took me a bit by surprise and it was that day that I realized the significance of what we provide to our customers,” Kessler says.

The lady’s grandmother had given her the ring when she was 13. Now, she wanted it repaired to pass along to her 13-year-old granddaughter.

“To this day, it gives me chills,” Kessler says. “With a little bit of respect, the products we provide can last for generations. That is why the quality of product is so important as well as the expertise and quality of service, so we can allow love to transcend the effects of time through jewelry. 

“Love doesn’t live in what we do, but it can be represented through the products and services that we offer.”

Stall & Kessler often sees love stories at the beginning as well with couples shopping for wedding rings or gifts for special occasions.

“When people come into our store, it is usually a purposeful trip so people make an effort to come see us,” Kessler says. “We see relationships that we are privileged to be a part of and hope to develop for any occasion. Our hope is to be there to provide ring cleanings for a Saturday night out or a special item for a 50th wedding anniversary and everything in between.”

Like many professions, Stall & Kessler boasts an extra level of expertise. In this case it is home to Indiana’s only Master Graduate Gemologist. Stall & Kessler also has three Gemological Institute of America (GIA) diamond graders, two GIA pearl graduates and three GIA Retail-Jeweler graduates.

The Gemological Institute of America, Kessler says, is the utmost authority in the jewelry and gemological world.

“If you are diamond shopping, the ‘4 C’s’ of a diamond is something that you will become familiar with throughout the purchasing process,” says Kessler, referring to cut, clarity, carat and color. 

A diamond’s cut refers to the quality of the angles, proportions, facets and finishing details. Color stands for how colorless the diamond is. 

Clarity indicates how clean the diamond is of inclusions and blemishes. Lastly, carat is the weight of the diamond.

“Becoming a Graduate Gemologist takes a series of courses in jewelry, diamonds and gemstones. There are also three separate lab courses that are in person to delve deeper in diamonds, gemstones and overall gem identification. The Master Graduate Gemologist … takes the Graduate Gemologist degree a step further into the retail specialization.”

Those skills allow Stall & Kessler to use a CAD (computer-aided design) software system that allows the repurposing of existing jewelry that might need a new setting.

As small businesses begin to make a comeback from the effects of COVID-19, those that can adapt to change like Stall & Kessler figure to survive.

Stall & Kessler has evolved from a jewelry repair shop to selling diamonds and other precious gems at its present location, 333 Columbia St., since 1979.

“Sixty nine years in the jewelry business has allowed for plenty of change,” Kessler says. “We hope to improve (our current location) for a more pleasant shopping experience and develop our online presence. Regardless of what happens, we will continue to work on developing our quality and consistency of products and services.  We will invest in the people who choose to work with us. Those things I can forecast with certainty. 

“The rest we leave up to the Lord, a little luck and perhaps a spark of inspiration from our people.”  ★

 

BY ANGELA K. ROBERTS
PHOTOS PROVIDED

The Convergence Center for Innovation and Collaboration – 

a contemporary, light- and glass-filled structure in the Discovery Park District of West Lafayette – provided a fitting backdrop last August for the announcement of an innovative, collaborative facility that will investigate the latest in hypersonic technologies.

The planned Hypersonic Ground Test Center (HGTC), revealed to a crowd attending a Hypersonics Summit hosted by Purdue 

University and the National Defense Industrial Association, will be located in the Purdue Aerospace District adjacent to the university campus. The new facility is part of ongoing, long-term economic development plans for Greater Lafayette and Indiana. 

“Creating this first-in-the-nation center is possible because we have industry partners that aren’t just on the cutting edge but are reinventing where the edge is. Couple that with the many thriving communities in Tippecanoe County, and a gushing pipeline of top talent at Purdue including researchers, students and graduates [that are] prepared to make the next giant leaps in both aerospace and hypersonic 

i“It’s because of days like today that our economy remains strong and Indiana reigns as one of the best places in the world to do business.”

Paving the way

Driving along the western gateway of the Purdue campus where State Street meets the U.S. 

231 bypass, you’ll notice a much different landscape from 10 or even five years ago. Rising from the flatlands are multi-story office buildings, R&D facilities, apartment complexes and $450K-plus single-family homes – all part of the $120 billion Discovery Park District development from Purdue Research Foundation and Indianapolis-based Browning Development LLC.

The planned community is designed to attract everyone from startup founders to corporate executives with luxurious homes surrounded by green spaces a short distance from where they work. The transformation, however, began with infrastructure made possible with the help of Greater Lafayette officials. 

In 2013, a $46 million Indiana Department of Transportation project to reroute U.S. 231 was completed, bringing the road parallel to the southern edge of the Purdue campus, with its northwest leg meeting up at State Road 26 near the intersection with Newman Road. This rerouting opened up new possibilities for business development adjacent to Purdue, and later in the year, the West Lafayette City Council voted to annex 3,997 acres including the Purdue University campus and the properties adjoining the U.S. 231 Highway Corridor. 

Two years later, with the consent of the West Lafayette City Council, Mayor John Dennis and his staff applied to the Indiana Economic Development Corporation to certify part of the land as an aerospace district.

Then, in 2019, work wrapped on the $123 million State Street Redevelopment Project, a joint venture between the City of West Lafayette and Purdue University. No longer a state highway for through-traffic, the revamped corridor boasts wider sidewalks, bicycle racks, public art and landscaping from the Wabash River up the hill through Purdue. 

That same year, crews completed two other critical projects: construction of a roundabout at the intersection of State Road 26 and Newman Road, and the rebuilding of a railroad bridge with a wider, higher underpass. A collaboration of Purdue University, the City of West Lafayette, the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Purdue Research Foundation, the projects were designed to improve traffic safety and accommodate larger commercial trucks for the anticipated arrival of industry clients. 

All of these improvements paved the way for the Aerospace District and the Hypersonic Ground Test Center.

The next frontier

Hypersonic weapons are missiles that can travel at Mach 5 or higher – at least five times faster than the speed of sound. The United States, Russia and China are all racing to develop hypersonics, seen as the next frontier in national security. 

Purdue University boasts a large team of hypersonic researchers in a number of subspecialty areas, along with expertise in systems-engineering research – the ability to bring these experts together in order to solve complex problems. 

The Aerospace District capitalizes on these capabilities as well as Purdue’s legacy in the broader discipline of aerospace education and research. To date, the university has had 27 graduates in space, and its aeronautical and astronautical engineering program consistently ranks among the top in the United States.

Aerospace and national security is one of four strategic focus areas of Discovery Park District. Boilermakers – and by extension, Greater Lafayette residents – are seen as an essential mix of its burgeoning workforce. 

“At Purdue, we’re committed to research at the very frontiers of science, especially when it can contribute to the national security of Americans,” said Purdue President Mitch Daniels at the announcement of the new hypersonic center. “Becoming home to the nation’s premier hypersonics facilities can make such a contribution, while providing enormous new opportunities for our researchers, aspiring entrepreneurs and job-seeking graduates.”

Team effort

HGTC will further expand the district’s capabilities by offering a central shared facility supporting multiple laboratories. Rolls-Royce is the founding member of a new nonprofit consortium of national defense industry partners that will manage capital and operational costs for the facility. 

The unveiling of plans for the Hypersonic Ground Test Center came last summer on the heels of two other major announcements. 

In July, Purdue University and Purdue Research Foundation officials reported on the planned construction of a 65,000-square-foot Hypersonic Applied Research Facility, which will house a hypersonic pulse (HYPULSE) shock tunnel and the only Mach 8 quiet wind tunnel in the world. 

Then, in early August, Rolls-Royce announced a significant expansion at Purdue, with new test facilities for high-altitude and hybrid-electric engines that are expected to power the next generation of U.S. military aircraft. The company, which notes that it has more engineers from Purdue than any other university, already has a jet engine facility located in Purdue Technology Center Aerospace, the first new building that was constructed for the Aerospace District. 

Purdue University and Purdue Research Foundation will fund the construction of the HGTC. But, as with the infrastructure improvements ahead of the Aerospace District’s development, its expansion is the result of a team effort. 

“That investment from Rolls-Royce, the university and PRF, along with support from the state, West Lafayette, Lafayette and Tippecanoe County, laid the foundation for creating the HGTC,” said Purdue Research Foundation President and CEO Brian Edelman.  ★

BY KARIS PRESSLER
PHOTOS BY CHRISTINE PETKOV

Over the past 10 years, several key moments have led Lindsay Mason, the founder and designer of French Knot, a knitwear company based in downtown Lafayette, to where she is now.

First, the moment in 2012 when Mason told her parents that she would like to start her own company after being laid off from her job as a knitwear designer. 

Mason’s parents, Carol and Ken, quickly set to work helping to incorporate French Knot and then create space in their New England barn for Mason to design and ship 12,000 hand knit hats and handwarmers made in Nepal that first season.

The second key moment was French Knot’s big move from Massachusetts to Indiana in 2017 when Mason’s husband accepted a job at Purdue University. Mason felt immediately welcomed and supported by the Lafayette community even if there was, and still is, the misconception that Mason and her Lafayette team knit all of the products they sell.

