BY KAT BRAZ
PHOTOS PROVIDED

BizTown buzzes with activity as middle schoolers engage in an experiential learning program that allows them to run community businesses, receive paychecks, conduct bank transactions and purchase goods and services. The daylong visit to Junior Achievement’s interactive, simulated community is the culmination of an integrated teacher-led curriculum that teaches financial literacy and work and career readiness.

“It’s an opportunity for students to model good citizenship in addition to learning about personal budgeting, managing a business and exploring career paths,” says Resa Hodnett, capstone manager at Greater Lafayette JA. “Prior to arriving at BizTown, the students have learned about business operating expenses, how payroll works, how to manage their credit and their checkbook, and they’ve applied for a job. Arriving at BizTown is like their first day on the job.” 

Storefronts lining the mini Main Street, located inside the James Kirby Risk Family Junior Achievement Learning Center at the Lafayette Family YMCA, bear signage of area companies that sponsor the program including Kirby Risk, Purdue Federal Credit Union, Arconic, Wabash National, IU Health Arnett, State Farm and Freckles Graphics. 

Each branded storefront represents its respective company, so a medical facility is designed differently than an insurance office. The students are assigned specific roles within each company (e.g., CEO, CFO, designer, engineer, sales associate, clerk) and work together as a team to run the business. Community volunteers, including some from the respective sponsor businesses, coach students throughout the day. 

“BizTown is an opportunity for our partner businesses to build their workforce pipeline over time,” Hodnett says. “These students are getting their first look at the types of jobs available within their community. Sponsorship support enables JA to deliver our Indiana State Board of Education-approved programming free to the schools. Teachers can have confidence that the content correlates to the core curriculum and students learn they can stay in their community and have a really fun job.” 

The space is dual-purpose, serving as BizTown for fifth and sixth graders and as Finance Park for lder students, highlighting some different sponsor businesses. When seventh through ninth graders visit Finance Park, each student is assigned a persona with a specific job tied to an annual salary and other varying factors, such as a spouse or partner, children, credit card debt or education debt. The students learn more in-depth finance skills, such as making a monthly budget, understanding their debt-to-income ratio and applying for credit.

“We make the students save at least 2 percent of their net monthly income, which for some of them can be a challenge,” Hodnett says. “They start talking about jobs in different industries and average salaries for different positions. It’s a great time for them to start thinking about career pathways. The job they want might require a college degree or perhaps they’d rather go into the trades. Experiencing Finance Park helps start those conversations.” 

While students might pass by these businesses every day in town, they often don’t understand all the various positions necessary to run a successful business. They may think a manufacturing facility only offers jobs in manufacturing or only doctors and nurses work in health care. The BizTown and Finance Park simulations demonstrate the range of positions offered within a single company. 

“When students pass by a manufacturing facility, we want them to understand there are marketing, human resources, administrative and quality control jobs within those walls,” says Jen Edwards, executive director of Greater Lafayette JA. “We’re trying to help students understand that if they want to be a nurse, they don’t necessarily have to work in a hospital. They could work at a school, a small family practice or even a manufacturing facility. We want them to understand all the different potential pathways there are with different types of employers.”  

JA is an international nonprofit founded in 1919 in Springfield, Massachusetts. J. Kirby Risk championed bringing JA to Greater Lafayette in 1956. The organization provides free supplemental K-12 programming that focuses on entrepreneurship, work readiness and financial literacy. The in-school programming is delivered by community volunteers who are recruited and trained by JA. During the 2020-2021 school year, nearly 500 Greater Lafayette JA volunteers served more than 7,000 students in six different school corporations.      

“Each program builds off one another,” Edwards says. “In JA Ourselves, kindergarteners learn about individual choices, the importance of saving and giving and how they contribute to their family. JA Our Families for first graders explores family members’ jobs and contributions to the well-being of the family and the community. In JA Community, second graders learn about other jobs and businesses in the community, paying taxes and how voting works.”

Through its programming, JA empowers young people to own their future economic success by enhancing the relevancy of education. The business concepts covered in JA prepare students for economically independent futures based on strong economic knowledge and solid personal financial management skills. A 2016 survey found that when compared to the general public, JA alumni have higher levels of educational attainment, career satisfaction, financial capability, entrepreneurial activity and household income. 

“I truly believe we are making an impact on these students and preparing them for their future,” Edwards says. “We are fortunate to have sponsorship support from our community partners who work alongside us to develop this next generation of community leaders.”  ★ 

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Volunteer for JA 
Contact the JA office at 765-313-9586 or email Jen Edwards at jen.edwards@ja.org

Restaurant sponsor needed
JA is actively searching for a local business to sponsor the restaurant space for BizTown and Finance Park. To learn more about sponsorship opportunities, contact Jen Edwards at jen.edwards@ja.org 

Book the space
The JA facility is available to host community events, corporate trainings and small conferences. The space is free to use and is equipped with A/V technology. Contact Jen Edwards at jen.edwards@ja.org to learn more.

BY CINDY GERLACH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BY KAT BRAZ
PHOTOS BY CHRISTINE PETKOV

Everyone deserves a second chance. But for individuals in recovery from addiction, second chances can be hard to come by. A grant-funded partnership between Phoenix Recovery Solutions, a division of Phoenix Paramedic Solutions, and Valley Oaks Health provides peer-based recovery support to individuals struggling with issues related to substance abuse, mental health or homelessness.  

“Our certified peer recovery coaches have lived experience and are in recovery from mental health or substance use themselves,” says Jason Padgett, the director of marketing solutions for Phoenix and one of the founding members of its quick response team (QRT), which facilitates the second chance program with support from the statewide Indiana Workforce Recovery Initiative. The QRT, which includes a warm line staffed 24/7, services nine counties: Tippecanoe, White, Jasper, Cass, Carroll, Benton, Newton, Fulton and Pulaski. 

“As a person in recovery myself, I didn’t have many choices when I entered recovery 16 years ago for alcoholism,” Padgett says. “Alcoholics Anonymous has saved millions of lives, but recovery is not a one-size-fits-all journey. The beauty of peer support is that unlike saying ‘this is how I did it, you’re going to follow my same path,’ a peer recovery coach takes the view that your journey is your journey. We’re here to help show you your options and support you on your journey by connecting you to community resources. It’s up to you to decide what route to recovery you want to explore.” 

One of the biggest challenges for persons in recovery is maintaining employment. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act protects addicts in recovery from a substance use disorder, relapses — not uncommon on the path to recovery — can lead to a positive drug screen, tardiness or missed work, which can lead to dismissal. Embracing a Second Chance Workforce, a new program offered by Phoenix QRT and Greater Lafayette Commerce, seeks to educate and empower businesses on how to support employees through addiction recovery. 

“Our goal is to partner with local corporations, particularly manufacturing but any industry, to refer employees who test positive on a drug screen or are having trouble with mental health or substance abuse issues,” Padgett says. “The companies would contract with us to assign a peer recovery specialist to support that individual on their recovery journey. That allows the company to retain the individual on its workforce, which is much cheaper than hiring and training a new employee. There are tax incentives for companies that embrace second chance policies.” 

A Lunch and Learn panel discussion held in April featured representatives from companies that embrace second chance policies geared toward people in recovery as well as individuals with felony records. As a follow up, a second chance career fair is scheduled from 1-7 p.m. May 18 at the Tippecanoe County Fairgrounds. In addition to showcasing companies embracing second chance policies, the career fair will also have representatives from community social service organizations.

“We want everyone who comes to the career fair to have access to every community resource they could possibly need,” Padgett says. “From peer support to treatment to ongoing education, they can even get help creating a resume or practice interviewing to make them comfortable speaking with potential employers.” 

Holding a job is a large part of an individual’s recovery capital, the internal and external resources that can initiate and sustain long-term recovery. Phoenix, which embraces felony-friendly hiring and employs several individuals in recovery in addition to Padgett, will be among the employers represented at the career fair. 

“I’ve had a relapse in recovery and I was supported by my employer,” Padgett says. “It meant the world to me. A bump in the road doesn’t have to mean going all the way back down to the bottom and starting at zero again.”  ★ 

 

BY KAT BRAZ
PHOTOS PROVIDED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BY RADONNA FIORINI 

What does it take to score almost $35 million in federal and state grants designed to bolster long-term economic health and student-to-workplace success? For officials in six area counties and six cities within those counties, plus representatives from several educational institutions, it took joining hands and working collaboratively.

Two, multimillion-dollar grants have been awarded to Greater Lafayette Commerce that will be used to address quality of life issues, economic development and student readiness in a six-county region around Lafayette, says Greater Lafayette Commerce President and CEO Scott Walker. 

Greater Lafayette Commerce spearheaded the arduous process of applying for the grants, working in partnership with regional elected officials and education professionals to obtain $30 million through the Indiana Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative, or READI, and a $4.9 million Student Learning Recovery grant.  

READI split the state into 17 regions and requires neighboring counties and communities to create governing boards that represent each region. The Greater Lafayette region, as defined by the state, encompasses Benton, Carroll, Fountain, Tippecanoe, Warren and White counties. 

While Lafayette/West Lafayette comprise the most populace cities in the region, collaboration between all counties and municipalities is critical for success, says Ben Dispennepp, economic development director for Warren County.

“Collaboration among regional counties and cities is necessary because people desire a diversity of living, recreational and employment options,” he says. “If we share in efforts to build up the region and promote across these invisible boundary lines, this region will offer a higher quality of life and provide more opportunities to thrive in the long run.”

Just applying for the grants was a challenging process that started last May. Creating a final action plan to be implemented in the next four years is the current challenge. 

“It’s complicated and we have to follow all the federal procurement and accounting guidelines,” Walker says. “The ultimate benefit will be fostering regional collaboration in a way that hasn’t been done before. It’s complex, it’s challenging. Over the long term, we’ll work to create more vibrancy and more economic development with regional partners in ways that are strategic.”

Here’s a look at each grant:
READI Grant 

After local officials learned of the grant in 2021, the Greater Lafayette Regional Board of Representatives was established. This 20-person group is comprised of six county commissioners; the mayors of Attica, Covington, Delphi, Lafayette, Monticello and West Lafayette; representatives from area economic development organizations; and representatives from Purdue University and Ivy Tech Community College, Walker says. 

The board worked together to draft the more than 70-page Lafayette Regional Development Plan

which was approved by the state. The $30 million grant was announced in December. 

The plan calls for unprecedented collaboration between the urban and rural areas of the region with a goal of retaining and expanding businesses, including high-tech and advanced manufacturing companies. It addresses the need for a well-trained, diverse workforce, and the importance of addressing quality-of-life issues such as safe, affordable housing; a strong labor market; recreational and cultural opportunities; plentiful child care options; vibrant city centers; and sound infrastructure.

“The process has been very enlightening,” says board member John Dennis, West Lafayette’s mayor. “Bringing together several communities with different population dynamics, different economic drivers, and different needs and priorities has been a real eye opener for all of us.” 

Dennis describes Indiana as a diverse state with influences from around the world and an equally diverse and unique economic base. 

“Collaborating with our regional partners opened the doors for further collaborative opportunities and opened our eyes to the fact that although we might not share a ZIP code, we all share a great love for our communities and our state,” he says.

The regional board currently is identifying specific projects to be funded by the grant. 

Some projects being considered include:

  • Expanding the airport near Purdue, bringing commercial air service back to the region.
  • Residential development plans to address housing needs.
  • Investment in greenways and a trail system along the Wabash River.
  • Expanding access to broadband in rural areas.
  • Expanding the availability of quality child care.
  • Programs to attract talent and a diverse workforce, with a focus on veterans.

“At the risk of sounding hokey, all the projects submitted have a purpose and greatly benefit the region,” says Dennis, adding that he doesn’t have a favorite. “We’re very blessed here in Tippecanoe with two economically strong cities and county. Having a world-class university in our community doesn’t hurt, either.”

Warren County’s Dispennepp concurs that all the proposed projects are important in attracting and retaining a robust workforce. Adequate and affordable housing, however, stands out as one of the keys to long-term economic health.

“In talking with area businesses, they see housing availability as a concern for their workforce and their ability to expand,” he says. “And I would agree that low supply of housing impacts the cost of living, quality of life, and is a barrier to growing our workforce. Our READI project, focused on increasing housing in the region, would help accelerate the efforts that are already being made to address housing needs.”

Projects ultimately chosen must meet federal and state guidelines and be sustainable, long after the grant money runs out, Walker says. The stimulus money, he adds, will help leverage new private/public partnerships to sustain and grow the regional economy and quality of life. 

 “The READI funding will provide much-needed capital for economic development throughout our region,” says Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski, also a board representative. “We have an opportunity to accomplish several quality-of-life initiatives that have been part of our collective conversations for years.”  

Student Learning Recovery Grant Program

This $4.9 million grant, which was awarded to Greater Lafayette Commerce in January, is aimed at addressing issues related to education and the workforce, says Greater Lafayette Commerce Workforce Development Director Kara Webb.

The federal and state stimulus money is designed to help students make up for learning losses experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic and strengthen the quality of education. Local leaders are focusing much of their efforts on creating strong connections between area manufacturing partners and schools. 

In the last few years, Greater Lafayette Commerce and local governments have partnered with companies to develop programs that introduce students to careers in industry and manufacturing. Those efforts have included tours of area manufacturing plants, and summer camps that offer hands-on opportunities to learn about careers in advanced manufacturing, logistics, coding, robotics and more, Webb says. 

Lafayette’s Roswarski touts collaborative work on such projects as the Greater Lafayette Career Academy, Greater Lafayette Commerce Manufacturing Week/Month and serving as a pilot city for Make IN Move, a statewide advanced manufacturing and logistics initiative.

“These partnerships — along with our work with local businesses, industries and building trades — have built a strong foundation to maximize the use of these (grant) funds,” he says. 

The grant also provides funding for the creation of a curriculum that imbeds manufacturing principles into student coursework. Area manufacturers will work with Skyepack, a West Lafayette company that creates digital learning courses and pathways, and Ivy Tech to develop coursework that will help students obtain credentials and certifications before they graduate high school. Those credentials can help students land a job or get an early start on a college degree.  

“The Student Recovery Grant will help close learning gaps and prepare students for a career right after graduation,” Roswarski says. “Financial resources to schools and community partners will provide students with access to career opportunities and resources as they prepare to join the local job market.”

And the curriculum will emphasize lifelong skills that will serve students well, no matter what college 

or career they choose, Webb says. The teaching of such life and character qualities as attention to detail, confidence, independence and problem solving will be included in the curriculum for each grade level.

Area educators are excited that the curriculum will be made available to them on their own timeline, she says. Participating schools will use their own discretion in how to incorporate the teaching into different instructional areas.

The almost $5 million grant must be used by June 30, 2023, so some of the money will go to help participating schools hire additional staff and tutors to roll out the curriculum. 

Eight schools have signed on, and Greater Lafayette Commerce is offering the program to many more in the region. There is the potential to impact more than 12,000 students in the six-county area, Webb says.

And local industry will benefit from having access to a well-trained workforce, prepared to fill new, high-tech jobs in the region.

 “These programs will allow students to earn credentials and build a portfolio before employment,” Webb says. “We are building a talent pipeline and providing access to a talent pipeline. This will help students recover from the loss (during the pandemic) and have access to local jobs.”

Two other Student Recovery grants were awarded locally:

Purdue University’s College of Education received a $1.1 million grant and will be working with students in kindergarten through third grades in the Tippecanoe, Lafayette and Frankfort school districts.

