BY KEN THOMPSON
PHOTOS BY CHRISTINE PETKOV
The largest deal with an industry partner in Purdue University history is bringing $75 million to West Lafayette over the next 10 years.
That the agreement is with Rolls-Royce makes it a natural fit for Purdue, which has had a more than 70-year relationship with the global corporation that has customers in more than 150 countries.
“We have collaborated on many aerospace research projects, worked with numerous Purdue experts and have established a pipeline of talent from the university to our company,” says Warren White, Director of Assembly & Test-U.S., Rolls-Royce Defense. “In fact, over 700 Purdue grads work for Rolls-Royce in Indianapolis.
“With the aerospace expertise on campus, the strong support from Lafayette and West Lafayette officials, and the comfort level between the university and the company, it made perfect sense to invest there.”
The agreement funds testing and research in the areas of gas turbine technology and electrical and digital technology. Purdue’s Zucrow Laboratories, the largest academic propulsion laboratory in the world, will be the primary site for research in sustainable power systems through advanced technology in electrification, turbines, compressors and combustion with sustainable fuels.
Just weeks before unveiling the Rolls-Royce deal, Purdue announced it would construct a $73 million high-speed propulsion laboratory for hypersonic technologies in the Discovery Park District. The laboratory will span 55,000 square feet.
At the time the agreement was announced in May 2022, then-Purdue President Mitch Daniels said, “Purdue’s research partnership with Rolls-Royce will address some of the greatest technology challenges facing the U.S. Our faculty and students will work on advanced technology capabilities to ensure long-term national security. This will enhance the university’s role as a world leader in engineering research.”
White says, “Indiana is very lucky to have an educational institution like Purdue University as a pillar of research and a true leader in the world of aerospace. Not just the astronauts – although that history is fantastic – but there are so many other areas where Purdue has been in the forefront of technology advancement.
“At Rolls-Royce, we are very proud to be partnering with Purdue and continuing that great history of cutting-edge aerospace development.”
White says Rolls-Royce has a number of projects
underway in various stages at West Lafayette, including some of the hybrid-electrical testing work. New facility construction also is taking place, but he says it probably will be a couple of years before Rolls-Royce begins operation of test facilities in other areas.
Purdue President Mung Chiang, who began his tenure on Jan. 1, 2023, says, “Purdue has become the epicenter of hypersonic research and testing in the U.S. We are excited across three tracks: first, our own investment for federal and industry projects, such as the wind tunnel and manufacturing facility announced in 2021, and the high-speed propulsion facility in 2022 that Rolls-Royce will be able to use; second, private sector’s investment to grow their presence in the Discovery Park District at Purdue; and third, a nonprofit consortium of industry members for ground testing hosted at Purdue.”
One of those projects is aimed toward the company’s goal to achieve zero net greenhouse gas emissions in its operations by 2030.
“Our hybrid-electrical testing will help move aviation to a more sustainable future by reducing reliance on fossil fuels,” White says.
“High-altitude testing capability will enable us to make our engines more efficient in challenging operating environments. Hypersonic testing will help develop engines to help aircraft reach extremely high speeds. All of these are important aerospace ‘giant leaps’ and we are proud to be working with Purdue to advance these efforts.”
White says research and development projects are the primary focus for Rolls-Royce in West Lafayette. Side benefits to these projects are modest job growth in Greater Lafayette as well as enhancing the learning potential of Purdue students and faculty.
The roots of Purdue’s relationship with Rolls-Royce date back to a partnership with a company owned by one of the founders of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
James A. Allison founded the Allison Engine Company more than a century ago, and Purdue’s close proximity to Indianapolis led to Allison Engine hiring many Purdue engineering graduates. Rolls-Royce purchased Allison Engine Company in 1996.
“Since that time, hundreds of Purdue engineers have worked for Rolls-Royce, collectively making a major impact on our company’s products and designs,” White says. “The relationship is as strong as ever. We continue to perform research on and off campus and continue to hire Purdue grads every year.”
White, who earned his bachelor’s degree in aero/astro engineering and a master’s degree in industrial administration from Purdue, credits his time in West Lafayette for creating a solid foundation for his professional career.
“We have more Purdue engineers working at Rolls-Royce than from any other university,” White says. “My personal background at Purdue didn’t play a role in the company’s decision to invest in West Lafayette, though. All the business factors involved made it the right decision. I’m happy it turned out that way, and I enjoy making trips to campus.”
White has noticed the many changes in Greater Lafayette since his undergraduate and post-graduate days. He praised the unique partnership between Purdue and the cities of Lafayette and West Lafayette.
“We have been happy to witness the economic redevelopment taking place in West Lafayette and Tippecanoe County as a whole,” White says. “The credit goes certainly to mayors, city council members, community leaders and the redevelopment commission — their vision and commitment to the current and future residents of Greater Lafayette.
“This vision along with the investments and growth spurred by the success of Purdue during the Mitch Daniels era and now with President Mung Chiang have been very impressive. Rolls-Royce is proud to be part of the community. It’s a great place to live and work.” ★
BY MEGAN FURST
Greater Lafayette’s locally owned businesses are the heart of our community. Small business owners invest a tremendous amount of time, energy, money and passion into their companies. Join us as we look back at the small business of the month winners recognized by Greater Lafayette Commerce in 2022.
Mecko’s Heating & Cooling
418½ Sagamore Parkway N., Lafayette
According to Dave Mecklenburg, owner of Mecko’s Heating & Cooling, helping people in need and building relationships based on loyalty, trust and honesty have been key to their mission for the past 18 years.
“We will do all things possible to help our clients,” Mecklenburg says. “Hearing our clients call in and say that our employees did an awesome job and were very professional while in their home is one of the most satisfying and proud moments of being a business owner in this incredible community.”
Mecko’s Heating & Cooling offers both residential and commercial services on HVAC systems. They also provide a 24-hour emergency service, where someone from the company will respond and immediately address the client’s needs.
Giving back through community service opportunities is important to Mecklenburg. He serves on the Lafayette Parks and Recreation board and delivers food for the food pantry and Lafayette Urban Ministry. Mecko’s also has supported numerous charity events such as the Ebony and Ivory Ball, Toast of Mental Health, Blue Knight Auction, March of Dimes, Transitional Housing Bingo and 100 Men Who Cook
Great Harvest Bread Co.
1500 Kossuth St., Lafayette
Another longtime small business in Greater Lafayette is Great Harvest Bread Co., co-founded by Jerry and Janet Lecy nearly 17 years ago. The bakery welcomes you to its historic Kossuth district location with the delightful smells of freshly baked bread and pastries, hot coffee and other delicious treats.
The Lecys came across the Great Harvest Bread Co. franchise while living in Orlando, and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Jerry and Janet had been considering a new chapter in their lives, and they knew immediately that it was the perfect business for them.
“I try to avoid fear. It definitely took us out of our comfort zone — my wife more than myself,” Jerry says. “Even the first year, she was like, ‘Do you miss our old life?’ And I’m like, ‘No, I don’t even think about it. This is happening. This is good.’”
In addition to coffee, sandwiches and desserts, Great Harvest Bread sells on average 150 to 200 loaves of bread daily. Their bread ingredients are simple and include honey rather than high-fructose corn syrup.
“We are about the bread. We are about quality ingredients,” Jerry says. “The honey whole wheat, which is our signature bread, has five ingredients: water, salt, yeast, honey and flour. You can pronounce everything.”
Great Harvest Bread also values community and regularly donates leftover bread to charitable organizations such as Lafayette Urban Ministry, Trinity Mission, a local women’s shelter and more.