“We’re not up here knitting. We’re shipping over 80,000 pieces a season from our warehouse on North Street,” Mason says with a smile and then explains how wool sourced from South Africa and New Zealand is first hand-dyed and spun into a vivid color palate before being knit using a two-needle technique. Once Mason’s designs — that include hats, mittens, headbands, scarves, sweaters and slippers — are constructed, many items are embellished with tasteful beading and intricate embroidery that echo vintage design elements from the 1920s.

So who knits these timeless French Knot designs?

Sunlight pours into Mason’s work area on a Monday morning in her office above Third Street where jewel-toned swatches of fringed yarn festoon her work station. Next to one of the swatches, a picture of Mason and a Nepali woman hugging and smiling while surrounded by finished French Knot products reminds Mason of her “why.”

“She’s like my Nepalese grandmother,” Mason says of the woman who leads one of the knitting groups in Nepal that bring Mason’s designs to life.

Mason looks at the photo.  “She’s amazing.”

“We’ve probably done over 1,000 designs. She knows every single number in her head, every color, every single purchase order number… She always asks how my parents and my husband are doing.”

“We’re very tight,” Mason remarks of her connection to the Nepali knitting groups. “My favorite thing is going to visit them for the two weeks that I go over there every year. Every time we go there, we see their businesses growing.”

Mason, a graduate of Syracuse University’s Fashion and Textiles Design program, relies on her years of industry experience along with her artistic eye to create each original French Knot design that she often draws by hand before transferring to a CAD (computer-aided design) program. Mason began building rapport with Nepali artisans shortly after college, and she has maintained connection ever since. 

“I started working with Nepali knitters about 15 years ago,” she says and explains how at that time most of the hand knit items coming out of Nepal often used earth-toned yarns, had boxy pattern shapes and geometric color work. But Mason’s pull toward soft and flowing vintage design coupled with the use of vibrant yarns allowed 

her Nepali colleagues to create something new and 

dynamic — something that French Knot buyers such as QVC, Sundance Catalog and Anthropologie have never seen or sold before.

For Mason, her mission is not just to make French Knot’s products noticeable, but to also make the story of French Knot and the way the items are hand knit, hand embroidered, hand beaded, and hand lined both memorable and lasting. 

She’s worked hard to build and maintain trust, community and connection with knitting groups half a world away by ensuring that French Knot’s artisans are paid a living wage. Mason also works exclusively with suppliers who are certified in ethical and environmental practices. Likewise, she strives to maintain a sense of family among those who work beside her locally.

French Knot has become more than Mason ever imagined it could be.

This moment of reflection quickly evaporates. Mason closes several windows on her computer screen before joining Ryan Casucci, French Knot’s marketing and sales manager, to discuss upcoming social media posts, newsletters and the much-anticipated French Knot warehouse sale this winter season.

Several blocks away from Mason’s Third Street workspace, Chelsea Erhart, French Knot’s operations manager, along with the warehouse team, begin to process an order of hats that has just arrived from Nepal. The walls of the North Street warehouse are lined with pictures of French Knot’s artisans, adorned in bright colors and wearing wide smiles while knitting Mason’s designs. This shipment of hats, a design that Mason first imagined eight months ago, will be quality checked and processed before being shipped out again to buyers and boutiques throughout the United States, the UK and New Zealand. It’s a Lafayette layover for hand knit items.

“Did you know that Johnny Cash wrote a song about the Wabash River from Lafayette?” Erhart asks as the group begins to sort and inspect the shipment.

Linda Emberton looks up from a grid of hats she has arranged into groups of 10 and chimes in, “I heard that song on Jeff 92 this morning on the drive in.” Emberton then randomly selects a hat from each row to check that its size and appearance, including the size of the pom pom, meets French Knot’s specifications.

The group briefly discusses the song’s merits, illuminating the fact that this song is different from Cash’s “Wabash Cannonball,” a song about a locomotive train. Erhart taps the screen on her phone a few times until Cash’s gentle guitar fills the space and he croons, “If it wasn’t for the Wabash River, I’d be going out of my mind.” The group listens while working, some counting hats in time with the music’s beat.


This multi-generational warehouse team gathers almost daily in the fall to process and prepare French Knot’s orders for the holiday season. It’s too early for holiday music, so when Cash’s Lafayette-inspired song concludes, Erhart allows Cash’s next song, “I Walk the Line,” to play as she steps away to call a shipping company and inquire about an order of slippers that has disappeared somewhere between here and Nepal.

Jeni Rider, a Lafayette native, shares how she first learned about French Knot from the Sundance Catalog well before Mason transplanted her business to Indiana.

“I had been following Sundance. It’s the Robert Redford magazine, you know? It’s one of my favorite catalogs.”

One afternoon, Rider’s husband, Jeff, a local real estate developer, told Rider about meeting Mason while she was scouting properties in Lafayette before moving. 

“Jeff just told me, ‘You might love what she does… She designs those hats that you like. ‘That’s all he said, isn’t that funny? ‘She designs those hats that you like,’” Rider laughs. But when her husband and their three daughters brought home items from French Knot’s annual warehouse sale where the public can purchase discounted seconds and samples of Mason’s designs every December, Rider knew she had to connect with Mason after seeing her products in person. Rider has been working in the French Knot warehouse ever since.

She feels passionate about French Knot’s brand because the products have heart. “It’s these women’s livelihood,” Rider says while looking at a photo of Nepali women knitting. “It’s just beauty,” she says of both the individuals who create the products and the products themselves.

Rider and Emberton gather the inspected hats and pack them into several boxes that Kelley Brakstad, an HR consultant with French Knot who also helps in the warehouse when needed, has placed in front of their work tables.

“It’s all hands on deck,” says Brakstad, who first met Mason several years ago while working at MatchBOX Coworking studio, where Mason serves on the board. “This is a small business, we do what we need, right?” Brakstad declares before disappearing to make more boxes and retrieve purchase orders.

Emberton makes notes on a purchase order pinned to a clipboard while Rider slides a box of processed hats over to the shipping station several feet away where Mason’s parents, along with shipping manager Jonas Bellini, prepare and palletize the packages.

The group continues its work throughout the morning as Mason, Casucci, and the French Knot intern Sarobbie Hagen, join the warehouse crew to help process and ship.

Hagen, a media and mass communications major at Purdue, dives in with fulfilling boutique orders.

“We got an email yesterday about one of our hats,” Hagen shares. “This woman was like, ‘I love your Josephine cloche. I have three colorways and I just bought two new colorways on QVC.’”

Hagen’s experience at French Knot has helped her appreciate how the company’s story makes its products mean something to consumers.

“You can tell that people telling our story care more. Before they’d be like, ‘These hats are from French Knot and they’re warm.’ Now, on QVC they say, ‘These French Knot hats are designed out of Lafayette, Indiana, by Lindsay Mason and made in Nepal by women artisans. They’re beautifully handcrafted.’”

It’s been a whirlwind week for Mason. “It’s getting real,” she muses. “It’s getting real real.”

Between prepping for the holiday season, designing, packing orders and fielding questions from QVC about expanding her line from just seasonal cold weather items to include springtime products, the cherry on top — or maybe it’s the pom pom on top — is French Knot’s slated appearance on a Friday morning Today Show “Warm and Cozy” segment.

Casucci and Mason shipped an assortment of French Knot items to 30 Rockefeller Plaza last week, and now they anxiously await to see what products will be featured as they gather alongside the team of local French Knot employees at Ripple & Company for coffee and donuts.

“We’ve never been on the Today Show before. This is big for us.” Mason says as they wait for the segment. The anticipation along with the caffeination elevate the atmosphere as the group chats while always keeping an eye on the TV.

Mason’s parents stand alongside Mason and her husband. They have witnessed French Knot’s growth from the very beginning — from when they outfitted the family barn to become a makeshift shipping operation, to now, a moment in time when their daughter’s art along with French Knot’s story will be broadcast on national TV.

Brakstad sets a matcha latte in front of Pam Guarino.  Guarino came to work at the warehouse only a few months ago. “I’m fortunate that I’m a part of it,” Guarino says. “That I’m working here. I may not be knitting or helping to design or anything. It’s just, I’m a part of it. Getting to watch it. It’s exciting.”

Hagen agrees while looking around at her co-workers. “I don’t know how this business is just full of amazing people. Not one of these people doesn’t feel passionate about this brand.”

For Mason, this is why she does the work that she does – to create beautiful products, watch people grow alongside her, and celebrate, right here in the heart of Lafayette. For French Knot, not only does every stitch matter, but so does every person who has contributed to the company’s growth and continued success.  ★

BY KEN THOMPSON
PHOTOS PROVIDED

A major presence in the Greater Lafayette economy since 1985, Wabash National has positioned itself to prosper during one of the toughest periods in our nation’s economy. The manufacturer is a leader of engineered solutions in transportation, logistics and distribution.

Instead of fighting for survival during the nearly two years of COVID-19 and its side effects, Brent Yeagy, president and CEO, saw this time period as a chance to regroup and make plans to take advantage of the post-pandemic business world.

“I think it has given us the opportunity to look at the world a little differently,” says Yeagy, whose degrees include a bachelor’s in environmental engineering science and a master’s in occupational health and safety engineering from Purdue University.

“Anytime we have something as disruptive as a national pandemic, things begin to change the world around us. Some for the negative and ultimately there’s things that have a positive nature to it, or at least an opportunity.”

Decreed an essential business due to the economic impact of its semi-trailer and tank trailer production, Wabash National and the more than 6,500 employees nationwide successfully met the social challenges that came with COVID-19.