“We are partnering with district leadership and K-3 grade classrooms … to expand literacy clinics to support emergent readers and writers; expand language clinics to support emergent bilinguals; and offer release time for teachers through our grant,” says Christy Wessel Powell, a Purdue assistant professor.

Purdue also is offering professional development for teachers and partnering school districts using online resources, related workshops and a lending library.

Lyn Treece Boys and Girls Club of Tippecanoe County received a $383,813 grant to extend current programming.  ★

BY KARIS PRESSLER
PHOTOS BY CHRISTINE PETKOV

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

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

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

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

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

So who knits these timeless French Knot designs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

her Nepali colleagues to create something new and 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BY KEN THOMPSON
PHOTOS PROVIDED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BY ANGELA K. ROBERTS
PHOTOS BY CHRISTINE PETKOV

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

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

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

The best neighborhood it can be

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

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

ments, before taking a job in finance at Purdue. 

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

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

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

Diy-ing as a money-saver

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

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

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

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

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

Little slice of lafayette

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

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

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

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

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

High-quality workmanship

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

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

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

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

Expanding their focus

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

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

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

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

BY CINDY GERLACH
PHOTOS PROVIDED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BY KAT BRAZ

Lafayette Urban Ministry (LUM) established its Immigration Clinic in 2014. That year, the clinic saw 70 clients, providing assistance with various issues such as citizenship, consideration for DACA, applying for emergency visas, asylum or green cards.

Over the past seven years, the program has continued to grow, offering services to clients looking to legally immigrate into the United States. These are people who have already relocated to the Greater La-fayette community and are seeking legal assistance to acquire a visa, green card or gain citizenship status.

“It’s the only clinic offering immi-gration services of its kind within the surrounding eight-county area,” says Rev. Wes Tillett, executive di-rector of LUM. “We provide aid to a variety of people of different status-es, refugees, asylum seekers, people needing a work visa or a green card. Our clients could be feeling violence in their home country or just trying to get a better start for their family in the United States.”
According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 12 percent of Tippecanoe County’s population are foreign-born—that’s more than 23,000 residents. Of those, around 18,000 individuals are non-citizens, which include some people who do not consider themselves true immigrants, such as international students and expatriates from other countries.

In 2020, the LUM Immigration Clinic provided help in 120 different cases, down from 256 in 2019. Due to the pandemic, LUM was not able to hold its popular citizenship class-es in partnership with the Lafayette Adult Resource Academy. Still, a dedicated group of about a dozen trained and accredited volunteers has pressed on, under the leadership of the clinic’s two paid positions
— a full-time director and half-time assistant director — to keep the clinic operating under COVID-19 protocols.

“A lot of the work is just listening and learning the person’s story,” Tillett says. “We have to understand who the person is in front of us, where they are at and how they got here. And sometimes, the stories are just heartbreaking to hear what they are up against, what they are trying to flee or what they are working toward.”

Immigration Clinic Director Christian Gallo grew up in Bue-nos Aires, Argentina. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Cole-gio Champagnat, master in laws degree from Indiana University, and JD from Universidad Católica Argentina. Gallo has many years of experience in immigration law and speaks four languages: Spanish, English, Italian and Portuguese. His first-hand experience as an immi-grant himself enables him to quickly build rapport with many clinic clients.

“I understand what these peo-ple go through to immigrate to the U.S.,” Gallo says. “Some of them went through a lot of dangers to get here. And even if they didn’t, they arrive here and can feel kind of lost. Sometimes receiving a little help with something simple can mean so much to a person who is new to the country and doesn’t understand how bureaucracy works here.

“We are not just helping people get a better job or more income. We are changing their lives. We are giving them opportunities for themselves and for their families, for their children.”

For Gallo, every case is person-al. The needs to be met can vary immensely. Some clients might be looking for a better job or higher income, others might be trying to re-unite with a wife or child or perhaps it’s a trailing academic spouse who followed their partner to the area and now wants to establish citizen-ship or apply for a work visa.

“It’s very rewarding work,” Gallo says. “When you see the looks on their faces, that sensation of extreme happiness, it means so much. Sometimes they don’t have words, they just repeat ‘thank you’ over and over. In that instant, their life just changed for the better.”

Whether a person entered the country legally or illegally, they can still be entitled to certain benefits under the law. The mission of the clinic is to help people who are already in the area —encompassing Tippecanoe and surrounding counties — get access to those benefits, regardless of their immigration status. It’s work that aligns with LUM’s overall mission as an organization with a Judeo-Christian heritage.

“Our organization has strong Judeo-Christian roots,” Tillett says. “Harkening back to the Exodus story, there is definitely a command to be hospitable to the sojourner in your midst, because you, too, were once foreigners in Egypt. That command is still pertinent to Jews and Christians trying to obey those scriptures. From a core theological standpoint, that’s part of who we are and part of what we’re trying to do.

“On a more humanitarian level, we are simply trying to be good neighbors. We especially want
to fill the gaps in the community where no other organization is able to meet that need. Immigration is one of those areas, especially seven years ago, that LUM identified as something we could do to help our neighbors from other parts of the world who are having a difficult time navigating through the bureaucracy and getting the legal status that they need.”

The impact of the clinic is summed up by a note of thanks Jaqueline Valera wrote to LUM expressing gratitude for the assistance she and her husband, Ricardo, received from the clinic.

“Since obtaining the LUM Immigration Clinic’s help with our immigration process, my husband was able to obtain his work permit. His income has helped me out with my family and school debt. I no longer have to work two or three jobs. I no longer have to miss important family moments. I no longer have to choose work over my health. We would not be where we are today without your help.” ★

BY ANGELA K. ROBERTS

As a student office staff worker in Cary Quadrangle, a century-old, sprawling residential complex on Purdue University’s West Lafayette campus, Michaela Hixson is continually steeped in dormitory culture.

Romance blossoming on the graveyard shift. Mysterious snack food deliveries with unknown recipients. Guys in boxers parading out the doors during nighttime fire drills.

And then there was the time a student showed up in the basement simply wrapped in a bath towel. “No shoes, water on him, dripping, and he said, ‘Can I please have the key to my room?!’” Hixson exclaims, laughing.

For the West Lafayette, Indiana, resident, these adventures in collegiate life started long before the SATs were even on her radar. During her sophomore year at Harrison High School, while Hixson was working at a local ice cream shop, her mom shared a summer job opening — no undergraduate experience necessary.

“It was fun for me to see how college worked, to already be in that college environment in high school, dip my toe in for what was to come,” says Hixson, who just completed her sophomore year in Purdue’s College of Science. After beginning as a seasonal employee four years ago, Hixson has expanded to year-round employment, gaining important skills in teamwork, responsibility and time management along the way.

As adults, we may joke about our summers flipping burgers or blowing a whistle at the neighborhood pool. But in truth, these experiences typically offer far more than a paycheck or a bullet point on a college application. As summer heats up in Greater Lafayette, we present a sampling of paid and volunteer opportunities for your favorite teenagers, along with a few of the life lessons that the jobs may impart.

ACADEMIA

Purdue University
West Lafayette
purdue.edu

From serving as day camp counselors to prepping residence halls for fall, Purdue University typically has offered a plethora of summer jobs to local high schoolers and undergraduates. With a pause on staff hiring, the university has fewer openings for 2021. At press time, we found postings for such positions as custodians, groundskeepers, network operators and Purdue Surplus Store workers, some of which required applicants to possess a high school diploma or GED or be currently enrolled at Purdue.

See current opportunities at careers.purdue.edu. The Center for Career Opportunities shows jobs available at Purdue and beyond for current Purdue students and alumni; visit cco.purdue.edu/Home/myCCO

HOSPITALITY

Cafe Literato
West Lafayette
literatocafe.com

Located just a mile up the road from Mackey Arena, Café Literato is a brick oven pizza and espresso bar located in the Faith West complex of apartments, a fitness center, church facilities and a daycare. With both indoor and outdoor seating, the restaurant serves as a gathering spot and study hub.

Eric Black, a West Lafayette Junior/Senior High School graduate who started there at 19, was promoted to manager a few months later; now, two years in, he hopes to return to Ivy Tech soon to pursue a career in the restaurant industry.
He says that teen workers aged 17 and up can take orders, prep toppings and make beverages while honing communication and customer service skills.

“The owners say that we are in the business of people,” Black says.

“You won’t find a lot of environments to work in where you can tell that the people genuinely care and are friendly and social.”

A nice perk on top of the paycheck and all the friendliness: A free drink on each shift, along with a substantially discounted meal.

Copper Moon Coffee Company
Lafayette & West Lafayette

coppermooncoffee.com

Lafayette, Indiana-based Copper Moon Coffee Company boasts four café locations in the area, with more likely coming soon. Nick Thompson, vice president of sales and marketing, says the retail locations hire workers starting at age 16 to take orders, clean, and prepare food and beverages.

“There’s a lot of opportunities to be creative with our cafés,” he adds. “We encourage our team to come up with new creations, new drinks, new flavors.” In fact, one of Copper Moon’s seasonal specialties, the Lunar Fog — an Earl Grey tea latte with vanilla, similar to a London Fog — emerged out of an employee competition.

Even if teen baristas don’t win a design-a-drink challenge, they will gain skills in face-to-face communication, collaboration and sales. Additionally, says Thompson, “I think it would be pretty impressive, a cool, fun party trick, that they know how to make really good coffee drinks and maybe even do some art with the lattes.”

RECREATION

Get Air Trampoline Park
Lafayette
getairsports.com

Adolescents who couldn’t wait for PE class to start when they were in elementary school might feel right at home at Get Air Trampoline Park, located in a strip mall on the south side near Noble Roman’s Craft Pizza and Pub.

Teenage workers (typically 16 years and older) begin as lifeguards — “patrolling the park to make sure that everyone is being safe and having fun,” says Tyler Dubea, general manager. “Sometimes this would be refereeing dodgeball games, making sure that only one person is going in the foam pit at a time, or just engaging in small talk with parents.”

Dubea delights in teaching his charges the fundamentals of business success, such as teamwork and leadership. Beyond that, “I strive to learn about all of our employees, and figure out what they want to do after school, and teach them as much as possible about that aspect of our business,” he says. “I have had someone that wants to be a graphic designer, so we have discussed some of our park advertising, our target demo, and let them use their skills to design something
for us.”

McAllister Recreation Center
Lafayette
lafayette.in.gov

Outdoorsy types can enjoy fresh air and sunshine while chaperoning kids at McAllister Recreation Center’s summer day camp, located near 18th and Greenbush streets in the former Longlois Elementary School. The facility features a gymnasium, rec room, ball fields and lots of green space.

From late May through early August, counselors 16 and up plan theme weeks, attend development sessions and supervise youngsters on field trips to Lafayette pools and parks. Adolescents aged 13 to 15 can enroll in the Head Camper program, training for future summers.

“We pride ourselves on summer camp being a fun and rewarding experience both for kids and counselors,” says Ashley Conner, seasonal camp counselor with the City of Lafayette. “Counselors learn how to effectively communicate with children, peers and parents. They also learn strategies for managing children in a group setting.” While camp staff are typically hired by May, local teens can set their sights on jobs for 2022. 

ANIMAL CARE

Pooch Palace Resort
Lafayette & West Lafayette
poochpalaceresorts.com

With two locations in Greater Lafayette offering boarding services, doggie day care, grooming and group training classes, Pooch Palace Resort is a delightful get-paid-to-do-what-you-love opportunity for teens who can’t get enough of canines. “The biggest part of what makes this place fun is just being able to work/play and care for dogs all day long,” says owner Paul Whitehurst. Teen employees assist in the daycare and overnight areas by feeding dogs, taking them on breaks and cuddling and playing with their furry clients.

Emily Chubb works at Pooch Palace when she’s not attending class at Harrison High School or performing on Turning Point Academy’s dance team. “The dogs all have different personalities and there are no two dogs that are alike. This makes the day a lot more fun,” she enthuses. Along with discovering characteristics of different breeds, Chubb says she’s also learned about communication, time management and teamwork on the job. “The people around me always have a positive attitude,” she says. “It’s been a great learning experience.”

Whitehurst sees another proficiency that the teen has developed: leadership. Chubb is “one of our most dedicated and hard-working staff members,” he says. “She came to us as a very quiet and shy teen and has blossomed to where she is now training other staff members.”

Columbian Park Zoo
Lafayette
columbianparkzoo.org

From a Galapagos Tortoise to prairie dogs to the Laughing Kookaburra, the Columbian Park Zoo showcases wildlife from around the world in exhibits that teach visitors about conservation and biodiversity. For adolescents contemplating animal-related careers, the facility offers the immersive Zoo Teens opportunity.

Volunteers aged 14 to 17 who are accepted into the program perform non-dangerous tasks under the supervision of professional zookeepers and educators, such as cleaning and food preparation. Zoo Teens also interact frequently with humans as well, gaining confidence in public speaking and small-group communication, says Courtney Nave, zoo assistant education coordinator. “I’ve seen such growth, not just in interpersonal skills, but being leaders, through this program,” she says.

Applications have already closed for this summer; but check the website for late openings and other opportunities. ★

BY KAT BRAZ
PHOTOS PROVIDED

The Spinning Axe
Barbara Huddleston spent years growing her catering and event business. At the start of 2020, her calendar was booked with weddings, parties and corporate events. When the pandemic forced the cancellation of large gatherings, Huddleston watched her business evaporate almost overnight. During a trip to Bowling Green, Kentucky, over Labor Day weekend, she discovered a new passion — axe throwing.

“We actually went to visit Mammoth Cave, but it was closed due to COVID,” Huddleston says. “Looking for other things to do we found an axe throwing place near our hotel. About four throws in, I realized I loved it. I knew I needed to bring this sport back to Lafayette.”

That’s right. Urban axe throwing is a worldwide sport growing in popularity. The World Axe Throwing League, formed in 2017 by representatives from Canada, the United States, Brazil and Ireland, holds sanctioned tournaments year-round. Budding future champions could reside right here in Tippecanoe County and get their start at Huddleston’s latest enterprise, The Spinning Axe, 351 South St., Lafayette. After returning from her trip, Huddleston leased the location and took about seven weeks transforming a former sushi restaurant into an axe throwing venue and bar serving wine, beer, liquor and snacks such as nachos, pizza, soft pretzels and popcorn.

The family-friendly venue (they recommend ages 10 and up, depending on the physical ability of the child) accepts walk-ins and reservations, which are encouraged for large groups and on Saturdays. After signing a waiver, guests are assigned to a lane and an axe coach reviews safety precautions, gives pointers and explains different types of games that can be played. At the end of the lane, a large round bullseye painted on wooden boards serves as the target.

“I’ve been surprised at the number of women who’ve shown interest in axe throwing,” Huddleston says. “They want to do a girls night out, they want to schedule a date night. That’s been a really cool thing. Axe throwing isn’t as scary as it sounds. Our trained axe coaches will show you how to do it safely. We’re going to help you have a great time.”=

The Spinning Axe is open seven days a week. Cost per hour: Adults $22; Children $15. Military, fire and police personnel receive a discounted rate of $17/hour.
facebook.com/thespinningaxe

Lafayette, IN - The Spinning Axe
Lafayette, Indiana - The Spinning Axe

Learning to Thrive
Struggling to take your vitamins? Thrive IV Lounge, 1343 Sagamore Pkwy N, Lafayette, offers a relaxing and hydrating infusion of vitamins, minerals and nutrients directly into your bloodstream for maximum effect. Administered by registered nurses using the same medical grade supplies found in hospitals, the medspa offers an array of therapy treatments to boost immune function, bring migraine relief, reduce inflammation and even recover from a hangover.