Sweet Revolution Bake Shop
109 N. Fifth St., Lafayette
Since opening in June 2017, Sweet Revolution Bake Shop has doubled its size to accommodate the growing business. Located in historic downtown Lafayette, Sweet Revolution is family-owned by siblings Sarah McGregor-Ray and Jonathan McGregor and mother Debbie McGregor.
Chef Sarah had always dreamed of running her own bakery, while her brother Jonathan had a hunger for being an entrepreneur.
“I knew Sarah was gifted with food when she was 10,” Debbie says. “She would help me cook, and I just let her do more and more all the time. She is very gifted. It’s fun to watch.”
Sweet Revolution features specialty, freshly baked pies and pastries with natural ingredients. They also offer made-from-scratch savory quiches, coffee and teas.
Following the success of Sweet Revolution Bake Shop, the McGregor family opened Revolution Barbeque in 2020, also located in downtown Lafayette. They’ve appreciated the support of the community and their loyal customers and look forward to additional projects in the future.
Sparkletone Dry Cleaners
238 E. State St., West Lafayette
Customer service has always been the top priority at Sparkletone Dry Cleaners — over the past 66 years. Sparkletone was founded in 1956 by Robert Dudley and handed over to his son and daughter-in-law, Scott and Jeanne Dudley.
They’ve always focused on delivering the best service to their customers, and Jeanne, especially, has enjoyed getting to know each one.
“If you don’t have customers, you don’t have a business,” Jeanne says. “I’ve always liked people. I always have, so it’s easy for me.”
Scott and Jeanne’s two daughters, Kristin and Robin, took over the business after their parents’ retirement so Jeanne could provide care for Scott. He passed away last year, leaving behind a wonderful legacy and a thriving business.
Robin focuses her attention on customer service and enjoys talking to all the customers, much like her mother. Kristin manages the day-to-day operations. Together, they provide an in-house dry-cleaning and shirt laundry service. Their two-day services return clothes clean, pressed and ready to wear.
“We keep it simple. Customer service has always been our number one priority,” Robin says. “We greet our customers with a friendly smile, listen to their needs and provide an affordable and timely service. We thank our loyal customers for our continued success over the past 66 years.”
155 Win Hentschel Blvd., West Lafayette
The Homestead, located on Win Hentschel Boulevard in West Lafayette, opened in 2017 by owners Mike and Jody Bahler. The Bahlers already had one location in Remington but decided to add a second to expand and grow their customer base.
Having always dreamed of a catering business of her own, Jody was excited about the opportunity her sister-in-law, Heidi, shared with her back in 2010. There was a building available for rent in Remington that would be ideal to open a bulk food, baking and catering shop.
Jody loved experimenting with different recipes and would often make them ahead of time and freeze them for later. This convenience made it easier to feed her growing family.
She brought this take-and-bake approach to The Homestead, where customers can enjoy a large salad bar, deli lunches, catering, frozen and bulk foods and a gift shop.
“It’s not anything gourmet. It’s just homestyle, basic cooking,” Jody says. “It’s very much a homemade product when the customer gets it.”
The farmhouse featured in their logo is an illustration of Jody and Mike’s family home. “That’s how we named it The Homestead because it truly is a family homestead,” Jody says. “We wanted it to be just kind of a warm and welcoming feel when people visit and when people hear the name. It has that warm, cozy feel.”
311 Sagamore Parkway N., Ste. 6., Lafayette
Mark and Sandy Sweval opened Speed Pro Imaging in 2011, but rebranded to GLGraphix in 2019. GLGraphix offers large-format graphics such as displays, banners and images that grab an audience’s attention.
They both enjoy different aspects of the business, and it shows in the success they’ve shared over the years.
“I’ve always enjoyed the sales process,” Mark says. “I love the flexibility. I love the freedom. I loved being able to chart my own destiny being an owner of a small business.”
Their flexibility was tested, however, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. They had to quickly shift gears to make up for the lost revenue from large canceled indoor gatherings such as conventions and trade shows.
“I started really burning up the phone lines and calling people,” Mark says. “I found a way to replace the lost business.”
GLGraphix ended up designing thousands of COVID-related graphics for Purdue and area hospitals. This helped them stay afloat and come back even stronger.
The business is heavily involved in the community and supports Habitat for Humanity and the YMCA. They also provide discounted signage for numerous not-for-profit organizations in the Greater Lafayette area.
GLGraphix has been turned over to a new owner. In July 2022, Nathan Erber, founder of Mark VII Graphics, adopted the GLGraphix name and continues in the Swevals’ footsteps in providing quality graphics solutions to Greater Lafayette.
105 N. 10th St., Lafayette
Owner Timothy Balensiefer had high expectations for his company when he founded TBIRD Design in 2000. He had a five-year and 10-year plan for his design firm, yet he was able to accomplish all his goals within three years of business.
“It did grow a lot faster than we were expecting, but we knew there was a need in the community,” Balensiefer says. “Our clients trust us, and they like us. That’s why they come back.”
TBIRD Design helps prepare new industrial and commercial sites, assists local government in improving and extending infrastructure, evaluates boundaries, provides precise positioning and surveying and also creates residential neighborhoods.
The firm works with major industry players such as Purdue University, Caterpillar, Subaru and Wabash. They developed the Rise at Chauncey, a 16-story mixed-use project in West Lafayette that includes more than 21,000 square feet of retail space and 300 residential units. Additionally, TBIRD led the way for the HUB Plus building, which houses retail spaces and more than 200 residential units.
TBIRD Design also has worked on the design and construction of the downtown Lafayette streetscape and partners with the Tippecanoe School Corp. to develop new schools, athletic fields and other additions.
“We’re truly a local firm. That’s the way people feel about us,” Balensiefer says. “They know we’re local. We’ve been around for a long time.”
TBIRD gives back to the community and is a frequent sponsor of downtown events. It developed the Shamrock Dog Park in Lafayette and is working toward developing properties for the Boys and Girls Club, pro bono.
701 Main St., Lafayette
Instant Copy, located in downtown Lafayette, is a one-stop print shop. Established in 1986, Instant Copy merged with Lafayette Copier and Eco Shred in 2020 and is currently owned by T.J. and Dawn O’Bryan and managed by Toni Edmonson.
“Our customer service is our shining star here because we will always go out of our way to make sure that our customers are happy,” Edmonson says. “We want you to be satisfied with your project — whether we designed it, or you did.”
Instant Copy provides print, graphic design and bindery services, and customers can also shred documents in the store. Graphic artists are available to assist clients with design needs, including logos, business cards, brochures, posters and more.
It works with businesses such as Unity and Franciscan hospitals, Bauer Family Resources, Hartford House, Food Finders and St. Boniface. It also enjoys its regular customers who come in for help with printing, shipping labels, invitations and cards.
“We really try to branch out and work with a little bit of everybody,” Edmonson says. “Being that Instant Copy has been in business for so long, generally at one point or another, people have printed something with us.”
Instant Copy donates print materials for various nonprofit organizations — and prints flyers for missing persons and lost pets at no cost. “If there’s a customer in a hard spot, we do try to help out our community in that way with printing services,” Edmonson says.
Hearing Solutions of Indiana
– 750 Park East Boulevard, Suite 3,
– 480 West Navajo St., Suite A,
Additional Locations: Avon, Carmel, Delphi, Fishers, Franklin, Greenwood, IU Health Arnett, Kokomo and Zionsville
When Hearing Solutions of Indiana opened in 2018 with one location and one employee, it had no idea how quickly the business would grow in the next four years. Hearing Solutions of Indiana is led by husband and wife Michael and Dr. Judy Olson.
They offer several services to both new and existing hearing aid wearers, including fittings, repairs and programming. Hearing Solutions of Indiana also provides comprehensive hearing exams and treatment options for tinnitus.