“The biggest challenge was the initial speed of change and the uncertainty that would be provided by the national government in how best to manage the situation,” Yeagy says. “That gave businesses an unclear footing as to how best to take care of their employees, how to navigate the downturn in the economy and how to forecast what would come next.”

Yeagy had to balance critical decisions with both the Wabash National shareholders and his employees’ best interests. 

Fortunately, the methods to protect those 6,500-plus employees were a far more simple task.

“We did an excellent job across the country in managing everything from how to use PPE, contact tracing and all those things that go around it,” he says. “What was hard is that underlying social impact that occurs. How do you manage a 6,000-plus workforce with schools closed? You don’t have child care. We really had to think of a very innovative way to manage those needs during a really hard time for our employees.”

Wabash National has altered its thinking to the new economic reality that puts more and more emphasis on e-commerce.

“For us, commerce has been a driving force in new opportunities for new products, new customers and new markets that we can position Wabash going forward,” Yeagy says. “We have altered our strategy to what we call ‘First to Final Mile,’ where we look at products and services that span across all logistics, including e-commerce.”

Among those new opportunities was the purchase of Supreme Industries, a Goshen, Ind.-based truck body business.

“We’re launching new products to meet the needs of these changing logistics accordingly. So we think for us, this is a sustainable change that will drive future growth for Wabash over the next decade.”

A noticeable change coming to the company is its name. Recently, it dropped the National part of its brand to become simply “Wabash.”

“We want to tell a story that we’re not the same Wabash,” Yeagy says. “We’re not Wabash National, we’re Wabash. We stand for something different. It’s a reflection of the dramatic organizational and structural changes that we have completed over the last two years that position us to truly grow across the company, to become the visionary leader across a growing transportation and product solution state.”

Greater Lafayette and Purdue University want to play a role in Wabash’s future. With $70 million in investments planned for its two Lafayette plants during the next two years, Wabash and the city of Lafayette agreed to a $25 million tax abatement during that period.

“I think first and foremost it shows trust in Wabash by the city of Lafayette and its leadership,” Yeagy says. “That allows us as a corporation that spans the entire country in terms of operating facilities to continue thinking of Lafayette as a place that we can invest as well.

“Specifically, it allows us to think about job creation opportunities that we have here in Lafayette to support some of the more high-tech product applications that we are bringing to market. As we think about re-capitalizing the equipment in Lafayette that’s been around in some cases for the last 20 years, it allows us to go deeper into the roots we have here. Which means that we can continue to be a contributing part of the community for some time.”

Lafayette is home to about 3,000 of Wabash’s employment force.

Greater Lafayette is also home to Purdue, whose resources are going to play a key role in Wabash’s future. Yeagy cites an unprecedented relationship forged with the Board of Trustees and Purdue President Mitch Daniels.

“We have connected with Purdue in a way that has never occurred in Wabash’s history,” Yeagy says. “We are now a major athletic partner. We are directly reaching Purdue students to the nature of technical skills we are trying to bring into Wabash as we execute our strategic plan.”

Wabash has a direct partnership with Purdue’s Data Mine, which is aiding the company’s multiple data science-related projects. Wabash also holds office space both at the Convergence center and the Railyard. An even longer term relationship with Purdue centers on welding safety and health-related research.

“It allows us to have a significant portion of our workforce to be closer to Purdue as well as we now have space for students, interns and other related academic project work to be done on campus,” he says. 

“We are extremely excited about what it means, not only for Wabash but the Greater Lafayette community.”

As Yeagy points out, Wabash’s reach is nationwide. Just look at any highway or road and it’s a matter of time before one drives past a semi-trailer, tanker or truck body manufactured by Wabash.

“There’s the absolute pride you feel when you see something that you’re attached to so intimately as the product you produce on our nation’s highways and roads,” Yeagy says. “But as a CEO, being able to step back, you know the people that produced them. You know the work. You know the challenges that were faced to get that product on the road, especially the last two years. You know peoples’ stories that went into building that product. When I see it, I think of all that. 

“People should understand they have a corporate entity in their community that builds the safest, most sustainable products in commercial transportation. I think that’s lost at times.”  ★

BY ANGELA K. ROBERTS
PHOTOS BY CHRISTINE PETKOV

If you’ve spent any time lately in the Wallace Triangle neighborhood of Lafayette, you’ve seen a number of formerly dilapidated houses rising from the ashes, with rebuilt porches, upgraded landscaping, fresh coats of paint and reglazed or replaced windows. 

While it is true that several developers and homeowners have been renovating homes in the area, a significant amount of the work can be attributed to a single couple: Alec and Kenna Williams.

Owners of The Heartland Concept, a realty, renovation and rental firm, the Williamses have tackled over 20 homes in the neighborhood around their own house, an American Foursquare on Elliott Street. Like the mother-daughter duo Karen Laine and Mina Starsiak Hawk, whose adventures in fixing up their own Fountain Square neighborhood in Indianapolis are chronicled on the HGTV show “Good Bones,” Alec and Kenna Williams are setting out to revitalize their own city block, one property at a time. 

The best neighborhood it can be

It all started in 2014 when the couple purchased their first home, a green duplex in the Wallace Triangle, a wedge-shaped neighborhood bordered by South Ninth, Kossuth and State streets on the southern edge of Lafayette’s Old City.

Both Purdue University grads, Alec had studied sales and management, with a concentration in entrepreneurship, while Kenna had studied management with a concentration in marketing. Kenna had worked for a home builder in town, getting to touch “every piece and part” of the business, from quality control checks to sales to design ele-

ments, before taking a job in finance at Purdue. 

Alec was working in business development for a Midwest healthcare company, but he was looking for something different. An old-house aficionado, he had grown up in a Foursquare home that his dad had painstakingly rehabbed. 

From nearly the first moment they had met, the couple had dreamed of building their own company. As they first tackled the one-bedroom side of their home, then the two-bedroom side, they discussed whether they could turn their avocation into a vocation. Walking their dog around the block each day, the couple noticed a lot of homes that needed some love. 

“We’re very invested in this area, we love it,” Kenna says. “Alec says it best. If this is where we’re going to raise our family and have our children going up and down the street, we want this neighborhood to be the best it can be.” 

Diy-ing as a money-saver

The Williamses soon got the chance to test their professional rehabbing chops when an 1868 home on 10th Street came up for sale. With a bay window, a window seat, wide painted woodwork and built-ins, the home was oozing with cottage charm. But other old-house details had become obscured under less-than-faithful remodeling efforts, like a teal garden tub with a matching toilet. 

After hiring subcontractors for some of the work, the couple tackled as much as they could themselves. “Our belief was, if we’re going to make a business out of this, provide for our family, DIY-ing… that’s where you save money,” Alec says. Working late nights, early mornings 

and weekends, the couple slowly turned the house back into a cozy cottage. A claustrophobic screened-in porch was torn out and rebuilt, minus the screening. Faulty wiring was replaced, and new shingles went on the roof. Layers of paint were scraped and recovered in a light yellow with white trim. 

Inside, the 1980s bathroom gave way to a stand-up shower featuring subway tile, accented with a greenish arabesque. Board and batten replaced the dining room’s lower stamped plaster walls. Floors throughout were sanded, stained and top-coated, and the fireplace was painted and accented with crisp white shiplap. Inside and out, not-so-charming light fixtures were replaced with breezy ceiling fans and farmhouse lights. 

Two days after the couple wrapped on the rehab, in May 2017, they accepted an offer.

Little slice of lafayette

Fast forward to 2022 and The Heartland Concept is now Alec’s full-time job. Kenna has cut her hours as a senior financial analyst at Purdue, and since the COVID-19 pandemic, she has worked from home at a small desk on their second-floor landing. As they continue work on their family home – current projects include renovating the basement and reglazing the original five-over-one windows – they continue to rehab homes and commercial properties in their little slice of Lafayette. 

Their business model is simple: For each house that they renovate and sell, they buy another rental in their neighborhood, then fix up that one, and then rent or sell. Over the last few years, they’ve sustained an income with the rentals, which has allowed them to take their time with each house renovation — un-

like many developers, who have an imperative to renovate as quickly as possible in order to turn a profit. 

“I really hate calling any of our houses a flip,” says Kenna. “We really renovate, we take it down to the studs when necessary. I try to incorporate with the finished design, the old features. That’s renovation to me.” 

When floors can’t be refinished, the couple tries wherever possible to use engineered hardwoods for a vintage look. In bathrooms, many of which are much smaller than in newer homes, the couple can afford to use high-end finishes like penny tile floors and solid surface countertops. New light fixtures often evoke a vintage feel, like the wall sconces the couple incorporated into their own Elliott Street home. 

High-quality workmanship

One lesson they’ve learned: while aesthetics boost a home’s appeal, they are not all practical for long-term rentals. As a result, some of their newer rental renovations, like the tiny mint green bungalow they rehabbed, are outfitted with tub-shower surrounds that don’t need regrouting over time. Other finishes in the single bathroom, like the curved warehouse light and scalloped mirror, help maintain the vintage-modern balance.

With each renovation, whether for rental or resale, the Williamses aim to provide a level of workmanship they would expect in their own home. A case in point: the National Home the couple rehabbed outside their own neighborhood, near Columbian Park. Adding livable space in the basement was critical for resale value, and yet the basement leaked, which the couple attributed to water pooling outside the home because of a lack of gutters and downspouts.