Owner Sarah Kurtz was inspired to open an IV lounge after learning about the rising popularity of drip spas in other parts of the country. As an emergency room nurse for the past seven years, Kurtz wanted to offer preventative care that might help keep chronic condition patients out of the ER.

“There’s just not enough information out there for people to understand the importance of how to prevent getting sick,” Kurtz says. “By building the immune system, getting a lot of sleep, staying, hydrated, taking the correct vitamins and eating healthy you can prevent a lot of things from being a lot worse. After all these years in medicine, I’m just taking a different approach to help people get there.”

Once a client fills out paperwork covering medical history, medications, allergies, height and weight, the Thrive IV nursing staff checks vital signs before discussing available drip treatments. Once the IV is started, it takes anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to complete the infusion. There are three private treatment rooms as well as a large communal lounge which Kurtz hopes to open up as the pandemic slows down.

Afraid of needles? Thrive IV offers a numbing spray to help ease the discomfort. Or you can skip the IV and order an injection instead. The biggest seller is the skinny shot, a special blend of hydrating fluids and vitamins to boost metabolism. Pair it with a Beauty Blend IV treatment for a fully rejuvenating experience. Not ready to leave the house? Thrive IV’s mobile concierge service brings wellness to the comfort of your living room.

“One liter of IV fluids that we give you is equivalent to drinking two gallons of water,” Kurtz says. “Results vary depending on the type of treatment and an individual’s metabolism, but the benefits of IV therapy usually last about five days to a week.”

Memberships are available for clients who want to make Thrive IV a regular part of their wellness routine. Though Thrive IV offers a relaxing, calming atmosphere, all IV medspas are regulated by the state of Indiana and must maintain the same safety standards as medical clinics and hospitals. All medications, vitamins and supplies are FDA approved. An ER physician serves as medical director, overseeing the lounge. IVs are administered by experienced ER nurses with the critical care skills to identify anything abnormal in a client’s session and refer clients to the ER or urgent care if necessary.

Thrive IV is open Thursday through Monday. Follow them on social media for daily deals and monthly specials.
thethriveiv.com

Lafayette, Indiana Thrive IV Lounge

Big Woods Restaurant and Bar | 516 Northwestern Ave., West Lafayette
Originating in Nashville, Indiana, in 2009, the opening of a Big Woods Restaurant and Bar in West Lafayette marks the Big Woods Village’s 10th
location — and the farthest north. With its focused menu of signature pizzas and a selection of burgers and sandwiches, Big Woods offers a cozy sports bar environment in the location formerly occupied by The Stacked Pickle on Purdue’s campus. Cocktails of the month feature spirits crafted by Hard Truth Hills, a division of the Big Woods brand also based in Nashville. Craft beer lovers will devour the Big Woods Quaff ON! beers, such as Busted Knuckle, Hare Trigger and Yellow Dwarf.
bigwoodsrestaurants.com/west-lafayette

Big Woods Restaurant in West Lafayette Indiana
Copper Moon Coffee in West Lafayette, Indiana

Copper Moon Coffee | 351 Sagamore Pkwy & 225 S. University St., West Lafayette
Brothers Brad and Cary Gutwein purchased Copper Moon Coffee (originally founded in the late 1960s) in 2007 and relaunched the business in Lafayette. Now with four locations throughout Tippecanoe County and a booming retail business, Copper Moon is the largest family-owned coffee company in the Midwest. The latest two locations include a spot on Purdue’s campus inside the Agricultural and Biological Engineering Building and a standalone café in the former Salin Bank building next to Dog n Suds on Sagamore Parkway.

“We are delighted at the opportunity to continue expanding our reach into West Lafayette,” says Brad Gutwien, CEO of Copper Moon Coffee, in a January 2020 press release. “We think this in an ideal location that will be easy to access for most of the West Lafayette community.”
coppermooncoffee.com

Reveille Coffee Bar | 835 Main St., Lafayette
The inviting French-inspired décor of Reveille Coffee Bar creates a warm and welcoming ambiance the moment you step in the door. This cozy spot with friendly baristas churns out all manner of gourmet coffees, specialty teas, decadent hot chocolates and iced brews. Featuring a rotating selection
of locally made pastries, Reveille is the ideal spot to lounge away a morning.
reveillelafayette.com

Reveille Coffee Bar in Lafayette Indiana
Ritual Cocktail Bar in Lafayette, Indiana

Ritual Cocktail Bar | 211 N. Second St., Lafayette
The intimate, classy lounge vibe at Ritual Cocktail Bar quickly garnered a reputation for one of the coolest spots in town. A streamlined food menu features upscale snacks such as almond breaded duck tenders and roasted whole cremini mushrooms. But here, craft cocktails are the main attraction. Mixologists reimagine classic drink recipes and combine house-made syrups, bitters and juices; specialty spirits and unusual ingredients to create memorable concoctions that are meant to be savored, like a ritual. Feeling extra swanky? Stop by for Rat Pack night to sip your libation while listening to Sinatra, every Tuesday before 9 p.m.
ritual-bar.com

Ripple & Co. | 1007 Main St., Lafayette
Fans of East End Grill have eagerly awaited the opening of Ripple and Co., a fast-casual dining concept located across the street from the high-end restaurant and run by the same executive leadership team. The new multilevel eatery features a spacious second floor with outdoor dining and a private event space. Downstairs, the atmosphere of the lively counter-service restaurant is reminiscent of a food hall. Executive chef Ambarish Lulay brings the same elevated sensibilities found at East End to Ripple & Co.’s menu. Smoked meats, pork belly and “really good tofu” are just a few of the crave-inducing items available. With both cocktails and beers on tap, Ripple & Co. is an exciting addition to upper Main Street. Plus, a partnership with Greyhouse Coffee means you can pick up your favorite cup of joe while you’re there.
eastendmain.com/ripple-company

Ripple and Co. in Lafayette Indiana
Rusty Taco in Lafayette Indiana

Rusty Taco | 3209 Builder Drive, Lafayette
Serving up authentic street tacos at affordable prices, Rusty Taco’s festive ambience encourages friends and family to linger over margaritas while enjoying boldly flavored tacos. With more than 30 locations around the country, each one emulates a neighborhood taco stand. An array of breakfast tacos is available all day. The handmade street taco menu features roasted pork, brisket, baja shrimp and fried chicken. Rusty’s commitment to high-quality ingredients and making food fresh-to-order ensures satisfaction in every bite. Wash it down with an ice-cold margarita and experience bliss.
rustytaco.com

Wolfies Northern Woods Grill | 352 E. State St., West Lafayette
Scott and Nyla Wolf opened their first Wolfies location in 2004. Designed for the “seeker in all things sports, nature and food,” Wolfies offers a casual sports-themed environment in the Wabash Landing site formerly occupied by Scotty’s Brewhouse. The West Lafayette location is the eighth in the state and the first to venture away from the Indianapolis area. The expansive menu is packed with sharable starters, salads, wings, ribs, seafood, sandwiches, tacos and burgers. Thirsty? Try one of the 30 local and regional beers on tap, along with a full bar featuring craft cocktails. One thing is certain, you won’t go hungry at Wolfies.
wolfiesgrill.com/West-Lafayette

Wolfies in West Lafayette Indiana

Stay up-to-date on new businesses and more by following Greater Lafayette Commerce on Facebook or visit greaterlafayettecommerce.com

BY KAT BRAZ
PHOTO BY CHRISTINE PETKOV

Last summer, tensions surrounding issues of racial injustice boiled over across the country in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. Locally, more than 1,000 peaceful protesters marched downtown on May 31 to rally for racial justice and take a stand against police brutality.

“Witnessing the energy of the young people and the memory, or the wisdom of the older people, together, that gives me hope,” says Rodney Lynch, pastor and director of the Baptist Student Foundation at Purdue University. “I was pleased with the number of people who were there. Most of them were white, that’s the demographics of this community. But standing up for racial justice is not a one-time moment; it’s a lifetime movement.”

Motivated by a desire to join like-minded community members to address issues of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), Lynch joined the Diversity Roundtable (DRT) when he relocated to Greater Lafayette in 2016. An outgrowth of Vision 2020, a 2000–2001 community visioning project for the future of Greater Lafayette, the DRT began in 2002 when a small group of citizens started meeting to plan a Diversity Summit held in April 2003. It became a biennial event and this month, the DRT held its 10th summit. The 2021 Diversity Summit, held virtually and free to all participants, focused on Strategic Doing: Turning Conversation into Action.

In addition to the summits, the DRT meets monthly to discuss DEI issues in the community. The meetings are open to the public and co-facilitated by Lynch and Barbara Clark, who retired as director of the Science Diversity Office and director of the Women in Science Programs at Purdue in 2015. An all-volunteer group, the DRT is a committee of Greater Lafayette Commerce.

“We are the only group in the community focused on diversity in general,” Clark says. “We’re not organized in response to a crisis or an issue. We’re focused on raising awareness and educating people about the diversity issues in the community — anything from race to sexual orientation to disability — and how diversity, equity and inclusion intersect with social issues.”

Many of the monthly meetings feature speakers from the community, such as city government officials, school superintendents, police officers and university administrators who share their perspective on how DEI is supported in their respective institutions as well as identifying areas that still need to be addressed. Clark, who has served as a co-facilitator of the group since 2009, says although the same core issues may resurface, often they’ve been redefined in some way.

“An issue that we’ve discussed a number of times is ‘driving while Black,’” Clark says. “When we first started talking about that, it was somewhat surprising to the white folks but certainly not surprising to the people of color. One of the things the DRT does is develop programming to educate the community on these issues.”

One of the programs facilitated by the DRT addressed implicit bias. Lynch, who co-led the training, would ask attendees how many of them had “the talk” with their children. Invariably, white attendees assumed “the talk” centered around sexual activity. Black attendees gave their children the “police talk.”

“Black people do not have the privilege of not educating their children about how to conduct themselves when they are engaged by a police officer, so they get home safe,” Lynch says. “White children are raised to believe the police will keep them safe. Whereas we’ve seen time and time again, Black people are afraid to even call the police because our loved ones may not live through that interaction.”

The depth of implicit bias is magnified through a video experiment shown in the training that posits two men of different races in the same scenario. In one instance, a white man is shown breaking into a car in broad daylight. In the other, the man breaking into the car is Black. The white man sets off the car alarm multiple times, fishing with a wire coat hanger for 30 minutes trying to pop the door lock. A police car drives by without stopping. When the Black man attempts to break into the car, a passerby begins filming him with a cellphone almost immediately and the police arrive within two minutes. The video ends with the Black man in handcuffs surrounded by five police officers.

“It’s assumed that the white guy is just locked out of his car,” Lynch says. “But the Black guy must be robbing that car. These are examples of the implicit biases we all live with.”

The difficulty of identifying implicit biases lies in the fact that we don’t always know we have them. These unconscious inclinations often operate outside of our awareness and can directly contradict a person’s espoused beliefs or values. The danger of implicit biases is how they affect our reactions and behaviors without our awareness. The goal of implicit bias training is to help attendees understand and acknowledge the systems of privilege in place that influence these unconscious prejudices.

These conversations are difficult to have, even among members of the DRT, who, by their very presence at meetings, are more inclined to be receptive to reframing their personal perspectives and committed to acknowledging and addressing DEI issues within the community.

“One of the things that keeps people coming month after month is that they can be honest and open at the DRT,” Clark says. “They feel safe talking about issues in a group where people have different perspectives because of their lived experiences.”

Another program offered by the DRT for the past few years centers around the book Me and White Supremacy: How to Recognise Your Privilege, Combat Racism and Change the World by Layla F. Saad. The book operates as a workbook, outlining journaling exercises and conversation prompts that force white readers to reflect on the roots of their own unconscious bias, how they benefit from the systems in place and how white supremacy plays out in their everyday lives. Small cohorts of 20 to 25 people work through the book together, meeting for weekly discussions over the course of one month.

“It’s not really fair to expect people of color to educate white people on issues of diversity,” Clark says. “If white people care about diversity and want to make a change, they need to put some energy into educating themselves. That’s what Me and White Supremacy is all about. The journaling can be difficult. The conversations can be intense, but it’s all very worthwhile.”

Before the pandemic, approximately 30 people attended the monthly DRT meetings. After switching to virtual meetings last year, the DRT has seen a slight increase of participation with up to 50 attendees. Those numbers may seem small, but the impact of the DRT on the larger community is far greater.

“We’re not only touching the people who show up,” Lynch says. “The people who participate in the DRT are armed with information they can use when they encounter injustice at their job, in the community or in their family. That’s the beauty of what the DRT offers. If someone is serious about combatting injustice, DRT is a good place to start. We can inform and educate.” ★

To receive updates about the DRT and information about its monthly meetings, email 
diversitytippecanoe@gmail.com or visit diversitytippecanoe.org. 

BY RADONNA FIORINI
PHOTOS PROVIDED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BY HANNAH HARPER
PHOTOS PROVIDED

Follow the leader. Lead by example. Take the lead. It’s safe to say that the concept of leadership has left an unmistakable imprint on the American vernacular, and rightly so, as it determines the course of everything from our countries to our businesses. Cultivating this vital skill in younger generations is an important part of ensuring our mutual success, and it is something in which Greater Lafayette continues to invest and value in the community.

TC Young Professionals

Tippy Connect Young Professionals provides young professionals ages 21-39 in Greater Lafayette an opportunity to discover their community and build lasting relationships with their peers and neighbors. With 151 members and several programs focused on the values of engagement, development, opportunity and service, the Greater Lafayette Commerce leadership program strives to be a connecting force within the community.

As a young professional, David Teter, a member of the Tippy Connect Young Professionals Steering Committee, has enjoyed the behind-the-scenes process of helping to organize opportunities for his peers.

“Knowing the community is the first step to making a difference, and I’m thrilled to know so many people with a passion for the community and developing new leaders and cultivating talent,” Teter says.

Programs such as Adulting 101 and Taproom Takeover are two such opportunities for young professionals to get to know the community.
Adulting 101 partners with local organizations to help young professionals learn or brush up on important life skills such as financial planning or changing a tire. Taproom Takeover allows Tippy Connect members to learn about the local restaurant scene through discussions with the business owners who operate them.

“Adulting 101 helps create those roots in Greater Lafayette because once you know [the community], you feel more at home, less out of place,” says Rebecca Jones, Quality of Life Coordinator and Tippy Connect Liaison for Greater Lafayette Commerce. “[Taproom Takeover] is another way for these individuals to grow roots.”

For Lafayette transplant Tyler Knochel, creating that sense of community for all young professionals is an important part of his involvement with the organization.

“Through my work at Tippy Connect, I want other people like me, young professionals and emerging leaders, to see Greater Lafayette the way I do,” he says. “I want to see more of us rally around our community and continue to make it great.”

In addition to community events, Tippy Connect Young Professionals also offers leadership training through its Success in 60 program and leadership conference. Success in 60 is delivered as a workshop where Tippy Connect members can learn personal and professional development skills that will equip them to become better leaders. Examples of past workshop topics include confidence and StrengthsFinder.

New to the programs offered through Tippy Connect is a leadership conference. The conference is tailored to young professionals and includes opportunities for networking, professional development tracks and keynote speakers.