In 2020, it added a second location in West Lafayette and has since expanded to include locations in Avon, Carmel, Delphi, Fishers, Franklin, Kokomo, Zionsville and IU Health Arnett. The newest location opened in Greenwood.
Judy and her team focus on providing the highest level of care and are committed to their patients and their employees. Judy understands what it means to have quality hearing, as she has worn hearing aids for 25 years.
“We’re always on the forefront of technology and that also helps us continue to grow — and to grow into new markets to bring the gift of better hearing to more and more people,” Judy says. “We have a passion for what we’re doing.”
“That’s what we’re about,” adds Michael. “It’s changing lives, and we’re committed to doing that throughout Central Indiana.”
Michael and Judy grew up in Greater Lafayette and feel fortunate to provide jobs to their 25 employees. They also enjoy sponsoring, educating and participating in community events. ★
BY CINDY GERLACH
PHOTOS BY CHRISTINE PETKOV
Not-for-profit organizations were designed to fill a niche between services offered by the government and the private sector. Their not-for-profit status allows any proceeds to be funneled back into the organization to help in fulfilling the mission, rather than be shared with investors or other stakeholders. Hence running a not-for-profit requires a special set of skills, as executive directors are tasked with running programs and staffing, as well as with development, fundraising and donor relations, all working under the guidance of a volunteer board of directors.
Several of these organizations in Tippecanoe County are run by women. Here is a look at just a few of the women who are at the helm of local not-for-profit agencies.
Chief Executive Officer
Bauer Family Resources
Comegys developed a strong devotion to the nonprofit sector — and specifically youth serving organizations — early in her life, having benefited from youth development programming. Today her adopted daughter, Harley, has grown through her participation in similar programming. Her personal experiences led her to serve Bauer, an organization that empowers children and their families to thrive. She is a graduate of Purdue University with a B.A. in communications with a focus in advertising.
How did you become involved with this organization?
I originally became involved in the organization when I was serving as the CEO of a neighboring organization. We worked alongside Bauer in the community. When the previous CEO was set to retire, I was recruited to the organization.
What are your top three priorities?
• Enhance program delivery and accessibility: Embrace opportunities and create systems that allow for programs to replicate, expand, operate and innovate as dictated by the needs of the families and communities we serve.
• Amplify organizational impact: Communicate the difference that we are making, how we made that difference and why it is important in a way that elevates the organization.
• Proactively develop and strengthen our workforce: Become a sought-after employment destination with a culture that retains employees.
What change do you hope to effect during your tenure?
Bauer is one of the best-kept secrets in the community; often the work we do is in the background. With my team, I want Bauer, and the impact we make throughout the community, to be more apparent. We serve thousands of people every single year and have deep connections with families. We need to highlight that work to increase the number of families we are able to reach.
Public Schools Foundation of Tippecanoe County
Isbell is a graduate of Jefferson High School and Purdue University (1989, political science). She and her husband Dan have four adult children and five grandchildren. This is their 10th consecutive year with a child attending Purdue University.
How did you become involved with the organization?
My reintroduction to public education came when my first-born entered kindergarten in 1997 and I volunteered as “room mom.” As our other children entered school, my involvement increased with PTO leadership roles and special projects. When my youngest daughter entered preschool I decided to re-enter the work force and found a job listing in the newspaper for part-time director of PSFTC. In January 2023 I’ll begin my 21st year with the organization.
Our top three priorities are to:
• Provide resources that innovate classrooms and engage students in a tangible way.
• Create valuable classroom experiences for both students and teachers.
• Showcase the extraordinary effort and dedication that teachers, administrators and support staff exhibit in schools every day.
What changes do you hope to effect during your tenure?
I hope that during my tenure, rather than operate with a narrow focus, PSFTC will forge new partnerships with businesses and other philanthropic organizations to leverage resources and offer quality educational experiences to all students, and that we will continue to provide teachers with resources that provide varied instruction and materials to engage an audience with vastly different academic, economic and social backgrounds.
Chief Executive Officer
The Arts Federation
Lee has impacted the cultural landscape of Indiana for more than 25 years. She has degrees from the School of the Art Institute, American Academy of Art, Florence Academy of Art, Indiana State University and Texas Tech. She is a classically trained artist and a dedicated advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion.
How did you become involved with the organization?
A member of the search committee reached out to my former boss who encouraged me to apply. After he asked three times, I sent in my resume, and the rest is history.
What are your top three priorities?
• Increase the accessibility of the arts to all people and communities.
• Continue to build The Arts Federation’s reputation as one of the strongest and best arts organizations in the nation.
• Cement the importance and role of the arts in community and economic development.
What change do you hope to effect during your tenure?
Increase the diversity of the arts, artists and communities that are represented and celebrated in our present and future.
President and Chief Executive Officer
YWCA Greater Lafayette
Involved in violence prevention work with domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking, Mickler is a versatile, highly adaptable, results-oriented professional with proven nonprofit leadership and management skills. During the summer of 2022, Mickler embarked on an eight-week embodied racial justice cohort for white leaders with fellow YWCA CEOs. She has a B.A. in psychology and a Master of Public Management from Indiana University, Kokomo.
How did you become involved with YWCA?
Like many, I have a connection to YWCA. In Kokomo, I attended YWCA as a child and was a swim instructor during college. When I was appointed as the CEO in August of 2021, it felt like an opportunity to continue to serve a mission that I was passionate about — four simple words that are challenging, but necessary: eliminate racism, empower women. I am honored to serve in this capacity and be entrusted with this community treasure.
What are your top three priorities?
• Develop bold initiatives that will allow us to drive our mission forward.
• Tell our story of one YWCA! We are an umbrella agency, with pillar programs that collectively support our mission and meet the needs of the community.
• Embrace collaboration — we know that the lift to effectively serve our mission will require action from both YWCA Greater Lafayette and the community.
What change do you hope to effect during your tenure?
Amidst a pandemic that has resulted in an increase in domestic violence, exposed inequities in access to health care, emphasized necessity for workforce development, and highlighted need for racial and social justice initiatives, our work is more important now than ever.
We will continue to strengthen collaborative opportunities and solidify YWCA Greater Lafayette as the leader in violence prevention efforts and social and racial justice initiatives.
YWCA Greater Lafayette has provided needed services for 92 years, and we will continue to lead the charge towards equality. Together, we shall continue to add to the legacy of YWCA Greater Lafayette. We will continue to foster empowerment in action through our events, our collaborations and our pillar programs that we extend to each of the communities we serve.
YWCA Greater Lafayette will continue to do our work until injustice is rooted out, until institutions are transformed and until the world sees women, girls, and people of color the way we do. Equal. Powerful. Unstoppable.
President and Chief Executive Officer
Mental Health America, Wabash Vally Region
Christiansen is a U.S. Navy Veteran with an associates degree in law enforcement and B.A. in anthropology from the University of Iowa. She is a former semi-pro women’s football player and is the vice chair of the Indiana National Guard Relief Fund and a Certified Suicide Prevention Instructor (QPR Gate Keeper).
How did you become involved with this organization?
I was previously the executive director of Mental Health America-North Central Indiana based in Kokomo when I learned of this open position and was encouraged to apply. I did, and we merged with my old region last January.
What are your top three priorities?
• Staff/volunteer development
• Sustainable funding
• Innovative response to a mental health crisis.
Without the first two priorities, we remain in reactionary mode and the crisis grows.
What change do you hope to effect during your tenure?