Gutters installed, the couple went to work on the basement. Then winter came, with rains and melting snow, and the almost-renovated basement sprung leaks again. 

After considering less costly and less permanent options for the exterior, the couple decided to start anew. “We both looked at it, and [said] if this is our house and our space, we don’t want an issue,” Alec says. “We tore out all the walls and electrical, having a full interior perimeter drain installed with a sump pump, guaranteed against everything, then rebuilt.”

Expanding their focus

As the Williamses continue to buy, rehab and rent or sell historic homes, they also have expanded their focus to the commercial side of the neighborhood – namely, the corner where the Wallace Triangle meets Historic Ninth Street Hill and Highland Park. 

Last fall, as the City of Lafayette regraded the street and added brick pavers to help alleviate runoff, the couple continued work on the L-shaped structure. More than 100 years old, the building boasts large windows and red clay roofing tiles. Soon, its anchor spot will be the location of People’s Brewing Company. The venue will serve German cuisine, specially brewed German beers, wine and cider.

Although the parking lot along Ninth Street is ample enough, Alec and Kenna anticipate that many of the brewery’s guests will come from foot traffic, like England’s public houses. “People’s Brewery should do extremely well by how many community members around here have shown support,” Alec says. 

Since moving to the Wallace Triangle nearly eight years ago, about a dozen of the Williamses’ friends have moved there as well and begun working on their own homes – a testament to the couple’s success in their one-house-at-a-time revitalization mission. “We love what we do and it’s good to have an impact in the town we live in,” says Kenna.  ★

BY CINDY GERLACH
PHOTOS PROVIDED

Greater Lafayette has been named Community of the Year by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. The award recognizes the community’s growth over the past decade and how it has prospered and thrived in a variety of areas, from infrastructure and jobs to beautification and quality of life. 

This year’s award looked, too, for a municipality that was a shining example during a year of weathering the pandemic.  

A large part of the credit for being chosen for this award goes to the various components that define our community, says Scott Walker, president and CEO of Greater Lafayette Commerce, and their ability to communicate, to plan, and to work together. As the application was assembled and written, Walker says, it became evident just how much planning had gone into the progress of the past 20 years.

“We looked back at where we’d been over the course of two decades, the evolution of the community, the trajectory, and why we should be considered for this award,” Walker says. 

Back at the start of the 21st century, the community looked very different. And community, Walker says, is defined as the entirety of the area, with both cities and the county governments all working together. All these governing bodies were collaborating on a vision of what they wanted to see over the coming years. Hence Lafayette Urban Enterprise, Vision 2020 and the Downtown Development Corp. all played a role, as well as incorporating input from all three school corporations, leaders in industry, the arts and recreational facilities. 

Back in 2000, the population of Tippecanoe County was at 149,000 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Walker said leadership could see that the community was poised for potential growth, but it wanted to be prepared and for the growth to be intentional. 

The result was these various entities examining where the community was at the time, what the trends were, and what Greater Lafayette wanted to accomplish. A clear goal was attracting business and industry that would provide good-paying jobs that would contribute to the economy and would enhance quality of life for residents. The area has a strong manufacturing workforce, and the focus on talent and workforce retention has resulted in more than 3,800 jobs being added in the past five years. This is thanks to companies as diverse as Caterpillar, Antique Candle, Copper Moon Coffee and Schweitzer Engineering Labs, to name a few. 

And along with that, Greater Lafayette needed a community that would attract these businesses; needed neighborhoods, restaurants, parks, schools, and arts and culture that would make life attractive for families. This investment came in various forms, from public projects such as Lafayette Downtown Development Plan, the Hoosier Heartland Development Plan, the Five Points Development Plan and the Wabash River Development Plan. 

 The State Street Corridor, one example of these improvement plans, was a $120 million effort that transformed State Street, a major artery that runs through the heart of West Lafayette and the Purdue University campus. The transformation reduced automotive lanes and integrated other modes of transportation. It included public transit bus pull-offs, wider sidewalks and bike paths, increasing safety and outdoor seating for local retailers and restaurateurs. It also enabled upgrades to the water and sewer infrastructure and set the stage for the redevelopment of West State Street and Discovery Park District. The effort has led to both additional privately developed housing and office facilities, as well as helping expand the community’s parks, walking and bike trail systems. 

Other major public-private projects include housing developments in both Lafayette and West Lafayette, including The Marq, Pullman Station, The Press, LUNA, The HUB, RISE and the Ellsworth. In addition, Lafayette invested in a Downtown Streetscape project, which included sidewalk improvements, art installations, outdoor dining facilities and upgrades to pedestrian traffic; these upgrades were supported in part by downtown merchants. All of these urban housing developments have helped create a downtown that is active and dynamic. These projects are supported by tax increment finance (TIF) dollars. 
Purdue University Airport
Loeb Stadium

Quality of life projects also contributed to the community’s revitalization, including a new Loeb Stadium, upgrades to the Columbian Park Zoo and Tropicanoe Cove water park, as well as other updates to Columbian Park. The Tippecanoe County Fairgrounds underwent a major renovation, and the Wabash Riverfront is looking at a $150 million investment, including the Riverfront Promenade, which was completed in 2020.

Ultimately, Walker says, all groups came together to work toward this common goal. Today, with the 2019 population at 195,732, the growth clearly did occur. And because of the planning, the communication, the collaboration, the county was prepared to absorb and accommodate that growth. As evidence? Many school districts in Indiana are seeing a decline in sizes of incoming kindergarten classes; in Tippecanoe County, schools have all seen significant growth and kindergarten class sizes have increased, says Walker. The area is clearly a destination; the $250 million investment in education over the past five years — including the implementation of the Greater Lafayette Career Academy — has paid off. 

For Walker, this award speaks, in great part, to a process. And it’s a process that involved the input of so many entities — from the cities, the county, parks departments, Purdue and the public schools, and business and industry — partnering and working together. 

“It appears that the city, the county, we’re all on the same page with the same goals and objectives,” Walker says. “We’re at a point where people are working together, collaboratively. We’re all pulling on the rope in the same direction. This is a well-run region.

“It’s that planning element that we’ve embraced in this community that works so well.”  ★

The Greater Lafayette Region is on the cusp of something big!  

On December 15, at 4 p.m., at the Indiana Economic Development Corporation Board Meeting, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced that Greater Lafayette will receive $30 million to fund projects in the Regional Economic Development Plan created this past summer.  You can find the plan and more information here: greaterlafayetteind.com/READI

 The $30 million awarded to Greater Lafayette was part of the READI announcement of $500 million allocated across the state of Indiana.  The governor’s plan is to increase quality-of-place and quality-of-life spending to enable regions around the state to compete for talent from across the United States and around the world. 

As a destination for talent, Greater Lafayette has a head start.  With Purdue University and the great companies that are well established in our region, people already make their way here from around the world.  The Regional Development Plan with the READI Funds will accelerate that trend and help all of the participating counties — Benton, Fountain, Warren, Carroll, White and Tippecanoe — capture some of that growth. 

While the ultimate decision on project funding will reside with the Greater Lafayette Regional Board of Representatives and has yet to be finalized, these were a few of the top ranked projects:

 

 ► Runway for Growth: LAF airport expansion to bring commercial air service to Greater Lafayette;

Supporting Our Families: Expanding high-quality childcare across the region;

Smart Relocations and Welcoming Veterans: Two projects to attract talent to Greater Lafayette;

► A Place to Call Home: Greater Lafayette Residential Development Plan; and

► Wabash River Greenways: Investments in trail systems around the Wabash River.

The process to create the Regional Development Plan over the course of the summer was the first time that the regional mayors and representatives from each county commission worked together. 

Greater Lafayette Commerce was proud to serve as the organizer. It was an unprecedented level of collaboration, and the group will continue to work over the next four years to bring the projects in the plan to life and work together to make this place, this region, Greater! 

Scott Walker is the president and CEO of Greater Lafayette Commerce. He can be reached at 765.742.4044

 

BY RADONNA FIORINI
PHOTOS PROVIDED

The fifth and most advanced generation of wireless internet technology is coming to a West Lafayette laboratory where innovators, researchers and entrepreneurs will put it to the test.

The 5G Innovation Lab opens this summer in the Convergence Center for Innovation and Collaboration near Purdue University. Owned and managed by the nonprofit Purdue Research Foundation, the Convergence Center provides space and resources to bring new innovations and products out of the lab and into the marketplace.

The 3,000-square-foot lab is part of the Indiana 5G Zone, a public/private partnership launched in 2020 in Indianapolis, says Managing Director Sean Hendrix. The 5G Zone was created in response to a push from industry, economic development groups and government to invest in technological research and infrastructure, positioning the state to attract and support innovative, high-tech companies.

The first 5G demonstration lab opened in Indianapolis last year, so the West Lafayette site is the second in the state. These labs allow companies and innovators to research new technologies without having to invest in their own 5G infrastructure and networks, says Hendrix.

When completed, physical work spaces in the West Lafayette lab will be connected to 5G through technology similar to an on-site, dedicated cell tower. Businesses, university researchers and private innovators can lease space there and full-time staff will be on-site to help new clients learn how to use the technology. The staff also can provide help in any testing process, or act as an independent, third-party team with assessment capability.