“As long as you want to professionally develop yourself and personally grow with your peers, we have programming for you,” Jones says.

Although Tippy Connect Young Professionals caters the majority of its programming to a subset of the community, anyone who believes he or she may benefit from the organization’s programming is invited to reach out to attend an event. As a result of partnerships and connections to community organizations, Tippy Connect Young Professionals also gives members an opportunity to continue to serve the community through volunteerism and board representation even after they no longer fall into the designated young professional age range.

“We can talk about our community as a whole as it all relates to Greater Lafayette,” says Jones. “The end point for someone’s professional development isn’t when they’re 39 and aging out of Tippy Connect. It should be never.”

For more information or to join, please visit tippyconnect.com.


Leadership Lafayette

Since 1982, Leadership Lafayette has cultivated leadership potential in the citizens of Greater Lafayette to enrich the community in government, business and nonprofit sectors. The organization is an application-based leadership development program that prepares its cohorts through experiential learning and community engagement.

“Beginning with our Opening Retreat, we focus on identifying personal strengths as well as skills, abilities and passions that make each individual uniquely positioned to give back to our community,” says Kitty Campbell, executive director of Leadership Lafayette.

Each session focuses on a different area of the community to teach them about opportunities available in sectors such as civics, education and youth advocacy, human services, the arts and nonprofits. Participants also learn valuable leadership skills such as conflict resolution and team development.

For Knochel, who was a member of Class 46, several of the sessions gave him a greater understanding of challenges, talents and systems that exist within the community.

“My favorite session was all about building systematic support in our communities – how does the mission and reach of one organization or program connect and build into the mission and reach of another?”
he says.

The organization takes a unique approach to leadership training, focusing on servant leadership to provide exposure to opportunities where alumni can serve the community after completing the program. Through the Leadership Lafayette Volunteer Expo, the organization provides resources for alumni to get involved.

Knochel learned about leadership opportunities from his Leadership Lafayette experience in which he continues to take part.

“I serve on a committee for United Way and Tippecanoe Arts Federation (TAF), I serve on the steering committee for Tippy Connect Young Professionals, and I’m on the board of directors for an X-District and The American Advertising Federation in Lafayette,” he says.

“Leadership Lafayette was the first step I took in really getting involved in our community and helping build a greater Lafayette.”

Although the program is open to people of all ages, the organization has created partnerships to reach young professionals in the community.

“We collaborate with community partners, including Tippy Connect Young Professionals, to encourage businesses and nonprofit organizations to invest in the personal and professional development of their emerging talent, and to encourage young professionals to learn how they can get involved in our community and better our shared quality of life,” says Campbell.

Teter, a member of Class 49, gained insight into how community leaders work together to contribute to the overall success of Greater Lafayette.

“Leaders from various organizations collaborate and think of new events and activities that benefit the community, which is incredible,” he says. “I saw the start of some new ideas and collaborations during Class 49, and I’m sure Leadership Lafayette will continue to be an accelerator for the development of the community and leaders to move our community forward.”

For more information or to apply, visit leadershiplafayette.org.


The People Business 2.0

Providing a new and personalized twist for young professionals to build leadership skills, The People Business 2.0 is a personal and professional development organization owned by Sharlee Lyons. Certified as a Gallup Strengths Coach, Growing Leaders Master Trainer, and Fascinate Certified Advisor, among other qualifications, Lyons began the People Business 2.0 in 2020 after a career in multiple leadership and training roles.

“The People Business 2.0 is the collection of the personal and professional development best practices I’ve experienced in my professional career, and now I am blessed to share them with others,” Lyons says.

The leadership coaching provided by Lyons is customized to each individual client, making the leadership development experience personalized to the client’s unique needs and challenges. However, leadership coaching follows the same seven steps: (1) relationship development, (2) leadership competencies overview and assessment, (3) curiosity and learning about leadership competencies, (4) client setting goals for development, (5) assessments that lead to self-discovery, (6) coaching that leads to goal setting, and (7) client-driven action planning.

“I consider myself a ‘guide on the side’ as the client works through self-discovery, development, action planning and goal attainment,” says Lyons.

While leadership coaching is available to clients of all ages, Lyons offers coaching for young leaders through use of the Growing Leaders Habitudes curriculum, which was developed to teach leadership habits and attitudes to youth and young professionals through images.

“Our hope for the future depends on how well we train our young leaders, and it doesn’t happen by chance, it must be intentional,” she says.

Also intentional is Lyons’ choice to use The People Business 2.0 to bring leadership coaching to the Greater Lafayette community.

“My husband and I have lived in Greater Lafayette for 20 years,” she says. “It’s the longest I’ve lived anywhere, and that is intentional. I love this
community.” ★

Additional leadership opportunities for young professionals:

• Evergreen Leadership: evergreenleadership.com

• United Way Emerging Leaders United: uwlafayette.org

BY ANGELA K. ROBERTS
PHOTOS PROVIDED BY GREATER LAFAYETTE COMMERCE

When you think of Greater Lafayette, what comes to mind?
A growing startup culture and world-class manufacturing?
Accessible arts and recreation for varied interests? Friendly
neighbors and excellent public schools?

For the members of the Greater Lafayette Marketing Coalition (GLMC), these qualities and more boil down to this core message, which marketing professionals call a brand promise:
“Greater Lafayette is where progress, creativity and community thrive, so you can live expansively.”

More than two years in the making, the unmasking of the brand — unveiled in the Long Center in October to dispersed guests sporting an assortment of understated and glittered masks — includes new social media accounts, a video, a set of Greater Lafayette logos and a fresh website in a saturated palette of purple, green, orange, blue and teal. The stories that the visuals and the text tell are all designed to send the message that Greater Lafayette is not just a place that we come to; it’s a place where we want to stay.

Roots in the GE deal

Greater Lafayette’s brand is rooted in part in lessons learned from a major business development deal.
“We continue to hear stories of people who came here and thought they would stay for a while, but they never left,” says Cindy Murray, Lafayette city clerk. “When we were going through the process to bring in GE, what they used to choose our community, it really began to hit home that we needed to market ourselves to compete in a global economy for global talent.”
When the GE plant was built, she says, corporate officials stayed at the Holiday Inn Lafayette-City Centre and participated in a community scavenger hunt. Afterwards, the visitors met with Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski and remarked that they didn’t know the region had so much to offer. Murray says that the mayor and his staff realized that they needed to tell the Greater Lafayette story in an entirely new way. “It’s all about people, the quality of life for people that makes them give Greater Lafayette a chance,” she explains.

A phased process

In May 2018, Greater Lafayette officials invited firms to bid on developing a comprehensive strategy. Ultimately, they chose Ologie, a firm that has worked with Purdue University in the past.

“They are a true branding agency who helps companies with clear, compelling and consistent strategy,” says Emily Blue, senior manager of brand, advertising and sponsorships at Purdue, who has been intimately involved in Greater Lafayette’s branding process.

The firm completed a deep dive with both qualitative and quantitative research, including an audit of economic development plans and communications materials, discussion groups and interviews with key stakeholders, and an online survey of the community. Among the constituents queried: corporations, businesses, K-12 schools and higher education, community and nonprofit organizations and government organizations.

Strategy and creative

The Greater Lafayette Marketing Coalition formed in February 2019, bringing together representatives from the City of Lafayette, the City of West Lafayette, Tippecanoe County, Visit Lafayette-West Lafayette, Purdue University, the Purdue Research Foundation and Greater Lafayette Commerce. One of the group’s first decisions was to ask member organization Greater Lafayette Commerce to coordinate the project and brand management for the coalition. Greater Lafayette Commerce promoted its marketing director, Michelle Brantley, to the role of project leader and brand manager.

Once the discovery process was complete, it was time for phase two, strategy. Against the backdrop of its research report, and with GLMC in a collaborative role, the firm identified key audiences, outlined key messages and defined a brand personality — how that messaging should look, feel and sound.

As phase three, the creative, began, GLMC again engaged in a competitive process, choosing Toledo, Ohio-based Madhouse Creative for the video, and homegrown advertising firm Dearing Group for website development. Officials also began training a small group of Lafayette business professionals, executive directors and community leaders — “An ambassador group to generate excitement,” says David Byers, Tippecanoe County commissioner.

A community on the rise

Collectively, the identity is designed to meet three main goals: increasing the talent pool by retaining and attracting a citizen workforce; spurring economic growth by attracting business investments and elevating quality of life; and increasing positive perceptions of the Greater Lafayette region. All of that can be summed up in the nearly five-minute video, starring a former NBA dancer and her husband.

“We were challenged to tell our story as a community on the rise in an exciting way,” says Brantley. “We’re focused on prospective employees, businesses and others that we are seeking to attract to our area.” That required several messages, borne out of the constituent research: what kinds of value-addeds transplants get when they relocate here, how Greater Lafayette often exceeds newcomers’ expectations, and why the region is a great place to do business.

All that, and they were shooting during a pandemic.

True fiction

After crafting a narrative, the Madhouse Creative team decided to cast a couple living in the same household so that they could shoot up close and still adhere to infection control protocols. Strategic camera angles allowed the two main characters to be shot in view of others while socially distanced from them. Filmed in August, many of the scenes take place outside.

The main character, an advanced manufacturing professional from a big city, interviews with several local companies before joining the crew at Subaru. While out running one day at the Celery Bog, she meets an agricultural tech entrepreneur. From dates at the Bryant, to bike rides, to a city hall wedding and walks with a baby stroller, we see the couple meet, fall in love — with each other and the community — and set down roots here.

Even in its fiction, the story should ring true to those who are familiar with Greater Lafayette, from the many familiar sights and sounds to the feelings that it evokes. As the protagonist muses, “When I moved here, I was looking for change. But what I found was home. This is the rich, full life I’ve always wanted. Each of us, every single person in our community, is what makes this place… greater.”

The Greater Lafayette Brand Launch Event

Un-Masking the Greater Lafayette Brand

PHOTOS BY CHRISTINE PETKOV

The Greater Lafayette Marketing Coalition held a scaled back brand launch event on Monday, Oct. 26, hosting a group of elected officials, corporate,
university and civic leaders, and brand ambassadors.

The event was planned in two parts to disperse guests and maintain COVID-19 protocol. GLMC partnered with restaurants and The Long Center for Performing Arts to provide a safe and entertaining brand premier event. Guests were asked to select their restaurant of choice and enjoy a four-course meal before the premier. Mixing and mingling at the restaurants was discouraged. Each venue was unique, providing guests with live entertainment and surprise swag bag deliveries during the dinner party experience.

After dinner, guests made their way to the Long Center for the brand premier, where they were treated to a red-carpet experience complete with a Greater Lafayette Walk of Fame. Again, mixing and mingling was minimized and guests were directed to their socially distanced seats. The program began with a dazzling performance of the Greater Lafayette brand narrative by Dance Dynamics. It was followed by short segments that revealed the elements of the new brand, including brand colors and logos, Greater Lafayette Magazine, the website and brand video.

We encourage readers to view the video at www.greaterlafayetteind.com,
the home page of the Greater Lafayette website.

Long Center for the Performing Arts
A quiet Long Center for the Performing Arts prior to guests arrival.

BY ANGELA K. ROBERTS

PHOTOS BY CHRISTINE PETKOV (PAGES 11-17)

A longing for connection in a historic downtown. A desire to share a passion for the arts. The lure of a 19th century family homestead. From urban to rural, and from long-established to brand new, every small business in Greater Lafayette has a uniquely personal reason for putting down roots here. Here are the origin stories for five of them. 

Mad Love Boutique

210 N. Sixth St., Lafayette

store.madlovebb.com

Stephanie and Chris Deckard, owners of Velvet Lotus Photography, lived on Perrin Avenue for nine years before moving to a westside subdivision. “We immediately felt so detached, even with our studio still in town,” Stephanie says. 

Relocating their business from Kossuth Street to the heart of the city, the couple settled into their new digs. Then Stephanie had a brainstorm. “Having clothing to style my clients in felt like a natural shift, without being so overwhelming that I couldn’t work my photography as well,” she says. 

Nearly two years ago, Mad Love Boutique opened next door to the photography studio. In a space that the couple renovated themselves, Stephanie sells women’s clothing, jewelry and accessories among antique furnishings. 

Her favorite offerings: jewelry by Autumn Rose Designs, a mother-daughter team based in Greater Lafayette, and Hiptipico luxury bags, handmade in Guatemala. “All of the textiles and bags are made by female artisans, and that makes my heart happy,” she says. “I’m a proud supporter of BLM, LGBTQ+ and women’s rights.”

When businesses shut down in March because of COVID-19, the couple quickly moved all their inventory online. Chris took photos of Stephanie modeling the clothes, which range in size from extra small to 3XL.

Now that the store has started to reopen, Stephanie says she looks forward to expanding her hours again and seeing some familiar faces. “I love to talk, so if you come in to shop, you can expect a conversation,” she says. 

Wea Creek Orchard

5618 S. 200 East, Lafayette

weacreekorchard.com

Perry Kirkham and his brother were both working in Washington, D.C., when, in 2007, they each relocated to Indiana around the same time. While they got settled, the brothers lived on the family homestead. 

The farmland surrounding the house had been in their family since 1855, and they wanted to continue its agricultural legacy. But, “the fences here had been taken down and we no longer had access to any conventional farming equipment,” Kirkham says. 

“We discussed various options and landed on fruit trees. We formed the orchard in January of 2008, planted 400 fruit trees in April of 2008 and here we are!”

Co-owned by Kirkham and his wife, Lisa, Wea Creek Orchard is located on Lafayette’s south side and sells 19 varieties of apples, four varieties of peaches, and pumpkins. “I like the Akane apples the best,” Kirkham says. “It is a wonderful combination of sweet and tart and is full of flavor.” 

Inside the store are also jellies, preserves, salsas, butters and honey, along with succulents, hanging baskets and sunflowers. The orchard also hosts weddings, on average 27 a year, in the 1869-era barn. School kids also come on field trips. 

“We decided long ago we would never charge to come on the farm, so theoretically anyone can visit and enjoy the property without spending a dime,” Kirkham says. 

“Of course, we hope they don’t.”

Inspired Fire Glass Studio and Gallery 

2124 SR 25, Lafayette

inspiredfire.com

Sharon Owens, a Lafayette native and Indiana University art graduate, fell in love with glassmaking while taking a flame-working class at Purdue University in 1979. After studying the art around the United States and in Europe, she opened Inspired Fire Glass Studio and Gallery in 2002 to share her passion with her hometown.

Her shop, two miles off US 231 on the edge of Shadeland, promotes more than 30 local artists and provides a place for them to work and teach flame-working, fusing and furnace glass blowing to the Greater Lafayette community. Beginner and advanced classes are available, as well as field trips and custom parties. Due to the pandemic, the shop is open for limited hours. A gallery dog, Zing Zang, greets shoppers at the door. 

Since opening in 2002, the Inspired Fire building has undergone several remodels and expansions, including a recent upgrade to the façade and the addition of viewing windows in the gallery so that shoppers can watch artists at work. 

Owens’ personal specialty is crafting vibrantly colored vessels with techniques such as hand-pulled murrini, the making of patterns using long rods of glass that are cut into cross sections. “I draw inspiration from nature, and the glass vessels and jewelry I create are colorful interpretations of transparency and opacity swimming within layers of joy,” she says. 