I hope to offer systemic opportunities for individuals and their families struggling with mental health and addiction who have not been successful in the current mental health care and legal systems to get relief and empowerment so that they do not pass the trauma on to the next generations. I hope to take a tactical approach to youth mental health challenges and normalize early treatment and prevention of mental health and substance use disorders. I hope to challenge stigma in all its forms.
Katy O’Malley Bunder (right) passes the torch to Kier Crites Muller (left)
President and Chief Executive Officer
Food Finders Food Bank
(Note: Bunder announced her retirement as this issue of Greater Lafayette Magazine went to press. Long-time Food Finders staff member Kier Crites Muller was named the new CEO upon Bunder’s retirement.)
Bunder joined Food Finders Food Bank in 2008 as the executive director. Under her direction, Food Finders increased food distribution from 2.5 million pounds to 14 million pounds, expanded the Backpack Program and added the Mobile Pantry Program. In 2014, Food Finders conducted a capital campaign that enabled the food bank to move into two newly renovated buildings. The Food Resource and Education Center teaches life skills and nutrition classes and offers resource coordination for food insecure households. In 2020, in response to increased demand resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, Food Finders opened a grocery store. The Fresh Market, open five days a week, distributes high-quality nutritious food to low-income households and served more than 17,500 individual households in 2020.
Before joining Food Finders, Bunder worked for Purdue University from 1985 until 2008 and founded the nonprofit organization New Chauncey Housing, Inc.
Originally, from Arkansas, Bunder earned her bachelor’s degree at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College. She completed her master’s degree at the University of Virginia. Bunder and her husband, Peter, moved to West Lafayette in 1985. They have two grown daughters and three grandchildren.
How did you become involved with this organization?
In 2008 Food Finders conducted a search to find a new executive director, and I applied. I had previously founded a nonprofit and wanted to return to nonprofit work.
What are your top three priorities?
• Providing food to those who are food insecure.
• Running programs that help people overcome the root cause of hunger: poverty
• Making sure everyone in our community knows that people around us are hungry and those who can help donate or volunteer.
What change do you hope to effect during your tenure?
I am retiring in December 2022 and I have increased food distribution, added programs and moved Food Finders from an industrial park on the edge of Lafayette to the center of the city. It is much easier for those who need help to find it and easier for volunteers to help the food bank.
Tippecanoe County Senior Services
Earnst is the executive director of Tippecanoe Senior Services and has been in this position for three years. Her past work includes being the executive director of a family homeless shelter and program. She also has experience in social work, elementary education and early intervention for young children with special needs. Earnst has a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of North Carolina Greensboro and a Certificate in Nonprofit Leadership from Indiana University. She is originally from Elkhart and has lived in the Greater Lafayette area for 14 years. She is married and has five adult children and one granddaughter.
How did you become involved with this organization?
I became involved in this organization after a colleague suggested that I apply. I enjoy working with the senior population and being able to provide the services and resources they need to live a healthy and happy life.
What are your top three priorities?
• Raise more awareness of our agency
• Raise awareness of the services we provide to seniors
• Strive to continue to bring in the programming and services that will benefit the seniors we serve.
What change do you hope to effect during your tenure?
I hope to change the way our society regards the senior population by promoting value, respect and honor within my organization and within our community.
Tippecanoe Senior Services operates Tippecanoe Senior Center, Meals on Wheels Greater Lafayette and SHARP (Senior Home Assistance Repair Program)
Junior Achievement serving Greater Lafayette
A graduate of Indiana University with a bachelor’s degree in communications, Edwards has a background in supporting local businesses, as well as local and national nonprofits.
She also currently serves as a Greater Lafayette Connector, on the Leadership Lafayette Selection Committee, Community Foundation of Greater Lafayette 100+ Women Who Care Steering Committee and President of the Jefferson High School Golden Broncho Club.
A connector at heart, Edwards’ leadership skills and community involvement has taught her that investing in people, organizations and workplaces helps keep our communities strong and vibrant. It is about empowering people by providing opportunities to grow, change and give back.
How did you become involved with this organization?
My love for education and workforce development come together at Junior Achievement. Serving my community through preparing students to succeed in a global economy is important to me. I truly believe our mission is truly making a difference in Greater Lafayette.
What are your top three priorities?
• Always be learning and growing as an individual
• Serve my community well
• Have fun
What change do you hope to effect during your tenure?
I hope to create a culture where staff feels appreciated and wants to invest in the organization. Additionally, I want to leave a legacy for the organization, that the work being done today will be appreciated in the years to come.
President and Chief Executive Officer
Lafayette Transitional Housing Center
Layton has worked for LTHC Homeless Services, formally Lafayette Transitional Housing Center, for the past 28 years. She began her tenure after graduating from Ball State University with a B.S. in public relations. She started as a case manager at LTHC thinking that the job would be relatively simple — to help homeless families. But what began as a job has turned into a lifelong passion.
For the last 22 years, Layton has been the executive director, now President/CEO, of LTHC. She has overseen significant growth in the ongoing effort to meet the changing needs of the homeless population of our community. During this time, the agency has grown from one program to seven, from serving nine families to helping over 250 families in 2021. Such programs include: Coordinated Entry, Day Resource Center, Night Shelter, Interim Housing, Medical Respite, Permanent Supportive Housing, Rapid Re-Housing and Supportive Services for Veteran Families.
How did you become involved with this organization?
In 1994, when I started my career with this organization, I thought it would be easy for me to connect homeless families to housing options. I was from this area and could help navigate housing solutions. What I learned, very quickly, was there was a lack of affordable housing options for single-parent households. The families who needed help also needed employment, child care, transportation assistance and more. There were many barriers associated that I did not understand.
What are your top three priorities?
• End homelessness for individuals, families and veterans.
• Educate the public about people who are experiencing homelessness and how they need a community response to help.
• Build additional housing units and collaborate with additional partners to ensure housing success.
What change do you hope to effect during your tenure?
I want to be part of the advocacy work across the state of Indiana to provide housing to all Hoosiers who are experiencing homelessness. This is not an issue just in Tippecanoe County. There is much work to be done.
President and Chief Executive Officer
North Central Health Services, Inc. (NCHS)
Long has 20 years of health care administration experience in various leadership roles. Before joining NCHS in 2015, she was the chief executive officer of Indiana University Health White Memorial Hospital. Long has a B.S. in nursing and a master’s in business administration. Long is a fellow of the American College of Health Care Executives.
How did you become involved with the organization?
Long joined the organization in 2015 as the president and CEO. NCHS owns and operates River Bend Hospital, an inpatient psychiatric hospital. NCHS also provides grants for eligible nonprofit organizations in an eight-county region.
What are your top three priorities?
The top three priorities of NCHS are based on the Community Health Needs Assessment, completed for our eight-county region every three years. The 2021 Community Health Needs Assessment identified the following critical health needs as our priorities:
• Mental/behavioral health and adverse childhood experiences
• Substance abuse
• Our community’s overall health and well-being
What change do you hope to effect during your tenure?
We are fortunate to live in a community where individuals truly care and are willing to work together for the greater good. I hope to remove barriers and support the mental health needs of our community, including access to care, social services and prevention programs for all ages. In addition to providing mental health services at River Bend Hospital, the goal of NCHS is to provide funding partnerships to expand and strengthen nonprofit organizations that improve health outcomes and develop healthy communities.
Leslie Martin Conwell
Tippecanoe County Historical Association (TCHS)
Conwell is an anthropologist and historian who did undergraduate work at Purdue University and graduate work at Indiana University. She has been employed in various capacities with the Tippecanoe County Historical Association for 40 years.
How did you become involved with this organization?