“5G is not just the next generation of wireless technology. It provides a fundamentally different way to do computing over networks,” Hendrix says. “There are tons of opportunity because this is not an established technology. The lab can help government, industry and academia test practical applications for 5G technology.”

If you’ve heard of 5G, it’s probably in relation to the next level of cellular phone speed and capability, but so much more is possible, says Troy Hege, PRF vice president for innovation and technology. The benefits of 5G include:
• Faster speed – up to 20 times faster than current wireless technology.
• Larger bandwidth – meaning more information can be processed at one time.
• Less latency – the lag between requests and responses in data transfer is reduced.

This technology is critical in the Internet of Things (IoT) and its ability to wirelessly connect different devices so they interact remotely, in real time, such as thermostats and video door bells that can be controlled from a cell phone. But much more complex applications are being studied.

One possibility is using encrypted video in a smart street system that collects data from cameras and sensors at road intersections so traffic lights can be controlled in real time, allowing for better traffic management, Hege says. While some of that technology currently exists, 5G has the capability to link all the hardware to a central facility so data coming in from across the system can quickly be analyzed.

This technology may be invaluable for manufacturing, machine learning, factories using robotics, and even agriculture systems, health care, and cybersecurity providers.

To create new uses for wireless technology, Hege says three basic things are needed: a device or sensor; software that actively processes data generated by the sensor; and a network that connects to the software and transmits or analyzes the data.

“This living lab is the center of bringing those things together,” he says. “Companies can bring new devices to the lab for testing and collaborate with researchers and professors who are the best in the world. Data analysis and machine learning are shaping industry all over the world, and this lab is the front door for research and application deployment.”

The 5G lab falls under the umbrella of NineTwelve Convergence, a nonprofit innovation institute designed to promote collaboration between business, academia and governmental entities in deploying 5G technology.

Two private companies are building out the necessary infrastructure in the Convergence Center: SBA Communications is the cellular network provider; and Tilson is the fiber optic backhaul network provider, Hendrix says.

He adds that the fiber optic network is owned and managed by SBA Communications, and PRF has signed a long-term service agreement with the company. PRF will operate the “testbed” portion of the lab’s network.

This means the network is not owned or operated by a specific internet service provider and so is considered a neutral platform. Another advantage to working with the West Lafayette lab is that the private wireless network will eventually be linked throughout the Discovery Park District, a 400-acre planned development that will include businesses, manufacturing, housing, retail and entertainment venues. That connectivity will provide a living laboratory where researchers can pilot applications in the lab and test and refine them in a controlled, real-life environment, says Hege.

“Elements of 5G are already out there, but we are at the very beginning of learning about this technology,” he says. “This will be a decade-long process and it will take all of us working together. We are thinking about all the ways data and connectivity impact our lives across the spectrum of where we work, where we learn and where we live.” ★

WANT TO LEARN MORE?

NineTwelve Convergence —ninetwelveconvergence.us

Indiana 5G Zone — indiana5gzone.com

Discovery Park District: Building a Connected Innovation Community — youtube.com

BY RADONNA FIORINI
PHOTOS PROVIDED

For the Convergence Center for Innovation and Collaboration, that common focus is providing space and resources for academic research and private industry to collaborate, with the goal of seeing discoveries and innovations regularly make it out of the laboratory and into the world.
The Convergence Center, a 145,000-square-foot, five-story building located west of Purdue University’s West Lafayette campus, is billed as “Private Industry’s Front Door to Purdue,” says David Broecker, chief innovation and collaboration officer for the Purdue Research Foundation, the non-profit entity that owns the building.

Companies want to collaborate with the university, Broecker says, because that partnership provides access to student talent, engagement with faculty and professors on the leading edge of research, and facilities such as established modern labs and innovation centers. PRF, through its Office of Technology Commercialization, also helps connect researchers with private industry to move inventions and discoveries out of the lab and into the marketplace, while protecting intellectual property with patents and licensing.

But collaboration can be difficult, expensive and time-consuming if a company is not physically located near campus. That’s where Convergence comes in, offering flexible workspace options for established companies, startups — even individuals needing office space away from home.

“We want (Convergence) to be the place where companies and external collaborators meet with their counterparts from Purdue University and PRF to solve problems and address the answer to the question, ‘What keeps you up at night regarding your innovation/business strategy?’” says Broecker. “We want to make it easy for companies and external collaborators to be successful.”

Construction on Convergence, located at 101 Foundry Drive, began in 2018, with the $32 million building opening in January 2020, says Wade Lang, PRF vice president and chief entrepreneurial officer. The building is already home to several PRF entities along with four agriculture and life sciences companies. Improvements continue in the tenant spaces on three of the five floors, and retail space is being developed.

This summer, the 5G Innovation Lab will open in Convergence, providing companies and researchers access to the latest wireless internet technology in a lab setting.

It is the second such lab in Indiana and will allow the private sector and the Purdue community a place to experiment with the cutting-edge technology.

PRF is actively looking for new tenants for Convergence, which is managed by Carr Workplaces, a company based in Washington, D.C. Carr is a national workspace provider that manages brick and mortar office space but also offers such services as mail management and phone answering for those who may work from home but want a professional address and help with administrative chores, says Michelle Mercado, Carr business development associate.

Carr Workplaces provides a step up from traditional co-working spaces in that clients who lease space in Convergence have access to a dedicated phone line, email, fax and binding machines, copiers, shredding and notary services, high-speed wireless internet, and onsite tech support. There is a fully stocked coffee bar and conference rooms with videoconferencing capability and digital white boards for virtual collaboration.

“It’s a beautiful space,” says Mercado. “It has all the bells and whistles, and it’s positioned to be close to the university, but far enough away from campus to be its own entity. We meet people where they are. We ask, ‘What do you need? What tools will help you?’”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, companies have begun rethinking their office needs, Broecker says. While corporate headquarters are shrinking, PRF finds that companies want to expand in strategic locations, often near universities, to tap resources that can meet their innovation and business needs.

“Bayer Crop Science is a great example of this strategy,” Broecker says. “Bayer has relocated three of their employees to create their own ‘innovation hub’ at Convergence that will facilitate interactions with students and faculty, and provide access to the places and spaces they need to be successful. We believe all of these aspects of the Convergence Center make it extremely unique among other leading universities.”

Convergence is ticking all the boxes for Beck’s Superior Hybrids, says Brad Fruth, director of innovation for the family-owned, Indiana-based seed company that operates in 14 states across the corn belt and is the third-largest retail seed brand in America.

“I don’t think a lot of people understand what a treasure the center is,” Fruth says. “Our innovation team knew we needed to increase collaboration with different schools at Purdue. Having an office at Convergence means we have the opportunity to regularly connect with researchers and go to call-outs and make connections. All we had to do was show up and get our key. The Carr staff takes care of all the amenities.”

Headquartered in Atlanta, Indiana, Beck’s opened a Convergence office in summer 2020 and leases dedicated space that allows its innovation team to meet once a week in person, provides an office for team members to land as needed, and gives its intern a place to work. While the space might not be used every day, everything the team needs is available when it is on site.

And being close to Purdue means Beck’s team members are on campus more regularly. Companies have to be proactive about making campus connections, Fruth says, and he is always on the lookout for research and innovation going on at Purdue that can be applied in the real world to benefit Beck’s ultimate client, the American farmer.

While Beck’s is certainly connected with those doing agronomy research at Purdue, the company also is interested in leveraging data analysis, computer science and supply chain management research, Fruth says. His team’s goal is to be on campus regularly and make at least one new Purdue connection each week.

Fruth looks forward to the day, post-pandemic, when travel again becomes a bigger part of the Beck’s business model because the company can use space in other Carr Workplace sites around the country for a single-day meeting or extended conference.

Carr has about 35 sites throughout the United States, the closest being in Chicago, and this perk for anyone who leases from them is particularly useful for businesses doing recruiting or collaborative work, says Mercado, adding that the Carr team can even help with travel arrangements and event planning.

“Flexible lease terms and networking spaces around the country are some of the reasons why we’re (in Convergence),” Fruth says.

Those flexible lease terms are attractive because clients can rent private office suites that will accommodate a team of one to five people, share a private office between a few employees, or lease a dedicated desk in a shared work space that still offers access to all the office equipment and administrative help, says Ethan Kingery, Car’s general manager at Convergence.

Kingery works alongside Chelsea Hulbert, the local Carr community manager, who serves as receptionist and liaison between every tenant and each guest who walks in the door. Hulbert helps with shipping needs, answers phones and supports all the tenants in myriad ways
every day.

“We have a hospitality mindset that you could compare to the quality you would find at a luxury resort,” Kingery says. “We work with every tenant to see how we can support and amplify what they need.” And as a Purdue graduate and former university employee, Kingery has insight into Purdue’s unique culture and can work with Convergence tenants to help them make connections on campus.

While established companies such as Beck’s and Bayer Crop Science find Convergence a good place to land, startups also can lease dedicated or community space and have access to office equipment and administrative support. As an example, Kingery cites an entrepreneur who has leased space for her fledgling apparel company in Convergence and is in the building many evenings and weekends when she’s not working her day job.

“If you need 3,000 square feet or less of office space, we can work with you,” Kingery says.