Blooms and Petals Fresh Flowers & Event Concepts

848 Main St., Lafayette

bloomsandpetals.net

East Chicago, Indiana, native Paula Eve Davis came to Tippecanoe County for college, eventually settling down here with her husband. “I really felt that it was a great area to raise a family, and there were plenty of opportunities. I still feel that way,” says Davis, a master designer, certified balloon artist and founder of Blooms and Petals Fresh Flowers & Event Concepts. 

The Purdue University graduate began her floral career more than 20 years ago, growing and selling flowers at the Lafayette Farmers Market and craft shows. Then she branched out to weddings and proms. “I had flowers all over my home, and eventually my husband decided I needed a retail flower shop,” Davis recalls. “He secretly found the space and leased it. For our wedding anniversary, he brought me the keys to my new shop.”

Davis’ store makes fresh arrangements using flowers from all over the world. “We like dealing directly with our growers to get the most variety and the freshest product,” says Davis, whose business is 70 percent retail and 30 percent event florals. Among her favorite events are celebrations of life and funeral floral tributes. 

This spring, during the height of the shutdown, Davis founded the Good Samaritan Project to repurpose flowers she had preordered for St. Patrick’s Day, Easter and prom. She donated bouquets and gift baskets to police departments, fire departments and nursing homes. 

Escape Velocity Brewing Company

405 Sagamore Parkway South, Lafayette

escapevelocitybrewing.com

Jason Behenna began homebrewing in 2007, and by 2015 he was winning awards. When his Irish Stout won Best in Show at the Indiana Brewers Cup in 2016, he and his wife, Heather Howard, began exploring the idea of their own brewery. 

More than two years after moving back to Lafayette, the Purdue grads found a suitable space. As they were readying to launch in March, COVID-19 grounded non-essential businesses. “We have impeccable timing,” Behenna says. 

After starting curbside pickup in April, the couple, along with managing partner Colin Jelliffe, finally opened their tap room doors in May.

Escape Velocity Brewing Company has a five-barrel Blichmann Engineering brewing system, which can produce around 200 gallons. Within the colorful, space-themed environment, patrons can choose from a variety of beers whose names are all space- or rocket-related. 

Their bestselling beer is the Drogue Chute IPA. Another favorite is Behenna’s award-winning Magnificent Desolation Dry Irish Stout. The all vegetarian/vegan menu includes curried chickpea salad on sourdough bread and grilled cheese with either Irish cheddar, pepper jack or Chao vegan cheese. 

It goes without saying that starting a new business during a pandemic is hard. But while Behenna continues to build a following, he hopes locals will support not only him but also his fellow restaurateurs and brewers.

“The pandemic is really hurting the industry, and local support is the only thing that will ensure there are restaurants and breweries to continue … for years to come,” he says.

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 BY CHRISTINE PETKOV

The U.S. Census predicts that the world population will grow to more than nine million people by 2050. To keep up with the growing demand for food with fewer farmers and shrinking farmland acreage, it is estimated that agricultural production will need to double in the ensuing years. Smart farming is not only a good idea; it is imperative. Precision agriculture is the answer to become more efficient, productive, sustainable and affordable to both producers and consumers. Technological advances continue to evolve in agriculture, from fertilizer and irrigation systems, soil mapping and more efficient farm machinery, GPS systems and programmable tractors, to drones and genetic seed engineering. Necessity is the mother of innovation. 

Inari is a privately held company founded in 2016 by Flagship Pioneering, a life sciences innovation firm. Headquartered outside of Boston in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Inari’s goal is to use genetic technology and computational tools to generate step-change products for independent seed companies and, ultimately, farmers. Its business is to provide the best parent seed through gene editing to independent seed companies who, in turn, can create hybrids or varieties for farmers. Inari’s product development center of excellence at the Purdue Research Park was established in November of 2018 and is the world’s first Seed Foundry.

Gene editing is different from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in that it does not necessarily introduce foreign genes into the seed. Targeted gene editing using the diversity of a plant species’ genome can enable farmers to select specific crop varieties that have features to enhance production. 

Since agriculture is a critical industry, Inari continued working during COVID-19. It made recommended social distancing accommodations in labs and the office, but research and development continued. “If anything, COVID-19 reinforced the need for more products to feed the world; products which are better for the environment in terms of being more efficient in their water or fertilizer intake,” says CEO Ponsi Trivisvavet. “We are fortunate to serve during this period of time.” 

“Our seed foundry approach is unique to Inari,” Trivisvavet says. “We start with a computational algorithm to gain genetic knowledge. The second step is gene-editing, and the third step is creating the parent seed that we will provide to independent seed companies. The deep knowledge from the very start gives us a continuous feedback loop from the lab and greenhouse to the field. Together with advanced genomic tools, this allows us to cut down the development time by 70 percent, and the economic costs down 90 percent.” 

This process shortens the time for product development by about two-thirds as compared to traditional breeding products that can take about 10 years to commercialize, saving both time and money. The goal is to give independent seed companies, and ultimately farmers, a way to maximize yield and profit with products that are friendlier to the environment by designing them to be less dependent on fertilizer and water. 

Inari’s expansion to the Midwest was intentional to be closer to the corn and soybean belt. It did a broad search and ultimately chose West Lafayette because of its proximity to Purdue University regarding collaborations with other scientists, technology groups and talent pools. Inari started with 26,000 square feet of space and in one year increased its footprint to about 80,000 square feet, with a greenhouse at Purdue Research Park, plus 80 acres of prime farmland in West Lafayette with two additional greenhouses. Corn, soybeans and wheat are the focus now, with other crops within its sights in the future. 

Hoosiers may not realize that these staple crops provide products that are essential for everyday life, way beyond corn syrup, tofu and bread. Components within the corn plant are found in baby food, beer, bricks, cleansers, coated aspirin, cosmetics, diapers, gas and oil, glues, hand soap, jelly beans, matches, paint and varnish, pharmaceuticals, toothpaste, tires, Windex and whiskey. 

Soybean components are found in AstroTurf, paintballs, candles, chewing gum, crayons (1 acre of soybeans can produce 82,368 crayons!), fire logs, ink and wood stain. Wheat components are found in adhesives, beer, cosmetics, hair conditioners, liquid laundry detergents, moisturizers, paper and particle board. Life in America depends on these versatile plants.

The whole process begins in Cambridge with computerized models of the plant’s genetic code. Through computational design, it can go through generations of breeding in minutes. Through technology, it can make changes in the genome. What started on the computer is then created in the lab, then taken to the field for more testing and research. The West Lafayette facility specializes in making precise changes in the plant genome in the lab and regenerating those plants to test in the field. Information is continuously fed back into the process to inform the best changes to make the plant exhibit the desired characteristics that are valuable to farmers. This method significantly speeds up the traditional plant breeding process because farmers don’t have to wait a season to gain knowledge. 

Inari has a third facility in Ghent, Belgium, that specializes in plant research. It is closely affiliated with Ghent University and the VIB life sciences research institute. Altogether, the company employs 160 people. The West Lafayette location has 70 employees and anticipates hiring more in the next three to five years. Inari is a female-friendly company with a female CEO, Trivisvavet, and a balanced leadership team. 

“We are grateful to Purdue President Mitch Daniels and Dean of Agriculture Karen Plaut for their support,” Trivisvavet says. “They have been very helpful, as has the entire community.” Inari hosts Purdue graduate courses for tours and career discussions and science-focused open houses at one of its Purdue Research Park facilities. On their own time, several Inari employees go to local schools to share science and technology with kindergarteners through high schoolers. Inari’s goal is not just to occupy space in the region but also to be an integrated, contributing part of the community. 

“I am very excited about the Inari employees in West Lafayette, their experience, commitment and desire to make an impact in agriculture,” says Trivisvavet.  “I’m extremely encouraged by the positive people committed to the company, the industry, and the community.”

BY ANGELA K. ROBERTS

PHOTOS BY CHRISTINE PETKOV

Crown Point, Indiana, native Elizabeth Dimos was pursuing a career in front-of-the-house hospitality management. Andrew Whittaker, who hailed from a small town outside Canterbury, England, was passionate about the culinary arts.

When they met in 1999 during a graduate accounting class at Purdue University, the two discovered that while their career aspirations varied, they shared a common interest in serving others. Twenty years later, they opened the Whittaker Inn in West Lafayette. 

Tucked away on a wooded drive near State Road 43, the 25-acre property is equal parts boutique hotel and bed and breakfast, a suburban retreat just slightly down a road less traveled. As Andrew noted during the inn’s groundbreaking ceremony in 2019, “What’s not to love about this site? The Whittaker is just so secluded from everything, yet so close to Purdue University and downtown Lafayette.”

Seven years in the planning, the Whittaker Inn is now thriving as what the couple calls a “Midwestern oasis” and what reviewers have described on Facebook as “spacious, romantic and comfortable;” “top-notch” and “outstanding.” 

The root of their careers and relationship

After Elizabeth completed her bachelor’s degree and Andrew completed his master’s, both from Purdue’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, they each found jobs on the East Coast. Andrew worked in food and beverage finance in New York city properties, beginning with The Waldorf Astoria. Elizabeth started in front office management, then transitioned into revenue management for several different hotels and chains, including five years in Times Square properties.

While they both enjoyed successful careers, by 2012, they were ready for a change. The couple had a long talk about their future while staying at a B&B in Connecticut and decided they had strayed too far from the service side of the hospitality industry. 

When they dreamed up the idea of an inn, it was only natural that they return to the root of both their careers and their relationship: Greater Lafayette. 

After nearly a year of searching, the Whittakers discovered the wooded site where deer grazed and blue herons bred. Located near both I-65 and Purdue, it was an ideal location for football weekends, corporate retreats and romantic getaways. In 2018, they broke ground, and in May 2019, the red-roofed, yellow farmhouse-style inn opened for business. 

A family affair

Just as a travel-loving family furnishes its home with objects from around the world, the Whittakers have outfitted their establishment with 15 themed rooms and suites, each representing a city, region or country. Every continent except Antarctica is represented.

“Andrew and I have always had a great passion for travel and learning about different cultures and the perspective you gain while traveling,” Elizabeth says. “We chose the destinations for each of the rooms based on places we have been to, places we have family ties to, and places we would like to go to someday.” 

Instead of room numbers outside each door, small placards depict the flag of the room’s representative country. Inside, the theme carries through in furnishings and decor. In the Tuscany Room, named after the region of Italy known for its terra cotta villas and sunflower fields, the contemporary bed is adorned with a quilted sunflower-themed scarf made by Elizabeth’s mother. The flowers also sprout from wall art and from the crocheted blanket draped over a chair in the sitting room. The coffee table holds books about Vatican City and Tuscany, and a guest book invites visitors who have been to Italy to leave recommendations for future travelers. Above each nightstand is a pendant light made from Murano glass – the famed glassware that has been manufactured on a Venetian island for 1,500 years.

Similarly, the England Room features Andrew’s homeland, with a framed photo of Canterbury Cathedral and a red phone booth-styled floor statue, given to the couple by Andrew’s mom. Down the hall, looming over the Indiana-themed board room is a 500-plus pound table carved from Douglas fir into the state’s characteristic shape. Shadow boxes on the wall contain memorabilia from Elizabeth’s grandfather, P.L. Owens, the room’s namesake, who was a civil engineer, a Sagamore of the Wabash recipient and the first family member to graduate from Purdue University. 

The entire creation of the inn was a family affair. Along with many quilted pieces, Elizabeth’s mom crafted handmade soaps and crocheted washcloths for the bathrooms. She also bakes the cookies that overnight guests receive upon arrival. Elizabeth’s dad donated his pool table. Many of the Whittakers’ friends supplied original artwork. 

Despite these B&B touches, the inn looks like an upscale hotel, with a two-story gathering room and spa-like amenities such as plush bathrobes and rainfall showerheads. Elizabeth says that she and Andrew planned this juxtaposition of the comfortable and the chic from the beginning, borrowing the best elements from the various places they’ve stayed. Even the check-in is designed to evoke a feeling of comfort; instead of standing behind a desk, Elizabeth registers her guests with an electronic tablet. 

Globally inspired cuisine

Elizabeth’s dad came from Greece, and his ancestry is reflected not only in the Greece Room with its characteristic blue-and-white decor, but also in many of the recipes that chef Andrew cooks up in their kitchen. Among them: a mouth-watering white rice cooked in butter and chicken broth; a roasted fingerling potato salad lightly tossed with olive oil; and the rustic Greek Village Salad, a lettuce-free concoction of tomatoes, peppers, olives and feta. 

Other globally inspired dishes include beer-battered fish and chips, served with both tartar sauce and malt vinegar; and Mojito chicken, marinated in mint, rum, lime and sugar. Andrew incorporates locally sourced ingredients into dishes whenever possible. 

The house specialty is Andrew’s crab cakes. “He has spent several years perfecting the recipe, and it has become a fan favorite,” Elizabeth says. 

The Whittaker Kitchen is open for breakfast only to overnight guests, but to everyone for dinner on select evenings. The 690-square-foot dining room seats up to 50, with additional seating on the patio.

Adapting to changing market factors

Equipped with flat screen TVs and conference call capabilities, the inn can be rented out for corporate retreats, business gatherings and family reunions. The dining room itself can also be used for everything from 50th anniversary celebrations to a private English afternoon tea for 7-24 of your closest friends. Event space has been more limited, of course, during the pandemic. 

Despite the challenges of COVID-19, Elizabeth says she and Andrew were fortunate that their inn opened nine months before the pandemic hit. In recent months, they have adapted their approach in response to changing market factors. 

When restaurants were closed by Indiana executive order, the couple put together a to-go menu. Pickups were still available in early September, even though the patio and dining room had both reopened. 

“Carryout literally and figuratively carried us through the pandemic shutdown. It has been very well received by the community, as they wanted a way to continue to support us and the Whittaker while travel was all but shut down except for essential travel,” Elizabeth says. “Andrew’s culinary offerings have always been a big draw to the inn.” 

BY ANGELA K. ROBERTS

Sporting stained concrete floors, exposed brick, glass-walled conference rooms, and a mixture of bar stools and table seating, MatchBOX Coworking Studio is, as its website says, a “coffee shop mashed up with an office park in an old garage.” It’s also a cross between an open office rental space, a maker studio and a business incubator, all designed to grow Greater Lafayette’s entrepreneurial economy.

Launched in 2014 in an old car repair shop west of downtown Lafayette’s Tippecanoe County Public Library, MBX boasts 11,000 square feet with reserved and open office spaces, conference rooms and a lot of support for its members, including training and networking opportunities. 

“MBX offers a pretty unique vibe and environment for our members,” says Amanda Findlay, MatchBOX managing director. “We also offer members access to the MBX Maker LAB, with laser cutters, 3D printers, and tools and kits for making, prototyping and small-scale manufacturing.”

MatchBOX has evolved over the last six years, says Jason Tennenhouse, executive director. “When we opened the doors, we didn’t know if anyone would come, so at the beginning we were just trying to cast a wide net and educate and survive — classic startup style,” Tennenhouse says. “We have been increasing our acceleration work and productivity steadily since then, and doing some pretty amazing things I think a lot of people don’t realize are happening in Lafayette.”

Making key connections

MBX may still be a best-kept secret among some locals, but not Kirsten Serrano, who co-owns La Scala Italian Restaurant in downtown Lafayette and joined the studio three years ago. “I needed to have a place where I could concentrate on finishing school – nutrition – and do some political advocacy work,” says Serrano, who was pursuing a degree from Bauman College at the time. 