After going to my first Feast of the Hunters’ Moon in 1975, the Feast sparked the development of a strong love for the history and archaeology of Fort Ouiatenon. The historical association hired me originally as a tour guide and gift shop manager while I was in college, and after graduation, they hired me as a museum professional. I was very fortunate to work with people there who recognized my interest and encouraged me all through these years to be the best I could be in the museum field. I’ve had incredible mentors.
What are your top three priorities?
• TCHA is dedicated to collecting, preserving and
sharing Tippecanoe County’s diverse history.
• A major priority is to keep the Feast financially viable, inclusive and relevant, so that it continues to
contribute to the quality of life in the community.
• Ensuring TCHA’s fiscal viability through grants,
community connections and interpersonal relationships.
What change do you hope to effect during your tenure?
My time as executive director has been all about ensuring the historical association’s survival and viability. I came on board in June of 2020 — the height of the COVID pandemic. I worked in tandem with the board, staff, membership, sponsors, granting agencies, donors and volunteers to ensure the survival of the Tippecanoe County Historical Association through the significant challenges posed by the COVID pandemic and the subsequent cancellation of the 2020 Feast of the Hunters’ Moon. TCHA met its mission during the most challenging time the association has ever endured, and we accomplished much toward ensuring the future financial security of TCHA. I will be retiring from the executive director position in the very near future, and it has been an honor to serve TCHA and my community. ★
The pot Conwell is holding was found in the area of the archaeological site of Fort Ouiatenon It is constructed of copper, and is identified by experts as a cooking pot dating from the second quarter of the 18th century (roughly 1725-1750). The construction and style is identified as French.
BY KEN THOMPSON
PHOTOS BY CHRISTINE PETKOV
Nestled near the Wabash River and tucked away from Greater Lafayette’s other industrial complexes, Evonik Industries’ Tippecanoe Laboratories is preparing for the next global pandemic.
During the summer of 2022, Evonik announced it would build a Lipid Innovation Center on the sprawling grounds of its Shadeland plant. The United States government, through the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), is contributing up to $150 million toward the estimated $220 million project. BARDA’s goal is to promote the “advanced development of medical countermeasures” to protect Americans and respond to 21st century health security threats – such as COVID-19. Lipids played a crucial role for vaccine production during the pandemic.
“Certainly, the project is a boost to the image of Evonik in the Greater Lafayette community,” says Daniel Fricker, vice president and site manager for Tippecanoe Labs, one of the world’s largest contract manufacturing facilities in the pharmaceutical industry.
Customers big and small
Companies such as Evonik offer pharmaceutical companies comprehensive services ranging from drug development to manufacturing. In Shadeland, Evonik makes drugs for more than 20 industry clients.
“Customers big or small, the well-known pharma names or startups come to us with requests to produce a molecule,” Fricker says. “We have a deep knowledge of producing pharmaceutical products and hold up the standards of good manufacturing practices.”
These skills also will be applied in the innovation center for lipids, products that almost became household names during the COVID-19 pandemic because of their crucial role in delivering novel mRNA vaccines to millions worldwide. Germany-based Evonik provided lipids to the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from a facility in its home country.
Greater Lafayette was picked as the site for the new Lipid Innovation Center after a global search process.
“It made the most sense here,” says Yvonne Hurt, a leading project manager for the facility. “Tippecanoe has a strong infrastructure and a highly skilled workforce.”
‘A secret weapon’
Fricker believes the decision went in Greater Lafayette’s favor partially due to the Midwest’s reputation for hard workers.
“The Midwest is a secret weapon,” says Fricker, who previously worked for Evonik in Saudi Arabia, Germany and Louisiana. “This speaks of people, society, and government realizing that the Midwest has the necessary capacities for such a strategic development. You are building on a proven Silicon Valley model.”
Modeled on California’s information technology cluster Silicon Valley, Indiana has become a home to a large, highly specialized and diverse health science industry.
The new facility is expected to add 80 highly paid jobs to the Greater Lafayette community when production begins.
That’s a significant boost to a current workforce of nearly 680 employees – plus an additional 150 contractors that assist with maintenance, logistics, catering and security on site.
The only larger Evonik facility in the U.S. is in Mobile, Alabama.
Groundbreaking is set for 2023, with production expected to begin in 2025.
“It will open up a lot of potential and a lot of growth for the local economy,” Hurt says.
What exactly is a lipid?
In layman’s terms, lipids protect a molecule called messenger RNA (mRNA), which was the key ingredient in the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. The mRNA, produced in a lab, carries genetic information to teach our cells to make proteins. Those proteins then trigger an immune response inside the body.
Several different lipids form a lipid nanoparticle that encases the mRNA molecules.
In other words: Lipids are fundamental to producing highly effective mRNA-based vaccines.
“Without those lipids, mRNA wouldn’t work,” Hurt says.
The lipid nanoparticles are too small to be seen with the naked eye or a conventional microscope. “Think of them as tiny bubbles of fat protecting the mRNA so that it can get to where it needs to go,” says Hurt. “Without the lipids, the mRNA would break down in the body and never reach its target area.”
The potential of mRNA-based medicines seems limitless. “We’re working on every imaginable infectious disease,” says Drew Weissman, professor of vaccine research at the University of Pennsylvania. The list includes hepatitis C, HIV and malaria. But mRNA technology also can help treat diseases such as cancer.
Evonik’s lipid center in Tippecanoe County will ensure that there are enough lipids available for these new applications.
“In Tippecanoe, we are not only helping to prepare for future pandemics, but we’re also preparing for the fight against many other diseases,” Hurt says. “Our new facility has the capacity to meet global demand.”
Just three years ago, COVID was a word people couldn’t use in Scrabble. Now, it’s a reminder that a virus can cause worldwide deaths and serious damage to global economies.
Preparing a pipeline for lipids
When there is a next pandemic — and chances are there will be another in our lifetimes — how will Evonik Tippecanoe Laboratories be prepared to produce the lipids for a vaccine?
“We cannot foresee what’s coming, but we are working with a lot of partners, including many different universities, to build a pipeline ahead of time,” says Hurt, who grew up in Granger, Indiana, and graduated from Purdue University — just a couple of miles away from Tippecanoe Labs, on the other side of the Wabash River.
Purdue is an important partner for Evonik. “I’m thrilled with Purdue University, especially with their Alliance for the Advanced Manufacturing of Pharmaceuticals,” Fricker says. “It exactly meets our needs. I don’t see a better partnership than this one.”
The Lipid Innovation Center is planned with an eye toward flexibility and quick adaptability to future needs.
“We are one of the key factors for the preparedness of the United States in case of a future pandemic by adding our assets, our competencies,” Fricker says. “The facility is also designed for different processes, so we can easily transfer a not-yet-known product into this plant.”
Evonik produced lipids within its Health Care business well before the COVID outbreak.
The inside of two dryers for pharmaceutical powders at the Tippecanoe site.
Right, top: An operations employee connects the fill spout to a tote bag for packaging. The process is contained to ensure that employees are shielded from potent pharmaceutical compounds.
Right, bottom: Evonik employee inspects the operation of a centrifuge isolating a pharmaceutical product at the Tippecanoe Laboratories.
“We have been working on mRNA and lipid technology for many years,” Fricker says. That capability was crucial for the quick reaction to the COVID outbreak and the strategic partnership with the German biotechnology company BioNTech.
“Using our ‘A’ team of engineers, we set up the lipid production in Germany in only eight weeks – months earlier than originally planned.”
The project’s name, “Speed of Light,” stated its mission to support the development of a COVID-19 vaccine in record time. Evonik played a pivotal role in that effort.
This success helped convince the United States government to make a significant investment with Evonik. The $150 million buys the U.S. a 10-year period of priority access to lipids in case of another pandemic.