While most Carr Workplace sites are in large cities and cater to white-collar tenants such as lawyers or lobbyists,

Convergence is unique in that it is the only Carr site near a top research university and attracts more scientists and researchers, says Mercado.

Convergence also plays a distinctive role within the Discovery Park District (DPD), a 400-acre, mixed-use development that broke ground in 2017. PRF, which owns and manages the land west of campus where the district is being developed, is partnering with Indianapolis-based Browning Investments, Inc. on the project.

“Over the next 10 years, we are projecting over $1 billion in development (at the Discovery Park District) comprised of business, research, residential, retail, advanced manufacturing and community spaces that will eventually attract upwards of 25,000 people living, working, playing and learning across the district,” says Broecker.

“With the 50,000+ students, faculty and staff at Purdue, Discovery Park District will become an incredible community in its own right on the campus of a leading research university … and the Convergence Center is the ‘business front door’ to the DPD.” ★

For more information about Carr Workplaces, go to:
carrworkplaces.com/locations/purdue_university/convergence

For more information about the Convergence Center,
go to: discoveryparkdistrict.com/the-convergence-center

BY RADONNA FIORINI
PHOTOS PROVIDED

While much of life slowed or was outright canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, city improvement and development projects continued, and many will come to fruition in 2021. From penguins to new planned neighborhoods, here’s a peek at what’s coming for our communities.

Columbian Park
Lafayette’s Columbian Park continues to be a beehive of activity with new attractions slated to open this spring and summer.

The recently constructed $20 million Loeb Stadium, located at the corner of Main and Wallace streets, will be dedicated at the end of January, says Lafayette Parks and Recreation Marketing Manager Samantha Haville. Some COVID-related delays pushed the project’s completion back a bit, but everything should be ready for Lafayette Jefferson High School’s baseball home opener in the spring.

The original Loeb Stadium, built in the 1940s of concrete, was long the site for Lafayette Jeff’s home games, the Colt World Series, and more recently the summer collegiate baseball team, the Lafayette Aviators, part of the West Division of the Prospect League. The new brick stadium, which will seat 2,600 people when suites and lawn seating opens later this year, is also designed as a multi-use space where concerts and family movie nights will be planned.

“We hope to make a big splash for the first Jeff home game and for the Aviators’ opener in early summer,” says Haville. “And we’re opening it up to community partnerships for a wide variety of events.”

The newest additions to the Columbian Park Zoo are scheduled to arrive before the zoo opens this spring. Nine African penguins will be shipped from California to inhabit the penguin house constructed in 2020. Their arrival was delayed because of travel restrictions, but the hope is that these warm-weather birds will feel at home and be ready for visitors by late April.

Another exciting addition, an updated blast from the past, will be a new carousel. Construction on a permanent building to house this family favorite has begun, located between the zoo and Tropicanoe Cove water park. The carousel will feature hand-carved and painted wooden animals that represent some of those found in the zoo, along with exotic species and traditional horses. Haville says no date has been set for the opening of this much-loved ride.

While some of these new projects will not be fully used until the pandemic is under control, several planned features in Columbian Park will be open for individual use this summer.

Phase three of the Memorial Island project is proceeding apace. A new amphitheater with upgraded sound system is planned. The lagoon was drained last year, and sea walls are being rebuilt. Lots of new elements are being added to make the area accessible for folks with disabilities including boardwalks, new bridges, and ADA fishing nodes that jut out into the lagoon and accommodate a wheelchair, Haville says. The parks department is working with Purdue University and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to choose fish that will be stocked in the refilled lagoon this summer.

“We are most excited about the fact that paddle boats are coming back!” Haville says. “The boats will be located on the south side of the lagoon near the train depot. We hope to have them available
in July.”

Cason Family Park
Keeping with the theme of public parks and outdoor spaces, West Lafayette has several projects in the works, says Erin Easter, director of development for the city.

Cason Family Park is a planned 14-acre prairie-style space being developed in two phases. The park, located on acreage donated by local farmer Lynn Cason at Cumberland Avenue and U.S. 231, is already home to the historic, one-room Morris Schoolhouse. Built in 1879, the school was moved to the property in 2017 and restored so it can be used for educational programs.

Construction on other park elements is slated to begin this year with completion set for 2022. Surrounding the schoolhouse will be outdoor play places, lawns and waterways. There will be picnic pavilions, public restrooms and several trails throughout the acreage.

“This will be a really fun, whimsical place to play that won’t feel forced,” Easter says. “There will be natural playgrounds with climbing rocks, wooden elements and rest areas.”

For bikers and walkers in West Lafayette, a planned 10-foot-wide pathway project will roll out this year. The path will run along Salisbury Street from Kalberer Road to Grant Street and end at Northwestern Avenue. The project will include shifting some traffic lanes and burying utilities, says Easter. Lighting and other amenities will be added during this two-year project, which will provide a safer way for pedestrians to move from the northern side of the city to the Purdue campus.

And the pathway will lead directly to the new Wellness Center just completed in Cumberland Park. This 73,000-square-foot facility houses a pool, gym, walking track, weight equipment and spaces for health classes, Easter says.

“A lot of our parks programming was put on pause in 2020,” she says. “It was difficult not to do those things last year, but we’ll have a beautiful new home (for those programs) when the time is right.” (See story on Page 22)

A New City Hall in West Lafayette

While anticipating summer activities, Easter and other city employees are spending these colder months settling into newly renovated office space at the Sonya L. Marjerum City Hall, formerly the Morton Community Center. Remodeling of the historic building began in 2019 and was largely completed in December when city workers began moving in.

The city offices have moved around for several years, but the more than $15 million renovations should allow the building on Chauncey Avenue to be a permanent home, says Easter. The name of the building was changed to honor the late Sonya Marjerum who served as West Lafayette mayor for 24 years.

“We moved into the building exactly two years to the date that construction began,” she says. “There are so many advantages to this space now. It’s ADA compliant and accessible. Four-fifths of the building space will be focused on parks or city programming and available to the community. And the new City Council chambers will serve as a true home for (the council’s) work. Before there was a sense of impermanence, but we hope this will be our final and forever home.”

City Hall’s first floor now has community space including two dance studios that can also host art programming and other activities. The first floor also houses the City Council chambers and other meeting space. The second floor is home to city staff including the mayor’s office, parks department, clerk’s office and other departments. A customer service desk is centrally located so visitors can easily get the help they need, Easter notes.

And additional community projects are planned between City Hall and the West Lafayette Public Library. Three public spaces will be added that include art pieces that also can serve as road barriers to temporarily block streets for festivals and large gatherings.

Lafayette projects

Lafayette also is completing some downtown projects and making plans for a new 70,000-square-foot public safety building and parking garage. The first public hearing concerning the facility design was held December 16, and the city hopes to begin construction this year with completion planned in 2023, says Lafayette Economic Development Director Dennis Carson.

The facility, which will be on property just east of City Hall at Sixth and Columbia streets, will house the police department and provide parking for city employees plus extra public parking spaces. The multi-story building will include open plazas for public use and be an asset to downtown living, Carson says.

Several Lafayette streetscape projects wrapped up in 2020 that have made downtown more pedestrian friendly and encouraged both investors and shoppers to see the businesses along Main Street as desired destinations. Paying attention to historic preservation and making the area more consumer friendly has paid off.

“We’ve had a lot of positive feedback and people say being downtown is now a better experience, in a safer environment that is more interactive,” says Carson. “We’ve encouraged outdoor dining, which has been so important during the pandemic, and we have more retail than we’ve had in decades.”

While the growth of brick and mortar stores is a surprise in this age of on-line shopping, Carson says there are more clothing and other retail stores downtown than have been seen in years. That trend shows that the investment in improving sidewalks, installing public art, and focusing on local businesses has paid off as people feel more comfortable lingering and shopping downtown.

“We’re very excited about it,” he says. “It’s a testament that people like to experience things (in person). We know it’s been challenging for some of these shops but we think they’ll hold up and do really well when things open up again.”

Provenance

Perhaps the biggest project coming to Tippecanoe County is back across the river on the west side of the Purdue campus. As part of the Discovery Park District, the city of West Lafayette, Purdue Research Foundation and Old Town Design Group from Indianapolis have launched a planned housing development called Provenance.

Work has begun on apartments at the southwest corner of State Street and Airport Road to be followed by condominiums, town homes and single family homes, says West Lafayette’s Easter, adding that commercial and retail spaces are also part of the mix.

According to information from Old Town Design Group, this multiphase project will eventually include walking paths that connect to nearby parks, golf courses, shops and restaurants. The development includes lots for 56 single-family homes and 30 townhomes.

So grab your mask and take a drive around our communities to see the changes coming. While it feels as if our lives are shrinking, there are brighter days ahead with much to celebrate. ★

BY KAT BRAZ
PHOTOS BY CHRISTINE PETKOV

This year marks the 95th anniversary of Kirby Risk Corporation, founded in 1926 when J. Kirby Risk borrowed $500 from his father and joined Otto Keiffer to open the Keiffer-Risk Battery Company in a small, abandoned blacksmith shop in Lafayette. Keiffer left the company within the year and was replaced by George Tweedie. The company became Risk-Tweedie Electric Service, and Risk was able to repay his father that $500 loan.