As part of her internship, Serrano conducted a series of nutrition workshops in MatchBOX conference rooms. After graduation, she began seeing clients in the facility. Since then, her nutrition business, Small Wonder Food, has expanded beyond consultations. In 2018, she launched the Food Smarts podcast with local marketing strategist Amie Mullikin. In mid-2020, she published the book “Eat to Your Advantage.” 

MBX has been instrumental in that growth, Serrano says. 

“I have made many key connections at MatchBOX, from my podcast partner to my book publisher and even the person who built my new membership site. I have also attended many great workshops and learning events,” she says. “The staff is just incredible. Every one of them has inspired me or connected me in some way or another.”

A place for quirky misfits

Seasoned entrepreneur Mikel Berger says that MatchBOX is the kind of place that he wished had existed when he started his first company, DelMar Software Development. “I worked from home at first, and it felt like a big leap to sign a one-year or multi-year lease, especially when I occasionally needed another office,” says Berger, a co-founder of MBX. 

Berger’s latest project is Little Engine Ventures, a private investment partnership he started in 2016 with fellow MBX member Daryl Starr. 

Starr, the founder and former CEO of an agricultural company, joined the coworking studio before it officially opened. While Little Engine Ventures has a private office a few blocks away, both men retain memberships at MBX. 

“My membership at MatchBOX has secured several partnerships during the founding phase of Little Engine Ventures. As many members can attest, an invite to meet a prospective person at MatchBOX has a cool factor that makes working with a scrappy startup somewhat less crazy, and more fun,” he says. 

Starr describes MBX members as “quirky and great.” Berger echoes those thoughts, adding, “We at MatchBOX like to think of ourselves as the right kind of misfits. We’re like the junk drawer of economic development projects. Isn’t all the cool stuff that you don’t exactly know where to put in your junk drawer?”

Integrating into Greater Lafayette

Indianapolis transplant Polly Barks says that MatchBOX helped her integrate into Greater Lafayette when she moved here in 2017. Barks, who had launched the website PollyBarks.com while living in Indy, was in the early stages of developing a zero-waste education and consulting business. After taking a five-week course for new and pivoting entrepreneurs, she joined the studio. She now supplements her freelance income as part-time marketing manager for MBX. 

“Doing 100 percent freelance work meant I was constantly at home — too often that meant I was unfocused, and to be honest, probably watching YouTube videos. It was really nice to have a space so I could separate my work life from my home life,” Barks says. “I also really enjoyed the workshops since I could learn — for free — from other members or outside speakers.”

Two other newcomers to Lafayette, Tyler Knochel and Steven Sauder, participated in the first iteration of MBX’s Acceleration Program. Now, they use their MatchBOX membership for meeting with clients of their web development and digital strategy business, HustleFish. 

“The ability to meet with clients in a professional space instead of at a coffee shop or our living room — we wouldn’t do that — is invaluable to us. Beyond that, the community has been huge,” Knochel says. “We’ve been able to do better work thanks to MatchBOX, we’ve gotten new clients thanks to MatchBOX, we’ve clarified our business model thanks to MatchBOX, we’ve been more creative and had better ideas thanks to MatchBOX, we’ve drunk gallons and gallons of coffee thanks to MatchBOX. We have benefited from MatchBOX in so many ways, but ultimately the most important thing MatchBOX provides is community.” 

Supporting businesses in what’s next

Much like the Great Recession of 2008, which sparked the coworking movement in the United States, the first half of 2020 has already been a time of economic upheaval. Findlay notes that some MBX members have been deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including restaurateurs and professionals who rely on in-person instruction. To respond, MatchBOX staff have added educational programs on concepts such as pivoting and product expansion.

They’ve also shifted to online instructional models. In early March, when cities and states began issuing stay-at-home orders, MBX staff decided to take their Entrepreneur Development Acceleration program online and open applications to participants across the state. The program yielded a record number of applicants, which Findlay attributes to layoffs, furloughs and uncertainty in the job market. The 12-week Venture Development summer acceleration program also was offered online this year.

“Times of crisis and uncertainty are ripe for innovation. When 9 to 5 jobs are threatened by furloughs, or the future of certain industries are unknown, or consumer behaviors shift significantly, people tend to embrace their entrepreneurial ideas or freelancing talents a bit more,” Findlay says. 

“Greater Lafayette will need coworking communities, workshops and acceleration programming now more than ever. Small businesses will need community support, new founders will need guidance. I think MatchBOX is positioned to be a valuable resource for our members and our community businesses as we move forward. We’re really focused on being there for them, for supporting them in what’s next.”

BY KEN THOMPSON

Decades after his parents lived in Married Student Housing while attending Purdue University, Rich Michal is playing a role in a “once in a century” project that will turn the complex into a memory.

Michal, vice president of the Purdue Research Foundation, is excited to talk about Provenance, part of the $1.2 billion, long-term Discovery Park District project that will transform the west side of campus with the creation of a walkable urban neighborhood. 

Provenance is the latest offshoot of the State Street Project, a combined effort of Purdue and the city of West Lafayette. The $120 million project has, during the past four years, changed traffic patterns from the Wabash River, through downtown West Lafayette and Purdue University out to U.S. 231. Purdue President Mitch Daniels saw an opportunity for the Discovery Park District to take advantage of the State Street work to find industry that would be a good fit with the university’s strengths and then 

build housing and amenities for those workers.

“The original genesis was to help finance and help pay for that State Street investment but the bigger picture is this is an opportunity to attract the best student minds and faculty and to retain some of those,” Michal says. ”We’ve got 40,000 students a year, and the majority of those are gradually moving elsewhere. We want to give them a reason to stay in West Lafayette. It’s about providing that live, work, learn, play opportunity.

“Saab and Schweitzer (Engineering Laboratory) love the fact we’re going to have those homes right there where folks can ride their bikes to work in addition to all the educational, cultural and athletic opportunities the university provides.”

Old Town Design Group of Carmel has come up with a plan that will feature a combination of 500 single-family detached homes, townhomes and apartments. Justin Moffett, a partner of Old Town, says the design will hearken back to early 1900s homes with the majority of home lots having garage access through alleys. That eliminates front driveways and enhances the walkability of the neighborhood.

“They’ve done similar projects in midtown Carmel and we loved their product,” Michal says. “They are more of a traditional looking craftsman-style home. They do the front porches and the alley-loaded garages. We felt like their semi-custom product was more appealing and more original.”

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Old Town’s construction plans remain on schedule to begin this summer according to Erin Easter, director of development for the city of West Lafayette. Old Town hopes to have a model home ready by February and begin selling lots this fall.

“This is the first new neighborhood in the city limits in quite some time,” Easter says. “PRF, the city and the university worked closely on the design aesthetic for the neighborhood.”

Provenance is targeting an upscale clientele with single-family homes starting in the low $400,000 range, and townhomes starting at $350,000. By spring 2021, the first families will be able to move into two- and three-story townhomes that will have a private outdoor living area and a two-car garage.

Single family detached homes will be available this spring as well, ranging in size from 1,600 to 3,536 square feet. These semi-custom homes will have the option of master bedrooms upstairs and downstairs, as well as ranch design.

By summer 2021, Old Town anticipates the completion of 142 apartments spread out over four buildings. The following year, 108 more units will be available over five buildings. Studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom units will be available.

That won’t be all of the change coming to the west side of campus.

“Between the Aerospace District and Discovery Park District, we anticipate a lot of growth in the southwest side of the city,” Easter says. “Businesses typically follow residents, so once we have a residential base, you will start to see other amenities popping up in the area,” Easter says. 

Michal hopes those amenities include health care and a large grocery store, which could lead to the end of another long-standing complex.

“What I’m hoping is two things: one, work with the university to put in a micro-hospital or health care facility,” he says. “The other thing … we’d love to get a 20-30,000-square-foot grocery right there off the corner of State and McCormick. With Purdue and access to students, plus 500 rooftops, we think our chances of landing a grocery will increase substantially.

“Purdue West has been a great facility. It was a great complex and it’s helped us generate a lot of revenue over its lifetime. But it’s old, tired and there may be a better use of the land there. We’d love to have a health care facility there and right across the street, just south of Hort Park, have a grocery and some retail. And all of that will help us attract more students, staff, faculty and corporations.”

Saab, which will be manufacturing military training aircraft, is the latest corporation to buy into the long-term vision. It won’t be the last in Purdue’s effort to retain its best and brightest.

“There are folks working right now with the PRF and the university to try to attract similar businesses to Saab, aerospace and aviation companies,” Michal says. “We’ve got a great partnership with Rolls Royce. We’re also trying to re-establish a commercial service with the airport. We’re hopeful on that.

“We’re trying to help promote and support the university as it changes the world through its faculty, students and technology. We’re attracting corporations here to help them in recruiting our students and tapping into our research institutions. We want them to come here, establish roots and plant a flag on campus.”

Years from now, Michal envisions Provenance being a desirable place to live like another West Lafayette neighborhood.

“Look at Hills and Dales and how beautiful a neighborhood that is,” Michal says. “Something like that.” 

BY HANNAH HARPER

PHOTOS BY CHRISTINE PETKOV

When Lafayette native Brittany Whitenack started making candles in her spare time, she had no idea that in five years, she would be the founder and CEO of a thriving company on the verge of expansion. In fact, she didn’t even anticipate having more than five employees. But with support from the community (in person and online) and a lot of hard work, Antique Candle Co. has grown to 34 employees who develop, market, make and ship candles all over the United States and Canada.

A graduate of McCutcheon High School and the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University, Whitenack has always loved candles. 

“I would always buy a candle when I went to the grocery store,” she says. 

As a young professional, she bought a $100 candle-making kit as a creative outlet and admits that her first few batches of candles weren’t quite the high-quality products she sells today. “It’s as much a science as an art,” she explains. “I just kept making them and getting better and better.” 

Once she had honed her candle-making skills, she used the business skills she’d learned at Purdue to create a five-year plan for a company; she reached her five-year goal in just over two years. 

“I didn’t plan on all the growth,” Whitenack says. “It just happened. We kept hiring the right people.” 

Due to exponential growth, Antique Candle Co. will be moving to a new facility, hopefully by the beginning of 2021. The company’s new home will be located at 1611 Schuyler Avenue in Lafayette in an old dairy factory built in 1950. At 10,000 square feet, the building is ideal for manufacturing and will provide Antique Candle Co. with a proper loading dock, air conditioning in the warehouse and office space. The $1 million renovations are scheduled to begin as soon as all permits are approved. 

“This new home for the business — right here in Lafayette — will be the very first space that’s all ours, built just for us with everything we need so we can continue to grow in the town we love,” says Jaycie Tierney, brand manager for Antique Candle Co. 

Tierney began as a part-time candle maker while still a student at Purdue. Her part-time job became a full-time job after graduation, and she now has the opportunity to use her degree working for a company she loves. 

“It has been a blessing to grow with this company and work with some of the most kind-hearted people I’ve ever had the pleasure to be friends with,” she says. 

“This journey has made me fully understand the importance of supporting small businesses and the hardworking individuals behind the scenes.”

According to Whitenack, the employees at Antique Candle Co. are a constant source of the company’s success. 

“Every single employee here, maybe their job isn’t to make candles, but they know how to make a candle,” she says.  “They know the process. They know the product in and out. This helps with customer experience, social media, all marketing.”

One of Whitenack’s long-time employees is customer service specialist Ed McQuinn. 

“I was Brittany’s first employee, so I have seen us manually stamping a few labels, and making candles on a stove, all the way to where we are now making thousands of candles every day,” he says. 

The thousands of soy candles are each imprinted with a label that says “Made in Lafayette, IN” and include scents such as clean cotton, lavender vanilla, momma’s kitchen and many seasonal scents, including tree farm and pineapple coconut. Antique Candle Co. candles are sold in 400 retail locations in the United States and Canada, including The Homestead in West Lafayette. 

Now entering its sixth year, Antique Candle Co. has seen much success through wholesale and retail business.   

When looking toward the future, McQuinn says he “can’t wait to see what we will do in regards to wholesale, and branching into other markets.” 

Whitenack also attributes a large part of the company’s growth to e-commerce and direct marketing through social media platforms. Antique Candle Co. has a robust Instagram presence where employees post to stories at least 10 times a day to help build relationships with customers. 

“As an e-commerce business and a small business, creating those relationships is so important when we can’t always see everyone face-to-face,” Tierney says. “Despite not meeting most of them in person, many friends get to know our team as individuals through Instagram and other social media.”

And the company treats the relationships they build with candle friends, their customers and social media followers, like those they have with friends they know in their personal lives. 

“At Antique Candle Co., we cherish our community so much and always have their interests in our hearts,” explains Tierney. “Without them, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

The relational approach to business seems to correlate with Antique Candle Co.’s growth. According to Whitenack, the company has seen the most e-commerce growth in the years where their followers have grown on social media. 

“Our social media is engaging and genuine,” she says. 

Even as many retailers have been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Antique Candle Co. has remained true to the value it places on taking care of employees by paying employees throughout the pandemic. The company makes sure that paying employees well is factored into its business plan. 

“I always knew I wanted to pay our employees well,” says Whitenack. “Paying good employees well creates a higher quality product and better work environment.” 

That work environment is something Whitenack and Antique Candle Co. employees hold in high regard.  

“The best part of owning a business is cultivating a work culture that I would want to work in,” she says. 

As Antique Candle Co. prepares to renovate and eventually move into its new space, it will continue to value its employees, customers and quality in its products as the business grows and shines light on the members of the Lafayette community who work hard and find joy in sharing their candle-making talents.

BY CINDY GERLACH

PHOTO BY CHRISTINE PETKOV

Sure, Isaac Childres played some board games as a kid — who didn’t? He may have played games like Sorry or Clue. He even has memories of playing some of these games by himself.

“I have vivid memories of playing Monopoly by myself, moving all the different characters,” he recalls. 

“I was very bored as a child.”

But neither those simple activities, nor his foray into high school board games, could have foretold his future in games. 

Childres is the mastermind behind the popular board game Gloomhaven, described on the game’s official website as “Euro-inspired tactical combat in an evolving campaign.” The game involves collaboration in order to clear out dungeons and ruins in this corner of the world; the game evolves based on players’ decisions and their skills, which change as the game progresses. It has swept the market by storm, with rave reviews from users on sites such as boardgamegeek.com

It might be worth mentioning, too, that prior to designing and developing this game, Childres had another sideline as a career option; he had a few opportunities afforded him when he finished up his doctorate in physics at Purdue University. 

So where did this passion come from? Because it was not instilled in him by weekends playing Dungeons and Dragons when he was in high school, as so many teenagers do. Some kids are self-proclaimed board game nerds; Childres was not really one of those kids.

Growing up in California, Childres did play — some — but it wasn’t his primary hobby. His friends were the ones with the characters and the dice, though Childres may have managed a dungeon or two. 

“My parents were pretty conservative,” he says. “It took some convincing.”

It was during his time at Purdue that Childres became interested in role-playing games. He joined a group that met at the Purdue Memorial Union on Thursday nights, opening his eyes to this world of games.

After spending time with friends playing these sorts of games, he began to think about what it might be like to create his own game. 

“I started thinking about my ideal board game,” he says. “It started as a challenge — can I develop a board game?”