History of innovation
The history of the Tippecanoe Labs facility goes back to 1953 when the Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company completed its construction. Evonik, one of the largest specialty chemicals producers in the world, purchased the plant in 2010.
Brett Giltmier, an engineer and senior manufacturing manager at Tippecanoe, has been on site for 19 years. He witnessed its transformation from a facility serving only one company (Eli Lilly) to one that now collaborates with more than 20 customers – producing highly potent medicines for chemotherapy, for example.
“I’ve been here long enough to appreciate this trajectory. It’s wonderful to see a place with our history of innovation taking the next step into the future,” says Giltmier, who pointed to the innovation buzz in the Greater Lafayette community created by Purdue’s Discovery Park District, the massive mixed-use multidisciplinary research and business park. “We fit in very well with that as we have been doing similar things for a long time.”
Tippecanoe Labs, therefore, has deep community roots.
“The community involvement and support from our employees is our bedrock,” Giltmier says.
With an annual budget of $75,000 for community outreach, Evonik aims to make an impact on the Greater Lafayette community. Evonik’s focus for these funds is education, social services and youth activities.
Among the programs it funds are Partners in Education, Drug Abuse Resistance
Education (D.A.R.E.), and the Wizard Science Program. Evonik employees also take part in United Way, Greater Lafayette Honor Flight, Junior Achievement, food drives, Taste of Tippecanoe, Clothe-A-Child and blood drives.
“We want to extend the partnership with the community,” Fricker says.
Next for Tippecanoe Labs
The groundbreaking for the Lipid Innovation Center will take place in late March. But executives are already looking at what might be next for Tippecanoe Labs.
“The master plan always foresees an expansion,” Fricker says. These decisions depend on market opportunities, scientific advances and smart business decisions, of course. The announcement of the new Lipid Innovation Center that made global headlines last summer is a case in point.
“A few years ago, nobody was thinking about a pandemic, and I don’t think a whole lot of people knew what messenger RNA was. But Evonik and a few other companies were already working on this – otherwise, the COVID-19 vaccine wouldn’t have been created so fast.” ★
BY KAT BRAZ
Students who previously thought college might not be an option for them can now envision a future employed in the manufacturing industry while simultaneously pursuing a degree, thanks to a new program launched in fall 2022 by Greater Lafayette Commerce.
Supported by two grants from the Indiana Department of Education, Career+ aims to place more graduating high schoolers in locally available in-demand, high-wage jobs with full-funded post-secondary education. The initial grant specifically focused on manufacturing pathways. Several industry partners, including Cook Biotech, Evonik, Kirby Risk, Oscar Winski, Primient, Radian Research, Rea Magnet Wire Company, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, Terra Drive Systems, Wabash National and WWS, have joined the Career+ ecosystem.
“Career+ serves the schools in our economic development region by training K-12 students in the 18 employability skills identified by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development as the key workplace skills for all jobseekers regardless of experience or occupation,” says Kara Webb, workforce development director at Greater Lafayette Commerce. “It also helps the manufacturers in our region find local talent for their workforce.”
Of the regions 1,800 high school graduates in 2023, only 900 students will be heading to college. Only 600 of those 900 who start college will complete their degrees. That means there are 1,200 potential candidates for manufacturing pathways. With hundreds of available jobs across manufacturing — the largest sector in the region — industry partners are eager to establish a pipeline of local talent.
“We need workforce,” Webb says. “And we’re not seeing it coming from anywhere else, so we need to grow our own workforce. That is what Career+ is designed to do.”
Career+ students who start working in manufacturing roles straight out of high school will have an opportunity to pursue post-secondary education at no cost to them because the grant also funds tuition assistance and reimbursement for all participating employers. The manufacturing pathways provide a career ladder for employees as they complete education while working at the company.
Greater Lafayette Commerce contracted Skyepack, a West Lafayette-based company that specializes in developing custom course content, to create digital modules that cover the 18 employability skills and 140 related competencies. There are video interviews with people who have careers in manufacturing and virtual tours of manufacturing facilities. As students complete modules, they are awarded badges that can collectively build a pathway within the program.
“The badges are verification that the student can show their potential employer they have demonstrated these skills in a classroom setting,” says Eric Davis, CEO of Skyepack. “The different pathways align with the skills employers are looking for in specific entry level jobs. So if a student wants to become a CNC operator or an assembler, there is a specific pathway that relates to each position.”
The online curriculum is complemented by activities and lesson plans that participating teachers facilitate in class. Currently, the program has been adopted by eight schools across the nine-county region. Career advisors and connect coaches within each school manage implementation of the program.
Additionally, two microcredentials have been developed as part of the work readiness program. Workplace Communication trains students in workplace communication skills such as working effectively in groups and giving and receiving feedback. Student Success, designed primarily for eighth graders, helps students build their four-year high school plan and think beyond graduation. Students and parents gain a better understanding of graduation requirements, the Core 40 diploma and dual credit opportunities.
The microcredentials are designed to be embedded into teachers’ current curricula. Program developers are also collaborating with Ivy Tech to align with the community college’s course offerings so students could earn college credits upon completion of their certificate programs.
“Earning a bachelor’s degree straight out of high school is not accessible for a lot of students,” Davis says. “There’s a new movement in education, tearing the paper ceiling, which is all about finding alternative routes to gateway opportunities outside of earning a bachelor’s degree. A large portion of students need better access to career opportunities. This program is designed to put students on a career pathway and connect them to an ecosystem of opportunities.”
Greater Lafayette Commerce continues to recruit more industry partners and schools to participate in manufacturing pathways. Next up, it plans to work with Skyepack to develop curricula for healthcare pathways.
“The whole goal of these pathways is to help students see that there are plenty of opportunities for successful careers in good paying jobs here in our region and they can still pursue post-secondary education, too,” Webb says. “We’re excited to expand to more schools in the counties that we serve and continue to grow our talent pipeline efforts in this community.” ★
BY KAT BRAZ
PHOTOS BY CHRISTINE PETKOV
Before the start of every NFL game, the stadium’s grounds crew uses a Clegg Impact Tester to determine the hardness of the field and to ensure the playing surface is safe for athletes. Developed in the 1970s in Australia by Baden Clegg, a geomechanical engineer and a lecturer at the University of Western Australia, the instrument contains an accelerometer, or hammer, that is dropped from a predetermined height to measure how quickly weight stops upon impact.
NFL rules dictate the reading must produce a score under 100 before a game can be played. The higher the number, the harder the playing surface and the higher the risk for a player to suffer a concussion if his head hits the ground. And every Clegg Impact Tester used by the NFL is manufactured by Lafayette Instrument Company, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.
“People drive by the building and see the word ‘instrument’ and they think we make musical instruments,” says Brian Brown, sales manager for Lafayette Instrument. “We actually make and sell scientific instruments in more than 100 different countries, working with corporate clients such as the NFL, American Airlines and FedEx.”
In addition to being the sole distributer of the Clegg, Lafayette Instrument is the world’s leading manufacturer of Polygraph instrumentation and equipment and offers innovative technologies to support neuroscience research and instruments for human evaluation used in education, temporary staffing, human resources, occupational medicine, rehabilitation and other professions.
“For the past 75 years, we’ve been able to reinvent ourselves to meet customers’ needs,” says Jennifer Rider, president and CEO of Lafayette Instrument. “What started as a partnership with Purdue University expanded to partnerships with numerous universities, government agencies and other organizations around the world. Our product line and massive reach sets us apart from other businesses in the area, and even in the state.”