After Tweedie’s departure in 1934, the company was renamed Kirby Risk Electric Company, expanded into wholesale distributions of electric supplies and moved to a new downtown location in 1941. Through it all, Risk remained committed to a concept the company now refers to as sacrificial service.

Risk’s son, company CEO James Risk III, describes sacrificial service to mean placing the highest value on customers, employees, vendors and community relations.

“My father felt strongly that your life’s activities and your business should be based on integrity, respect for people and valuing others,” Risk says. “My mother and father were an amazing team. I learned by watching them that true happiness comes from serving others or enriching the lives of other people.”


The second-generation leader recalls accompanying his father to the company warehouse on evenings and weekends as a child.

“I was fascinated walking down the aisles with all of the different products, parts and equipment,” Risk says. “I didn’t necessarily know their purpose or understand how they worked.

Risk first started working at the company during summers while he was in school. After graduating from Purdue University with a degree in management, he began his career at the sales counter and worked his way up to vice president of sales before he was named company president in 1972 at the age of 30. No stranger to leadership, Risk had already served as president of the Lafayette Chamber of Commerce.

A commitment to community service is another value Risk learned from his father. According to Risk, his parents “left us a legacy of valuing others and having a sincere concern for your fellow man.” Among his many contributions to the community, the elder Risk championed bringing Junior Achievement to Lafayette and the younger Risk participated in the program in high school.

“The cornerstone to our company’s success is a commitment to long-term relationships with our employees and their families, with our customers, and with our vendors,” Risk says. “Equally important is having a presence in our communities. Our employees are encouraged to get involved in their communities, value other people and simply do more than what is expected. My parents lived their lives that way and I just tagged along for the ride.”

Family Business

Eddy Del Real was 4 years old when his father, Jose, opened Del Real Auto Sales. Jose still worked at Alcoa at the time. He’d wake up at 6 a.m. to go to the car auction, report to the plant at 3 p.m. and get off shift at 11 p.m. His three sons, Alonzo, Eddy and Tony, began helping out at the lot as kids, washing cars and performing other odd jobs on weekends or after school. Now all three sons — and their brother-in-law — work for the family business. 

“It wasn’t ever expected of us. We were raised to do what we love,” Eddy Del Real says. “For me, it’s an awesome opportunity. We’ve always been family oriented. We were all brought into the business. We each have investment in it. Dad showed us the ropes and we took it from there to broaden the business and expand it.” 

Since its founding in 1987, Del Real has expanded into three locations. Eddy manages the flagship Del Real Auto Sales in Lafayette; Alonzo runs Del Real Auto Connection on Sagamore Parkway, Lafayette; and Tony opened Del Real Automotive Group in Frankfort.
In terms of his father’s leadership style, Eddy Del Real says Jose’s
approach has always been firm,
but egalitarian. 

“There isn’t really a hierarchy of titles,” he says. “We were all raised as equals. We’ve never really had a boss. My dad has the knowledge, so we would ask him for advice and roll with it. He’s shown us that if you put your time and your investments into the business, you’ll reap the benefits. He’s done well for himself, and we want to continue that legacy.”

Eddy Del Real said one thing that sets the family business apart from other auto dealerships is the way they do business. Because their business carries the family name, the Del Reals are invested in every single sale. The company values stem from Jose’s strong work ethic and belief in transparency of the deal — no gimmicks, everything is sold with a warranty and deal the way you want to be treated. Though his sons manage the day-to-day operations, Jose is still involved in the business. 

“We still go to the auction together,” Eddy Del Real says. “Sometimes we’ll talk business at the dinner table when we’re all together. It’s something that will always unite us. My mom and our wives are the ones that keep us grounded.”

Counter philosophy

Basim Hussain started hanging out at his dad’s place of work when he was still too young to be on the payroll. What kid wouldn’t want to spend all day in an ice cream shop? Sabir Hussain operates three Coldstone Creamery locations throughout Greater Lafayette. Once Basim was old enough, he sought employment at one of his father’s stores.

“He considered applying for other jobs, even interviewed for a few. But they just weren’t for him,” Sabir Hussain says. “The way we provide flexibility to young people in school and sports and other activities, we go above and beyond in recruiting and keeping young employees.”

Basim’s only concern about working for his dad? He was worried he’d be missing out on a real work experience.

“At the end of the day, your dad probably won’t fire you,” Sabir Hussain says. “But Basim gets admonished just like anyone else, and to be honest, a little bit more than others. There’s extra pressure if the owner’s son isn’t in proper uniform.”

Hussain takes a long-term approach in developing his young workers. He looks for opportunities to challenge them to see alternate perspectives. He encourages them to be problem solvers. He guides them in cultivating strong customer relations skills that could be applied to dealing with clients in almost any future career path. Basim, now a freshman at Cornell University, remained at home during the fall
semester due to the pandemic. While enrolled in online courses,
he still worked part-time in his father’s store.

“For all my young employees, I hope there is something they pick up from this job that stays with them for the rest of their life,”
Sabir Hussain says. “I truly believe
it takes a village to raise a young person. My role may not be
counselor or teacher or pastor, but at the same time, it’s not nothing. I’m not just a person who signs
their check.” ★

BY KEN THOMPSON
PHOTOS PROVIDED BY PURDUE RESEARCH FOUNDATION

David Ross’ impact upon Purdue University goes far beyond the football stadium that has had his name for nearly a century.

Ross, a president of the Purdue University Board of Trustees and a prolific inventor, noticed that industry did not have access to Purdue’s knowledge and aid like farmers were provided through the Purdue University Extension Service.

So in the fall of 1930, Ross found a way to get around the limitations created by Purdue’s status as a public institution. With board member Josiah K. Lilly, of Eli Lilly and Co., matching Ross’ $25,000 in starter money (nearly $363,000 in today’s dollars), the nonprofit Purdue Research Foundation was created on Dec. 30, 1930.

“I think the bottom line is he wanted to make it easier for businesses to interact with the university,” says Greg Deason, Senior Vice President of Entrepreneurship and Place Making for the Purdue Research Foundation.

“I think the essence was that he thought this could be a vehicle that would allow the foundation to make and take actions that would benefit the university but could do it rapidly at the speed of business.”

Ross died in 1943 but Deason believes much of today’s PRF was part of his original vision. Deason notes that Purdue Research Park was the third great research park in the world in 1961, following the path of Stanford in 1952 and the Research Triangle Park (Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, North Carolina) in 1959.

“It is most likely he was concerned about creating the framework for which great things could occur,” Deason says. “I think he could have easily, based on the efforts he was making, conceived of clusters of businesses that began to operate near the university so they could benefit from these relationships that he had conceived. In many, many ways I think he could have conceived of (research parks) and I think in addition because of his background as an inventor and an entrepreneur it’s quite likely he could have conceived of a key function that we do where we license our patents. I think he would have come up with many of the things we are doing.”

The Purdue Research Foundation may be celebrating its 90th birthday in 2020 but it has changed with the times. The impetus for change began when former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels became university president in 2013.

“I believe because President Daniels brings the experience he’s had in both government and industry, he has been very helpful and supportive of making sure that the foundation did move into the direction of focusing in on the commercialization of Purdue’s technologies,” says Brian Edelman, who became president of the Purdue Research Foundation in 2017. 

“Before President Daniels’ administration, the foundation really was somewhat of a real estate trust. We still are but … what we do as far as real estate and making building places is no longer the focal mission. We do it to make sure we have what’s needed to commercialize Purdue’s technologies.”

Simply put, the PRF’s mission is focused on improving the world through its technologies and graduates.

“That is why the office of technology commercialization is so core to our mission,” Edelman says. “It’s why The Foundry that helps create the startups around Purdue technologies is so critical.”

The Purdue Foundry’s mission statement says its existence is to help Purdue students, faculty and local alumni move ideas to the marketplace more quickly.

One of those startups is Akonacure Pharmaceuticals, which developed a platform to produce natural cancer therapies. 

Sherine Abdelmawla, a Purdue pharmacy alumnus who earned her Ph.D. in medicinal chemistry and molecular pharmacology in 2007, founded that startup with her husband; both work with The Purdue Foundry.

“They helped us at the beginning to learn all aspects of the business,” Abdelmawla says. “They helped us transition from a technical team to a management team. Perfecting the investors’ pitch. Putting together a business plan. It’s a great resource.”

Abdelmawla says Akonacure’s original investors were all from The Purdue Foundry and it continues to help the startup. “The Foundry doesn’t just connect me with people within the boundary of PRF, they will connect us with all the Purdue alum network,” she explains. “PRF has a big network of investors they can connect you to. They will be helpful throughout the life of the company.

“The best thing about the PRF is you’re almost immediately treated like you’re a part of the family. It feels a lot more personal than a business relationship. We’ll always feel very grateful, very loyal to The Foundry and Purdue.”

Johnny Park calls himself “a major beneficiary” professionally and personally of the Purdue Research Foundation. Park earned bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. degrees from the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering at Purdue. He became a research assistant professor in the school as well.

With the PRF’s investment and a grant from the United States Dairy Association in 2008, Park started Spensa Technologies in 2009 with the vision of agricultural innovation that will reduce reliance on manual labor, foster eco-friendly farming and enhance crop production efficiency.