As it turns out, the short answer was yes. The product of his first attempt was a game called Forge War, which its website describes as a game where players are blacksmiths in a kingdom “rife with marauding harpies, cursed dungeons and fire-breathing dragons.” Players must gather ore from mines and create weapons, which they will use on quests. 

Childres launched a Kickstarter campaign, a crowd-funding platform that helps fund creative projects. The game took a fair amount of work — perhaps more work than he had first imagined, as it went through several iterations. It took lots of preparation, and he realized at one point that he would need to hire out the art and design work.  

“How hard can cards be?” he laughs now, recalling his mindset when he started — before he brought in the pros.  

And yet, in the meantime, he still finished his doctorate, knowing that he might not end up using that degree. But he also knew it was something to fall back on. 

“My philosophy was this is going to be a degree that says that I’m smart,” he says; he knew he could always find a job if he needed to. 

When he ventured out with that first attempt into game design, he knew it was a risk. But he wanted to give it a try. He and his wife had that difficult conversation. His first game netted a profit, but not enough to live on.

“Let’s do this for a year, see if I can be successful at it,” he told her. “Then I kind of hit the lottery and came out with the perfect game at the perfect time.”

Board games are nothing new; evidence of prehistoric board games predate the written word. Some games come and go; others — games like Clue, Yahtzee, Monopoly and Risk — have been around for the better part of the last century. These mass-market games are widely popular and commercially successful, available in every big box store. 

But thousands of board games are released each year to more niche markets. These games often require hours to play and have elaborate, complex rules and procedures. Dungeons and Dragons was one of the early examples of these role-playing games, popular among teenagers ever since. 

More complex games, adventures that take five to six hours to play, have become more commercially successful over the past several years; the popularity of mass-market games like Catan and its offshoots show that the market is not yet saturated.

Yet dig deeper, and there are dozens of possibilities, games with elaborate set-ups and back stories. 

“Sometimes you feel like you are in your own secret society,” Childres says. 

After his first attempt, he decided to try again. The result was Gloomhaven, a board game that has been met with glowing reviews. The goal, Childres says, was to create a game that was self-contained, one where users would not have to continually purchase expansion packs in order to continue playing. 

“I don’t like that business model, kind of nickel and diming your customers,” he says. 

The first Kickstarter raised $400,000; his second Kickstarter, three years ago, raised $4 million in just 30 minutes. Clearly, Childres was onto something.

“It’s been a lot more successful than I ever anticipated.”

In the meantime, he lives a quiet life in his Lafayette home with his wife, who is finishing up her degree in creative writing at Purdue. He is working on several other ideas for board games, playing with ideas, seeing what comes of them. 

Childres has been known to pop into Merlin’s Beard, a local shop for board game aficionados, and he still visits the Thursday night group at the Union. These days, the group is made up of mostly Purdue students, with few of his friends still in town. But that’s OK, he says; the group will change, with new people coming and going. 

As will he. When his wife finishes her degree, Childres suspects they, too, will move on from Lafayette. They’ll find a new place to call home, and he’ll find another board gaming group. 

For now, he is pleased with the success of Gloomhaven, happy that he can take his hobby, his passion, and share them with others. 

“It’s been the best job I could imagine,” he says. “I can’t imagine a better fit for me, doing something I love.”

BY RADONNA FIORINI

PHOTOS PROVIDED

They build the roads. They construct the houses. They care for the elderly. They put out fires. They keep your car running. They are the thousands of Tippecanoe County residents who make a living in industry and trade professions, and there is a growing need for more of them.

Current economic drivers make it critical for the community to attract and keep carpenters, bricklayers, electricians, plumbers and others in the construction and building trades, says Stephen Snyder, president of the Tippecanoe Building Trades Council, which represents 17 trade associations and unions in nine central Indiana counties.

And many students are suited for careers in such fields as culinary arts, information technology or nursing that require technical training or certification, but they may not be aware of the available options, says Miranda Hutcheson, director of Career and Technical Education at the new Greater Lafayette Career Academy. 

Trades and technical jobs are plentiful and critical to any community’s economic health and Snyder and Hutcheson’s organizations, in cooperation with others, are creating opportunities for students to explore different career paths and have hands-on experience by the time they graduate from high school. 

Some students want to get first-hand experience before committing to a university program, and others want to get into the work force as soon as possible, says Hutcheson. Apprenticeships through the trades council and classes and training through the career academy provide those opportunities, and come at a critical time.

A “perfect storm” of circumstances has led to the current need and cooperative push to interest students in such careers, Snyder says: 

• The population is aging, and many skilled professionals such as plumbers, roofers and sheet metal workers are retiring.

• The construction market is hot and in need of skilled workers.

• Families and students are increasingly concerned about the cost of a college education and paying back student loans. 

“A lot of parents, students and high school counselors are excited about our apprenticeship programs that will lead to a good job without a mountain of debt,” says Snyder. Students willing to work hard can complete a three- or four-year apprenticeship and get a job that pays a living wage, allowing them to buy a home and raise a family.

And students can get a leg up on an undergraduate degree by taking college-level courses for free through the career academy while still in high school, says Hutcheson. She estimates that college-bound students in some fields can save from a few hundred dollars to $10,000 in university tuition costs, and the academy allows students to explore different careers before committing to a course of study after high school.

The first phase of the academy opened last August in the former Lafayette Life Insurance building on South 18th Street in Lafayette. Indiana has long been home to such career centers, and local educators and industry representatives talked about opening one for several years. The pieces fell into place when the building became available and all three county school districts decided to work together to get it up and running, Hutcheson says. Snyder sits on the advisory board of the career academy, as do a number of other local industry partners who help review community needs and determine what programs are offered.

There are 187 students from four local public high schools currently enrolled in half-day academy programs. These juniors and seniors attend regular classes at their schools in the morning and are bused to the academy each afternoon for specialized training. Training in health science, auto service technology, cosmetology, engineering/manufacturing, communications and TV/radio, construction/architecture, culinary arts, information technology, education and public safety currently is offered. 

Some also are placed in the community and get hands-on training with local businesses in such areas as civil engineering, electrical contracting, clinical positions and building and contracting. While the academy is developing lab space for technical training, community partners provide a number of valuable resources, Hutcheson says. For example, students interested in firefighting are able to use the county fire training facility.

“These kids are my trailblazers,” says Hutcheson. “Scheduling is a challenge, but these students can pick up 17 dual credits and three industry certifications,” through the academy before leaving high school. 

Lamont Johnson and Tucker Bogue are two of those trailblazers. Both 18 and seniors at West Lafayette High School, the young men will graduate in May with a high school diploma and a Certified Nursing Assistant certificate, after passing the state certification test. They hope to continue their education and become physical therapists.

“I knew I wanted to help people since I was little,” Johnson says. “I found out about this from my school counselor who knew what I wanted to do in college. Tucker and I have similar passions.”

Bogue became interested in physical therapy after suffering a series of knee injuries playing basketball in junior and senior high and going through rehab. 

“I was 100 percent sure what I wanted to do with my life, but (the academy program) boosted my confidence and ignited what was already there,” says Bogue. “Taking these courses in high school gives you a different outlook earlier in life.”

As part of the program, Johnson, Bogue and more than 25 other students interested in health sciences spend several hours a week at the Indiana Veterans Home. They help the residents with small tasks, visit with them and help out in other ways. They also are learning about the different areas of service at the home, such as the pharmacy and rehabilitation programs. 

“I would never have spent this much time with older people otherwise,” Johnson says. “I’m really learning to respect them and getting to know their unique personalities. We’re helping people who served our country.”

Going to the academy has meant some sacrifice for these young men. While they still have morning classes at WLHS, each afternoon is spent at the academy or the Veterans Home, and they miss eating lunch with friends and hanging out after school.

“But the trade-off is worth it,” says Bogue. “If you have any hunch about what you want to do (after high school) just act on it. I recommend it to anyone interested in these courses.”

The Tippecanoe Building Trades Council also is committed to encouraging the exploration of a career in the trades, says Snyder. Last summer the council and 10 professional trade associations sponsored a free, multi-week summer construction camp for anyone 14 and older. 

Each day participants worked alongside a skilled professional on such tasks as operating heavy equipment, laying brick, welding, finishing cement, installing drywall and painting. Some students signed up for multiple weeks and explored a number of careers. Free lunch and appropriate protective gear is provided, as well. The expo will be offered again this June and July. 

The council also cooperates with local agencies such as the United Way of Greater Lafayette, Greater Lafayette Commerce and Region 4 Work Force Development Board. The promotion of 14 apprenticeship programs offered by area trade associations and unions also is a priority. Those apprenticeship classes are accredited by Ivy Tech Community College and taught at local facilities designed for the specific trade. 

“We have first-rate training facilities for these three- to four-year apprenticeships that include benefits,” and hands-on training, says Snyder. “No one wants to talk about working hard and doing anything but getting a college degree, meanwhile the infrastructure is crumbling. We provide the practical end of things,” he says, adding that without skilled trades and construction workers, a community’s roads will fall into disrepair, new homes won’t be built, buildings will not be maintained and the tools required to keep a community thriving will be missing. 

The council is committed to help train a competent, drug-free, skilled, local workforce to Tippecanoe County businesses and to encourage those professional trades people to be actively involved in community life, Snyder says. 

Josh Kiger, who owns a small home renovation company with his wife, Sarah, agrees that the availability of reliable workers is critical to his success. The Kigers opened New View two years ago and specialize in window, door and garage door installation and repair, and general home renovation. While Josh Kiger had experience in those areas before starting the company, he and Sarah obtained some certifications to make sure they could offer their customers the best service possible. 

The family-owned company employs two people in the winter when demand slows down and five people as the weather warms and outdoor work picks up. The Kigers emphasize clear communication with each of their clients and work to maintain a good relationship throughout each project, Josh Kiger says. But finding quality employees has been a challenge.

“It’s been really difficult,” he says. “Even finding people who are teachable has been hard. We can teach anyone if they’re willing, if they’ll make themselves presentable. Really we’re looking for the simple things.”

Such concerns have been voiced by other business owners, says Hutcheson, and local educators are offering a new certification program to help students learn life skills that will help lead to success in any career.

The Governor’s Work Ethic Certificate (GWEC) program is a state initiative run by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, says Jay Davis, assistant director/career counselor at the Greater Lafayette Career Academy. 

The program, open to all juniors and seniors, began in Tippecanoe County last fall and more than 320 students signed up. A trial run of the program in 2018-19 yielded 45 students who earned the GWEC, he says. Students must become competent in nine academic and work-related areas. Some are subjective — such as persistence, respectfulness and dependability. Some are objective — such as grade point average, few disciplinary issues and meeting all graduation requirements. Students also must complete six hours of community service.

“The GWEC looks great on resumes and job applications and can increase (a student’s) chance of getting job interviews and job opportunities,” Davis says.

The program’s stated goals include:

 • Providing students with an understanding of necessary skills that will help make them employable for in-demand jobs and giving them opportunities to demonstrate those skills while in high school.

• Providing local employers with potential workers who understand the values and importance of responsibility and perseverance in the workplace.

A community advisory council collaborates with local school districts to maintain the program and reward students who obtain the certificate. For example, cooperating businesses might guarantee job interviews to students with the certificate or provide an incentive such as professional mentoring and possible reimbursement of college tuition, according to the program website. 

“The response from the community has been positive to this point,” says Davis. “I believe a realistic goal would be to eventually involve as many as 100 community partners for the GWEC program in Tippecanoe County.”

Interested in any of these programs or opportunities? Learn more at:
• Work Ethic Certificate: glcareeracademy.com/work-ethic-certification
• Greater Lafayette Career Academy: glcareeracademy.com
• Tippecanoe Building Trades Council: unionsbuilditbetter.com
• New View: newview-gdw.com

BY ANGELA K. ROBERTS
PHOTOS PROVIDED BY SUBARU OF INDIANA AUTOMOTIVE

In 1994, Laurel, Mississippi, native Allen Hodge — who had relocated with his young bride back to her hometown of West Lafayette, Indiana — took a job at a burgeoning automotive factory on the outskirts of Dayton, Indiana. Twenty-five years later, just as Subaru of Indiana Automotive was celebrating the production of it’s 4 millionth Subaru vehicle, Allen’s son, Jon Hodge, followed in his footsteps by stepping onto the 820-acre campus for the first time as a contract worker.

“It was a combination of planning for my future and accounting for my needs at the time. I wanted a job that paid well and I could make a career out of,” says the 22-year-old Hodge, who works for CTI Personnel as a materials handler, delivering parts to the line for his fellow associates to attach to cars.

The young Hodge says that when his number comes up, SIA will transition him from a temporary job to a permanent one. That may happen sooner than he originally anticipated, given the plant’s recent announcement. In February, SIA released plans to invest $158 million in a new service parts facility and transmission assembly shop, which together will generate 350 new jobs for Greater Lafayette. Construction will begin this summer on the service parts facility, a stand-alone building, and the transmission assembly shop, an addition to the plant. “We’re proud to continue investing in Indiana,” says Scott Brand, senior vice president of administration and quality.

Ramping up production

For years now, local auto dealer and advertising icon Bob Rohrman has urged Greater Lafayette television viewers to “Buy Subaru and keep Lafayette driving.” The tagline has a lot of truth behind it: SIA is woven into the community’s fabric, churning out cars, jobs, customers and community service at a time when some automobile manufacturers are struggling to keep the lights on.

The Lafayette plant is Subaru’s only manufacturing facility outside of Asia and currently employs more than 6,000 associates, of which more than 5,000 work in production. When the plant opened in 1989, associates built the Subaru Legacy and Isuzu Pick-up. In the years that followed, SIA continued to produce Subaru models in addition to other vehicles, including the Isuzu Rodeo, Honda Passport and Toyota Camry.

Since June 2016, the plant has exclusively produced Subaru vehicles. Current cars rolling off the assembly line here are the Ascent, Impreza, Legacy and Outback models for North America.

SIA executives project that the plant will build 410,000 cars over the next year. Production levels, in fact, have tripled over the last 10 years, says Brand, and the announced expansion will help the company meet increased customer demand.

Loyal customers

When it comes to car buying, loyalty is key, according to the data analytics firm J.D. Power and Associates: Local drivers will return to buy or lease from the same manufacturer and will recommend the brand to friends and family members.

In the firm’s first-ever loyalty survey in 2019, Subaru ranked highest among mass market brands — and highest overall — with a loyalty rate of 61.5 percent, edging out even the highest-ranked luxury car, Lexus, which topped out at 47.6 percent.

Loyalty and popularity ratings underscore the support of local Subaru drivers like Drew Hallett, a web programmer at Purdue University who shares a Forester with his wife. “It was the best value midsize SUV and seemed to have the most spacious interior,” Hallett says of the car, which they purchased as a pre-owned vehicle.

Hallett, who recommended the Subaru Ascent to his parents when they were car-shopping recently, says he’s had “zero problems” with his SUV: “No single car can do it all, but the Forester comes close.”

For Purdue University graphic designer Sarah Anderson, who had a toddler when she purchased her Forester several years ago, safety was her top priority. “I had done a lot of research and narrowed it down to two options that I really liked,” she says. “We ended up going with the Subaru Forester because of the local reputation and resale value.”

Like many Subaru drivers, Anderson says she loves her car. “I’ve only had a couple small issues, and the team at Subaru have been fabulous to work with,” she says. “It’s a dependable car that gets my family where we want to go safely — with good gas mileage.”

When it came time for her parents to replace their SUV, Anderson convinced them to purchase an Outback. Now, she says, “They even come to Lafayette for service visits.”