Lafayette Instrument was founded by Purdue electrical engineering graduate Max Wastl in 1947. What began as a small operation in a shed with one employee has grown into an international leader in scientific instrumentation manufacturing with the Lafayette-based headquarters and primary manufacturing facility that employs 48 people, and a second location, Camden Instruments, acquired in 1998 and located about one hour northeast of Birmingham, England, that employs around 20.
“Our Camden Instruments subsidiary focuses on neuroscience products exclusively,” Rider says. “They do some machining and a lot of their own assembly. They have their own engineering and tech teams, much like Lafayette, just on a smaller scale.”
Rider’s father-in-law, Roger McClellan, bought the company with two partners and restructured it in the 1990s with a focus on vertical integration, a business model that became critical during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Lafayette Instrument has the capability to not only conceive product ideas and iterate on them but also build them out in full-scale production within our own facility,” Rider says. “Over the past 10 to 20 years, vertical integration isn’t quite as critical as it used to be. We have many options available to us, using providers around the state and sourcing equipment internationally. We still do as much as we can in-house because it saves money and it certainly saves us time. During the COVID-19 pandemic, when other companies were waiting on vendors and suppliers, we were able to fulfill orders.”
The orders Lafayette Instrument fills range from simple instruments such as a pegboard used to test fingertip dexterity and gross movement of the hand in an ergonomics lab or basic calipers used for physical ability testing, to sophisticated computerized instruments used in health care, law enforcement and research facilities that can communicate instantaneous results digitally.
The Polygraph is one such instrument that Lafayette Instrument continues to innovate. The paper readouts depicted in the movies have been replaced with a computerized system that connects to a digital interface.
“The need for credibility assessment solutions has remained steady and increased,” Rider says. “The organizations that use Polygraph know it’s the best tool and technology available today, outside of basic interview and interrogation techniques, to try to determine if a person is being deceptive. But it doesn’t mean it is the exclusive technology that will always be used forever.
“There are academic endeavors, institutional endeavors and our own research and development to find ways to make it better. But the need for products like these aren’t going away. Whether it’s cybercrimes or terrorism or criminal investigations, the data acquired through these types of instruments is incredibly valuable.”
Customers approach the company with ideas for specific instruments they need. Occasionally those will be large-scale custom manufacturing orders, but most often they are tools that Lafayette Instrument can bring to market.
“We’re very ingrained in the industries we serve,” Brown says. “People recognize the Lafayette Instrument name and come to us for solutions. The confidence our customers have in our company to be on the leading edge of innovation and provide instrumentation that is going to benefit them is what keeps me excited.”
As Lafayette Instrument looks to its next 75 years, capitalizing on the strength of its employees — many are long-tenured like Brown — and its drive for ingenuity will propel its growth for years to come.
“To reach 100-year-plus milestones, you can’t be afraid of change and disruption,” Rider says. “We don’t want to be complacent and think we’ll have another 75 years of success doing exactly what we’ve been doing. We have to understand the value that we bring to the market and to our customers and build on that. We have to know ourselves. When you stray too far from your core strengths, that’s when a company starts to falter.”
Whether it’s working with governmental agencies, neuroscience researchers and industry, health care practitioners or the NFL, Lafayette Instrument offers solutions that advance safety, security, science and medicine.
“Every product that goes out our doors is helping someone or protecting someone,” Rider says. “There’s a lot of purpose in that work that gives meaning to what you’re doing. It’s easy to be fulfilled by that.” ★
BY KEN THOMPSON
Medical history has had its moments of accidental discovery that led to life-saving drugs and procedures.
A stack of uncleaned petri dishes eventually allowed Alexander Fleming to produce penicillin. Experiments with cathode ray tubes, gas and electricity would lead to the X-ray.
A slip of a catheter during a routine imaging test sent dye into a patient’s nearby coronary artery, producing the first coronary angiogram.
For Purdue University researcher Dr. Philip Low, the invention of an imaging drug that will help surgeons identify cancer cells began innocently 35 years ago from simple plant cells.
The drug, Cytalux, was approved in November 2021 by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Marketed by West Lafayette-based On Target Laboratories, Inc., the drug uses fluorescent technology to identify cancerous lesions and cells.
“Plant cells took up the vitamin biotin and would gobble up anything biotin was attached to, so we could attach biotin on any number of different molecules and fool the cells into gobbling them up,” says Low, the Ralph C. Corley Distinguished Professor of Chemistry in the Purdue University College of Science.
“So after we accidentally discovered this as a mechanism to deliver anything we wanted into plant cells, I asked the question whether something similar might be possible in human cells.”
Performing a similar study with folic acid, a vitamin you can find listed on the side of a Wheaties cereal box, Low learned that only cancer cells took up folic acid and folate-linked molecules.
“We immediately saw the obvious benefits of that; we could deliver drugs selectively to cancer cells simply by attaching them to folic acid,” Low says.
“That selectivity would avoid the collateral toxicity that always occurs when good drugs go into healthy cells. … The healthy cells ignore the folate-targeted drugs.”
Low admits to many high and low moments over the 35-year process. The highs included the moment he discovered that folate linked to a bright fluorescent dye would ignore healthy human cells in a dish while causing all cancer cells in the dish to glow.
A low point came during a study of live animals that had cancer. The drug was found to be absorbed not solely by cancer cells but kidney cells also.
“Then we found the kidney cells actually weren’t damaged by the drugs,” Low says. “They didn’t retain the folate-linked drugs very long. After the kidney cells captured them from the urine, they transferred them back into the blood stream.”
A number of drugs were then tested on humans, and the results were encouraging.
“We find that within an hour after injecting the Cytalux … the tumor-targeted fluorescent molecule helps the surgeon find a lot of hidden malignant lesions, nodules, and tumor masses that would have otherwise gone undetected because they glow very brightly. The surgeon opens the patient up, turns on the fluorescent lamp, finds the brightly glowing cancer tissue and cuts it out.”
Cytalux was demonstrated on ovarian cancers first. A recent demonstration on lung cancer patients was eye-opening. In 57 percent of the lung cancer patients, extra disease was found that would have been missed otherwise.
“That’s extraordinary,” Low says. “That tells you first of all that the surgery without this new tool is not highly accurate. It also tells you that with this new ability to see malignant nodules the chances of removing all the cancer and creating a cure are greatly increased.”
The next step is to test Cytalux in other cancers and obtain broad FDA approval to use it in all cancers.
Those of us who have sat through lengthy prime-time commercials for prescription drugs for such ailments as asthma, type 2 diabetes and overactive bladder have wondered about the expense, not only of the time on network TV but for developing the drug itself.
Low says the average cost of bringing a new drug through clinical trials from discovery to the hospital is about $2 billion. Not to mention the years-long process to gain FDA approval.
In comparison, Cytalux was done “on the cheap,” Low says. Venture capitalists put up more than $100 million to run Low’s studies, beginning with the elaborate studies on animals, through the human clinical trials.
“These are FDA-overseen clinical trials,” Low says. “They are very carefully monitored. You have to record every ‘hiccup’ of a patient, so you follow them like a ‘helicopter mom.’ ”
In all, approximately 232,000 documents were turned into the FDA to obtain regulatory approval for Cytalux. Listed in those documents were everything that happened in manufacturing, the stability of Cytalux, toxicity in the animals, all the therapeutic data in humans, the benefit to the patient, the percentage of the patients in which surgeons found extra cancer and detailed description of how the drug would be shipped.
“You can’t just go down to the post office and send a package to each hospital,” Low says.
The work really began once Cytalux was approved by the FDA: Hiring a company to do the manufacturing, followed by hiring a sales staff to visit surgeons across the United States, Europe and the Far East.
A few months later, Low received approval from the FDA for a drug that targets prostate cancer. One form of that drug also can be used for fluorescence-guided surgery of prostate cancer.