“As a young faculty member who had never started a company and really did not understand many aspects of the business, The Foundry and PRF was extremely helpful in not only mentoring me as an entrepreneur but also connecting the company to all the relevant customers, stakeholders, potential partners and investors,” Park says. “All those connections were very, very helpful.”

Spensa was acquired in 2018 by DTN, which continues to operate Spensa in Purdue Research Park. Meanwhile, Park remains in West Lafayette as CEO at the Wabash Heartland Innovation Network.

“I didn’t think I’d still be here but the opportunity Purdue provided us in this ecosystem was very wonderful,” Park says. “What Purdue has built in this town, the Purdue Research Park and all the office spaces that are available is incredible. At the cost, we’re getting quality. It’s not often talked about but it’s a tremendous value for a startup to have the infrastructure to take advantage of.”

Dr. Byron Pipes, the John L. Bray Distinguished Professor of Engineering at Purdue, had experience in the business world decades before coming to West Lafayette in 2004. As co-founder and director of the Center for Composite Materials at the University of Delaware, Pipes developed an industrial consortium of more than 40 corporate sponsors from nine different nations. Pipes also was president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York from 1993-95.

Pipes’ research, involving composite materials used in aviation and technology, is patented through the PRF’s Office of Technology Commercialization. He also took the lead in creating the Indiana Manufacturing Institute (based in Research Park), and is executive director of the Composites Manufacturing and Simulation Center.

“It was mutually beneficial for the relationship to happen,” Pipes says. “From my perspective from all the years I’ve spent in leadership and research is that having a place that is almost off campus gave the industry a view that maybe we weren’t so ‘ivory tower.’ Companies are attracted to us because we’re out in Research Park. We’re accessible.

“Whenever I get a company where the high-level people are coming to see me, I make a quick appointment with the president of the Purdue Research Foundation. He explains all about Research Park and what we’re doing to build relationships. It has an effect on them. ‘Wow, you guys are different.’” 

One of the PRF’s newest partnerships is with the city of West Lafayette. Mayor John Dennis uses one word to describe his relationship with PRF.

“OUT-STANDING, with capital letters all the way through,” Dennis says.

Dennis remembers in his first term getting a lesson in what he calls “PRF 101” from then-PRF executive director Joe Arnett.

“It wasn’t just enlightening to me as a newly elected guy, it was enlightening for me as a tool to better understand how to improve relationships with Purdue,” Dennis says. “That was sort of the precursor to some of the great things we’ve been able to do over the past five or six years, including annexation and the explosion of development in the Research Park.”

Dennis uses the recruitment of Saab as an example of how the collaboration between the Purdue Research Foundation and the city has benefited Greater Lafayette.

“We were looking at a way to have an incentive package that would make us stand out amongst all the communities that were competing for a high-end development,” he says. “Purdue was in a position to provide some incentivization, and the city of West Lafayette was in a position to provide incentivization. Also, which is completely unheard of, the city of Lafayette participated in the recruitment of Saab financially. If you look anywhere else in the country, you will never find two cities that are going to do the same thing to benefit one city.”

The State Street Project had modest beginnings before a conversation between Dennis and Mitch Daniels changed the scope of the project.

“We had an urban corridor that looked like it hadn’t been touched since the days of the horse and buggy,” Dennis says. “It basically excluded anything involving Purdue University. The storefronts were ignored, parking was ignored, traffic flow was ignored. It basically inhibited any type of business development.

“Our original plan was to take State Street from University down to the riverfront. Basically, we would spend a few million dollars on it, dress it up pretty and make it more accessible. Hopefully improve our business corridor so that people would be more inclined to utilize it.”

Dennis felt obligated to share that plan with Daniels and his staff. It must have been some presentation because Daniels wanted Purdue to be a part of the State Street Project.

“OK, sure, bring your checkbook,” was Dennis’ response. “By golly, he did.”

“That’s when the project changed from being a local project to being a project that incorporated the university all the way to the point of its furthest west barrier, out to connect what was eventually going to be (U.S) 231.”

Daniels’ enthusiasm for the State Street Project led to Purdue’s annexation by West Lafayette, which when the students are on campus swells the population to more than 80,000.

“Which makes us one of the most densely populated cities in the state of Indiana,” Dennis explains. “That allowed us to give a lot of assurances to developers at getting a quick return on their investment.”

Edelman says Purdue’s nearly $100 million obligation to the State Street Project prompted the PRF to make a $40 million land swap with the university to be able to develop the Discovery Park district and the aerospace district. 

“But we should have been doing that on our own,” he says. “The reason we should have been doing that is because having the land open has led to the expansion that is going on right now at the Rolls Royce building, the building of the Saab plant, the Schweitzer Engineering Labs. The real jobs that are coming to the Greater Lafayette area through that development is huge.”

Those jobs will bring in people looking for high-end housing, which PRF is providing with Provenance, a single-family home development planned for the former Black and Gold athletic fields. 

“When we look to get a development, if we have a developable parcel somewhere in the city or on the west end at Purdue Research Park, people line up because they know they are going to be in good company,” Dennis says. “It makes the recruiting really easy. When it comes to hiring, they will get really high-quality workers.

“We’ve got advanced manufacturing, we’ve got one of the best universities in the country. We’ve got great leadership, Tony Roswarski on the east side and Mitch Daniels as president. We all have a unified understanding of what’s best for this community, not on just the short term but long term. We share resources and work collaboratively together. The Purdue Research Foundation has been pivotal in that.”

Dennis’ vision fits hand in hand with Edelman’s outlook for the future.

“I hope that we can get more captains of industry and captains of capital to land their G-IV jets at the Purdue Airport and visit what we’re building,” Edelman says. “I believe that the very expensive costs of starting a business and having employees on the East and West coast, maybe the false views that the only good ideas come out of the Bay Area or Boston would be shattered if we could get these captains of capital and industry to see what is going on in our part of the prairie at Purdue. 

“What I want to do is get them to land their jets instead of flying over that so-called ‘flyover’ state of Indiana and see what we’re building in the Greater Lafayette area.”

BY JANE MCLAUGHLIN ANDERSON
PHOTOS PROVIDED BY PURDUE RESEARCH FOUNDATION

The timing couldn’t be better. Just as Purdue University and Greater Lafayette were envisioning a new generation of high-tech companies for the Discovery Park District, Purdue alumnus Edmund Schweitzer III came back to campus. His original intent was to honor his alma mater with a $1.5 million endowed professorship in electrical and computer engineering, and to donate an additional $1.5 million to support Purdue’s power and energy research area, now named Schweitzer Power and Energy Systems. 

“Last fall Purdue Research Foundation and others honored Ed and his wife, Beatriz, for their contributions,” says factory manager Jake Church. “As that story unfolded, it inspired Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL) to build a facility near campus, and the project took off.” 

The 100,000-square-foot plant across from Rolls Royce is indeed taking off and will be up and running in early 2020.

Edmund O. Schweitzer III is truly a renaissance man. Having received his B.S. and M.S. degrees in electrical engineering from Purdue in 1968 and 1971, he worked out West for the government for five years before deciding to pursue a doctorate degree. He received his Ph.D. from Washington State University in 1977 in Pullman. While teaching at WSU and raising a family, he founded Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories in his basement in 1982 to build digital relay devices for power systems to replace the cumbersome and unreliable current mechanical devices. It was revolutionary engineering for electrical protection at the time; he received a patent for the first microprocessor-based digital relay, one of his 200 patents in the field. Because of it, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2019. Academic. Inventor. Entrepreneur. Philanthropist. He is a man of vision with the ability to make it happen.

“The mission for the company is to make electric power safer, more reliable, and more economical,” Church says. “With that goal, it opens the door to customers who need safe and reliable high-speed control of their power systems like electric utility companies, hospitals, universities, and virtually any entity that needs reliable power.” The West Lafayette plant will make recloser controls. These devices control reclosures that act as high-voltage electric switches that shut off the flow of electricity on a power line when trouble occurs due to wind, lightning, falling trees, animals, among other things. 

“We are excited to manufacture SEL technology so close to some of our Midwestern customers (Duke, Indianapolis Power & Light and Tipmont), but it’s also an opportunity to be close to Purdue University and collaborate with them,” says Church. “You can’t put a price on the synergy created by partnerships between the community and the university.” SEL’s manufacturing plants are located in Pullman, Washington; Lake Zurich, Illinois; Lewiston, Idaho; and now West Lafayette. SEL products are used by virtually every U.S. electric utility and are protected power systems in 164 countries around the world. Moving to West Lafayette is a game-changer for the growing Discovery Park District with win-win benefits for the company, community and university.

Church is among the first of 30 employees of the 100 percent employee-owned company to make the move to Indiana. “All volunteered and applied for the transition. They’re eager to come and are so excited to make Greater Lafayette their home,” he says. SEL will ramp up hiring from there with a projection of eventually 300 employees, with manufacturing jobs coming first and research and development and engineering to follow. 

“We’re thrilled to work with Greater Lafayette Commerce and others here to get the word out as needed. Purdue Research Foundation and GLC offered to help incorporate our people into the community, including our spouses,” Church adds. “It’s a testament to the community, with so many different parties involved at different points, whether it was PRF and staff, GLC helping with logistics, both mayors’ offices very supportive and eager to help us get a safe, good building constructed, and county commissioners to help with the workforce. Everyone has been topnotch — very welcoming, professional and supportive. We’re thrilled to be building this business here.”