“But more importantly, we also made a radioactive version that is targeted specifically to prostate cancer cells,” Low says. “This was given ‘breakthrough status’ by the FDA on March 23 … because it successfully treats drug-resistant prostate cancer.”
Almost one-third of patients who have the metastatic, castration-resistant prostate cancer respond to Low’s drug, whereas only 2 percent of the same patient population respond to other available therapies.
Switzerland-based Novartis saw such promise in the prostate cancer treatment that it bought the company Low founded, Endocyte, for $2.1 billion just to obtain the drug.
“They expect it to be a blockbuster drug,” he says. “It significantly exceeds the capability or performance of any other prostate drug.”
It’s been quite a career for the son of a Purdue faculty member. Low caught the science bug while taking chemistry courses from Jim Guy at West Lafayette High School. It wasn’t all work and no play for Low, who played basketball for Hall of Fame coach Bill Berberian.
Seeking to be a chemistry major, Low ventured west to Brigham Young University for his bachelor’s degree. He earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of California-San Diego.
Originally not planning to be medically focused, Low’s life changed when he happened upon “this crazy discovery that plant cells would eat up biotin along with anything attached to it, that I got the idea to look for something similar in animals. It just turned out fortuitously that folate went specifically into cancer cells.”
Even though he is 10 years past many people’s retirement age, the 75-year-old says it’s been too difficult to retire.
“I’m just grateful to be part of the process,” Low says. “It’s very rewarding. I enjoy what I’m doing.”★
BY KEN THOMPSON
A large number of Tippecanoe County residents cannot remember a time when Caterpillar Inc., wasn’t a major part of Lafayette’s east side landscape.
The Deerfield, Ill.-based company is the world’s leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, off-highway diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbines and diesel-electric locomotives.
Caterpillar is celebrating its 40th anniversary in Lafayette, a partnership that Tippecanoe County commissioner Tom Murtaugh says is beneficial to both.
“Caterpillar has played an essential role in the growth of this community and the region,” Murtaugh says. “In addition to creating great employment opportunities for hundreds of families over the past few decades, Caterpillar has been a generous community partner and supporter of the United Way and countless other community initiatives.”
In 2021, employees and the Caterpillar Foundation provided approximately $548,000 through the United Way for their communities, according to Joe Markun, Large Power Systems Operations vice president for Caterpillar Inc. The Caterpillar Foundation also provided grant funding of more than $290,000 to non-profits in 2021.
Additionally, the Lafayette Drive Team – an employee-led advocacy group, makes donations to local sports teams, food banks, scout troops, transitional housing centers, Habitat for Humanity efforts, the YWCA, and other organizations.
Caterpillar is stepping up its community involvement with a 40 Days of Giving program that launched in early August.
“This is a facility-wide initiative to engage our employees and give back to the communities that have supported us continually over the past four decades,” Markun says.
“Teams across engineering, supply chain, human resources and more are finding needs in our communities and providing their time and resources to address them. While we have much to celebrate internally with the 40-year milestone, none of this would be possible without our community partners.”
It was big news in 1977 when rumors began to circulate that Caterpillar was interested in building a plant in Lafayette.
Murtaugh’s family played an important role in the plant’s location. His was one of four families who sold a combined 425 acres to Caterpillar in 1977. The deal was so top secret that Murtaugh remembers “company X” buying his family’s farm.
Even after officially announcing the land purchase on Sept. 22, 1977, at the downtown branch of Lafayette National Bank, Caterpillar chairman William L. Naumann had little to say publicly about the decision to bring the manufacturing of its new Series 3500 diesel engines to Tippecanoe County.
That morning, members of those four families — James Murtaugh, Richard Smith, Donald Lecklitner and Paul Hamman — learned who “company X” really was.
Journal & Courier business writer Judy Horak reported that Naumann cited four factors that attracted Caterpillar to Lafayette. First was the site not only being large enough for a Caterpillar facility, but it also had excellent access to I-65, railroad transportation and good utility services.
“We find a strong spirit of community pride and cooperation here,” Naumann said of the second reason. He was just as succinct with the other two factors.
“The quality of local government and community services is excellent. Finally we are attracted by the quality and character of the Lafayette-West Lafayette-Tippecanoe County area.”
While the courtship was completed, it would be five years – November 1982 – before employees began pre-assembly work on parts for the Series 3500 high-powered diesel engine. The first Series 3500 engines were assembled in December 1982.
Tony Roswarski was on the verge of beginning a career in law enforcement 40 years ago. Today, he’s approaching 20 years as mayor of Lafayette.
“Caterpillar has been an important piece of our economic foundation for the past 40 years,” Roswarski says. “Its global presence helps put Lafayette on the worldwide economic map. Closer to home, it creates great paying jobs, pays taxes that help fund the police, fire and parks department along with great schools.
“Caterpillar helps families build their future and have a high quality of life. They have been a wonderful corporate citizen, giving back through the company and its employees. Thousands of people a year enjoy CAT Park, and more now will have the opportunity as the new all-inclusive sports field will be finished soon. Caterpillar truly has made a positive impact on Lafayette over the past 40 years.”
Look no further than these numbers to measure Caterpillar’s impact on Lafayette’s economy. When it announced in early January 1982 that it was taking applications for 40 maintenance positions, the company received approximately 600 resumes.
As more job openings were posted, Caterpillar’s local post office box overflowed with resumes. More than 3,400, in fact, by March. As Lafayette celebrated the new year 1983, approximately 300 management, salaried and production workers were in place.
Today, Markun says the Lafayette Engine Center machines and assembles diesel and natural gas engines that power the world – the 3500, the 3600 and the C175 engines.
“When our facility opened, we were developing and manufacturing 3500 engines,” he says. “Over the 40 years, this engine platform grew to be the industry standard for heavy-duty diesel and gas engines worldwide, and we introduced two more platforms – the 3600 and C175. These units are custom-built to ensure our customers get exactly what they need.
“The 3500 engine primarily helps support the electric power, oil and gas, rail and marine markets around the globe. The 3600 is a huge player in the oil and gas segment, and the C175 is largely utilized in mining and electric power applications.”
These engines power mining trucks carrying ore to be processed, tugboats guiding ships to harbor, drill rigs tapping oil and gas reserves, and generators bringing electricity to communities, hospitals and data centers.
Caterpillar may be celebrating its 40th birthday locally but it also is looking ahead to the next decade. The Lafayette facility will play a key role in Caterpillar’s effort to “integrate sustainability” into its core business.
The company website boasts how Lafayette’s facility is meeting the goal of recycling power into the day-to-day operations.
“When a new engine or component is offered, it is important that we conduct many testing hours on each product to provide confidence to our customers that they are buying the highest quality engine available.
“The amount of energy created by the testing process is tremendous. Rather than waste it, the team explored various options to harness the energy. Understanding that endurance testing is a necessary and critical means to assure product quality, they looked for a way to use the electricity-generated power to support facility operations which would otherwise have been wasted.”
Caterpillar states that the electricity generated by the endurance test pad provides supplemental energy to power the Lafayette plant. With roughly 130,000 metric tons of CO2e emissions avoided over the last five years, Caterpillar has saved more than $11 million.
“Harnessing the power from their endurance testing is just one example of the Lafayette facility’s sustainability journey. Through their continuous improvement projects, the team has implemented several programs resulting in general reductions in greenhouse gases, water usage and waste.” ★
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
[ 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:
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
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
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.”
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
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.”
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
“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:
For more information about the Convergence Center,
go to: discoveryparkdistrict.com/the-convergence-center
BY RADONNA FIORINI
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.
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
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 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.”
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.”
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,
“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.”
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.”