Safety, Environment and Community

For safety-minded buyers like Anderson, features such as adaptive cruise control and pre-collision breaking are innovations that helped the company earn top honors in Kelley Blue Book’s most-trusted brand competition every year from 2015 to 2019. That focus on safety extends to the plant floor as well. In February, SIA was recognized with a Governor’s Workplace Safety Award from the state of Indiana for a 2019 internal awareness campaign that contributed to an 80 percent reduction in slips, trips and falls from the previous. year.

Over the past 30 years, the plant also has achieved several environmental milestones. SIA was the first U.S. auto plant to become smoke-free, earn an ISO 14001 Certification for Environmental Management, be designated as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation, achieve zero landfill waste and earn an ISO 50001 Certification for Energy Management, according to Craig Koven, communications and external relations manager.

Those successes are likely routed in the strong work ethic of SIA’s employees, who undergo a stringent hiring process and rigorous training, and are governed through Kaizen, a system of continuous improvement that emphasizes personal discipline and teamwork.

Associates bring that team spirit into the community with them by volunteering with Wabash Center, the Imagination Station and other local causes. In turn, the SIA Foundation issues grants for capital projects in arts, culture, education, health and welfare in Tippecanoe County and beyond. Given that nonprofits help spur economic activity, that’s another way that SIA keeps Greater Lafayette driving.

BY CINDY GERLACH
PHOTOS PROVIDED BY TIPPECANOE ARTS FEDERATION

“Grow the arts”

It’s a simple motto — and one the Tippecanoe Arts Federation undertakes with the utmost gusto.

The Tippecanoe Arts Federation (TAF) serves as a regional arts partner, one of 11 in the state. As the center of a 14-county district, TAF is the umbrella organization and helps advocate for these 14 counties, many of which are rural, providing educational opportunities in visual, literary and performing arts, outreach programs for underserved communities and underserved youth, and funding for operational expenses for fellow arts organizations in the region.

TAF dates back to 1976, when it was determined broader support for the arts locally was needed, says Tetia Lee, TAF’s executive director. In its nascent period, TAF was actually just an arts calendar, a way to list everything that was happening in one place. 

“It was a way to support other arts organizations,” Lee says. 

As its mission and vision grew, the organization changed accordingly, supporting various types of programming. TAF found its home at the Wells Memorial Library, just north of downtown on North Street; at the time, the library was transitioning out of the building. 

The current board has adopted the simple mission statement — “It’s something short and sweet that the board members can remember,” says Lee. 

“We work within that mission,” she says. “We’re allowed to be creative, to think outside the box.”

“We can play to the resources in the community really well,” says Ann Fields Monical, TAF’s chief operating officer. 

The Regional Arts Partnership is a network of 11 regions throughout the state. Under the purview of the Indiana Arts Commission, the regional partners work to enhance the delivery of arts services and to move the decision-making closer to the community and its arts consumers. Region 4, the largest geographically, serves a population of more than 525,000 and has served in this capacity since 1997. 

And it’s a huge undertaking. With such a large geographic area, needs are widely variant, Lee says. 

“Rural counties’ needs are so much different than organizations in Tippecanoe County,” she says. 

The work focuses on engagement, education and sustainability. TAF helps groups assess their needs. But how those are addressed changes. 

Because, says Lee, every community benefits from the vitality of the arts. Whether it’s arts education, public art displays or performances that draw in tourism, the arts are vital to the survival of a community. 

TAF has more than 200 arts partners. These member organizations use TAF as their hub, as these are often small groups with no physical home — or the resources to have one — so TAF provides them with meeting space, a mailing address and help with marketing and publicity. 

“The majority of our organizations are smaller, with budgets less than $25,000 who are looking to expand,” Lee says.

Member organizations range from large groups such as the Lafayette Symphony, Carnahan Hall or the Indiana Fiddlers’ Gathering, to much smaller, more obscure groups and many individuals. Even a group of fly fishermen.

“That doesn’t sound like the arts,” says Monical. “But they make these beautiful lures.

“That tells you how much stuff is going on. So many different groups.”

One of the ways TAF is looking to the future is by the remodeling and expansion of its physical space. The nearly century-old Wells Community Cultural Center had been showing signs of age. So TAF undertook a major restoration project — a project that was handled very deliberately and thoughtfully. The timing had to be right in terms of financing the project and finding public support. It was a process that took nearly a dozen years.

The result is a stunning interior renovation of the old library. The stacks were removed to reveal an entire back wall of windows, opening up the space, allowing for a much-needed smaller performance venue, as well as updated gallery space and staff offices. 

The building’s footprint remains unchanged. But every inch of the building has been renovated, with the lower-level rooms being given the same treatment, with a full overhaul. Each of the four rooms has been redesigned with a distinct purpose — a dance studio, arts studio, recording studio, meeting room — yet each can be used for multiple purposes, to create, interact and learn. The smallest meeting room was given a wall of glass to make it feel less claustrophobic.

The state-of-the-art recording studio is a major coup. Funded by a grant issued to the Songwriters Association of Mid-North Indiana, the studio will serve as a teaching tool for both recording artists and engineers; it also will be a space for people to record projects, from interviews to podcasts to spoken word performances. It will open up opportunities for education and collaboration within the songwriting and recording community. 

The final touch to the building was when the stolen outdoor lights were returned. The bronze lights, stolen last summer and sold for scrap, were reconstructed, Monical says. A mold was  found to recreate a missing part, and the lights were completed and returned to their rightful home in front of the building, albeit with tighter security, in December.

Having more space is key to the future of TAF, Lee says. As the renovations progress — this was Phase I of a three-phase project — it will live in the space and evaluate how it works before progressing to the next steps. 

“We hope to expand,” says Lee. “What that looks like is changing.” 

Each year, TAF hosts its annual fundraiser, The Taste of Tippecanoe, which brings arts together with tastings from area restaurants. It shows off the best of the area, from food to visual art to performances of all kinds. 

TAF is instrumental in getting art to the people in the communities it serves. Currently, it oversees a variety of programs, including: 

As the umbrella organization, TAF has a broad mission and goals, as they help advocate for the benefit of public arts, for education. Every day, Lee says, they live that motto of “Grow the Arts” — in all the glorious ambiguity that wording allows.

BY JANE MCLAUGHLIN ANDERSON
PHOTOS PROVIDED BY PURDUE RESEARCH FOUNDATION

“A lot of communities claim to be focused on the needs of business, but this community proves it.”

Built so they would come, Purdue University-affiliated Discovery Park District landed Swedish-based Saab as a major aeronautic manufacturing facility in May. It’s a perfect match.

Saab, an acronym meaning Swedish Aeroplane Company Limited, has been making fighter planes since 1937 and is heavily invested in the defense and security industry. According to Saab’s website, its strategy for growth in new markets is to pursue excellence through technology, research and cooperation.

Purdue President Mitch Daniels had the vision to capitalize on Purdue’s strength in aerospace engineering research, intellectual capital and the university’s airport to create an ecosystem that would bring in industry-related businesses.

Saab will invest $37 million and hire up to 300 employees to make fuselages (the central body of an aircraft) for T-X advanced jet trainers developed by Boeing and Saab for the U.S. Air Force. Hiring will start in 2020, Job ramp-up will occur between 2021-2026.

Paul Moses, assistant vice president at Purdue Research Foundation, helps serve as matchmaker for major corporate and university partnerships. “Each company has its own reasons for wanting to engage with Purdue. Usually, it’s tied to some desired technical expertise or workforce development,” he says.

“We work to help them build bridges to the many experts on campus, our licensable intellectual property or patents, and of course, the bright young minds who will become their employees. We also help international companies and their employees assimilate into our community.”

When asked why Greater Lafayette was attractive to Saab, Moses cited that Saab appreciated that the community (Purdue, Purdue Research Foundation, and city, county and state leaders) all worked together to answers its questions, provide meaningful incentives, and helped them understand and acquire its needed workforce. Supported by the cooperation of Indiana’s pro-industry ecosystem, Saab found the perfect partners for its next chapter. As an added bonus, West Lafayette reminded Saab officials of Linköping, the Swedish city in which Saab currently does most of its airframe manufacturing.

Initially, Saab will focus on building airframes to fulfill the U.S. military contract of producing at least 351 jet trainers for the Air Force. According to a Purdue press release, Saab will also collaborate with the university to expand research and development within possible areas of sensor systems, artificial intelligence and autonomous systems. Purdue also has areas of expertise in trusted microelectronics, hypersonics and cybersecurity that Saab or other interested companies can consider employing.

“A lot of communities claim to be focused on the needs of business, but this community proves it,” Moses says. “When companies come, they feel the sincerity of our local leaders. They experience how truly collaborative we are. They see the quality of our existing workforce and our commitment to developing it further. They learn about the expertise available and the bright young minds being turned out by our world-leading educational institutions. When you combine all that with the affordability of our great quality of life, it makes our community among the most compelling of places to consider locating a business.

BY ANGELA K. ROBERTS

Lana Beck, a bright, inquisitive second-grader at Mintonye Elementary in Lafayette, was born into a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) family. Her parents are university administrators with degrees in science, and a grandfather and an uncle are biomedical engineers.

Between visits to family members’ research buildings and bedtime readings of books such as “Rosie Revere, Engineer,” Lana’s parents make a point of exposing her to all things STEM during her off-school hours. When it came time to schedule Lana for summer camp in 2019, it was only logical to mix in stints at Straight Arrow and Boiler Kids Camp with a week at Super Summer, sponsored by Purdue University’s Gifted Education Research and Resource Institute. 

As Lana and her classmates explored the theme of “Discovery through History,” examining the role of ancient civilizations on the modern world, they employed their STEM skills to develop a Mayan calendar, discover how a solar oven works, and create an aqueduct out of cardboard.

The verdict? Lana loved it. “I have wondered if it was the novelty of it, but it was certainly her favorite [of the three camps]. And she liked the other two,” says her mother, Kaethe Beck, operations director for the Purdue University Life Sciences Initiative. “She came home one day looking for us to translate her message that she wrote using hieroglyphs after they learned how to make their own paper. She was just thrilled to have a secret language and to know how paper is made.”

For several decades, the GERI program, part of Purdue’s College of Education, has provided enrichment activities for academically, creatively and artistically talented youth. Super Summer offers programming for kindergarten through fourth grade in not only STEM subjects but also social studies, art and language arts. The Summer Residential Camp has similar offerings for students in fifth through 12th grades. GERI is one of many programs in the Greater Lafayette area designed to open local students’ minds to the possibilities of STEM education, and ultimately, careers. 

A STEM-based economy

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics play a key role in our nation’s economy. According to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, employment in STEM occupations — which Pew broadly defines as including not only computer science and engineering, but also healthcare — grew from 9.7 million in 1990 to 17.3 million in 2016, outpacing the nation’s overall job growth. Those statistics are especially relevant in areas such as Greater Lafayette, where industry and healthcare reign. 

While Purdue University may be the top employer in Tippecanoe County, seven others on the top-10 list — including Subaru of Indiana Automotive Inc., Caterpillar Inc. and Wabash National Corp. — are manufacturers. The other two are IU Health Arnett Hospital and Franciscan St. Elizabeth East. Search the online want ads for the area, and you’ll find postings for engineers, factory technicians, registered nurses and certified nursing assistants, all of which require various levels of STEM skills.

“The local economy here is heavily manufacturing based, and we’re trying to address that,” says Miranda Hutcheson, director of the new Greater Lafayette Career Academy (GLCA), which opened in August in the old Lafayette Life building on 18th Street across from Lafayette Jefferson High School. “Almost every industry right now needs employees; we hear that almost every day.”

Pathways to success

GLCA, a cooperative effort that includes Lafayette School Corp., Tippecanoe School Corp. and the West Lafayette Community School Corp., is designed to prepare students for both college and careers. Students attend their home schools for a half-day either in the morning or the afternoon and spend the rest of their time at the academy. Credits at the academy count toward a diploma from their home schools. 

Local schools offer some beginning career and technical education courses, says Laurie Rinehart, director of guidance and assistant principal at Lafayette Jeff. However, GLCA is providing “more advanced courses and more advanced experiences to connect them with the next step, whether it’s the workforce or going to trade school or college,” she says. Through such programs as advanced manufacturing, computer science and nursing, academy students can earn industry certifications, dual credits or both. 

Coursework aligns with the new Graduation Pathways program, approved by the Indiana State Board of Education in 2017, in which Hoosier students create their own roadmaps to preparing for life after high school. Those pathways took effect last fall for incoming high school freshmen.

Hutcheson describes the pathways as on- and off-ramps on an interstate. “Whatever your educational attainment goal is or career goal, you can get off the ramp if needed and then get right back on if that’s what you choose,” she says. Students with industry certifications can enter the workforce immediately or spend two or four years in college before using that certification on the job. Others may work for a while, then attend college. Those who earn dual credits can go right on to college or delay their postsecondary education for a while. 

All GLCA classes are designed to be as hands-on as possible, both on- and off-campus. Aspiring medical assistants, for example, will attend labs where they learn skills such as checking vital signs, giving injections and charting patient progress. After graduation, they will complete an externship at a local healthcare facility.

Some students may discover that they don’t enjoy what they’re studying. That’s actually a valuable learning experience, Hutcheson says: “It’s a win for us if a student says, ‘This is not for me.’ We’ve eliminated that from a student’s future career options.”

STEM competence and confidence

Beyond the career academy, many other local initiatives are designed to build STEM competence and confidence. Greater Lafayette Commerce, for instance, sponsors CoderDojo, a free computer science club in which kids aged 7 to 17 learn programming from computer science professionals. Programs average 30 students at each of the two locations, says Kara Webb, workforce development director. Last fall, GLC planned to add two more locations to the monthly lineup.

GLC’s annual Manufacturing Week showcases STEM career possibilities available here in the Greater Lafayette region. More than 3,34o students signed up for last year’s event, which ran Sept. 30-Oct. 4. High school students toured manufacturers, seeing the workforce in action and learning what type of training would prepare them for industry careers. Middle schoolers attended a daylong expo, exploring stations focused on design, production, distribution and support services, such as nursing and cybersecurity.

“We highlight that manufacturing has numerous career pathways, not just production,” Webb says. Elementary students attended a half-day manufacturing awareness workshop, learning about lean manufacturing, quality, teamwork and the effect of manufacturing on people’s lives. 

Across the river at Purdue University, K-12 STEM programs abound. Purdue’s Women in Engineering offerings, for example, include after-school programs such as Imagination, Innovation, Discovery and Design (I2D2) for kindergarteners through fifth graders and Innovation to Reality (I2R) for sixth to eighth graders.

“Children are being exposed to STEM education in their formal school settings already, so what we do is really intended to be a reinforcement of that exposure,” says Beth M. Holloway, assistant dean for diversity and engagement in the College of Engineering and the Leah H. Jamieson Director of Women in Engineering. A fundamental part of WIEP’s programming is engaging current engineering students, particularly women, to serve as role models to youngsters.

Starting early

“For our programs that are targeted to seventh to 10th grades, we also do sessions for parents that address ways to encourage their child’s interest in engineering in particular, and STEM in general,” Holloway says. “Course expectations are covered there as well.”

Middle school is an ideal time to begin planning for high school, Rinehart says. In fact, she and her colleagues at Jeff are talking to eighth grade parents about the career academy so that interested students can plan their schedules accordingly. 

“They’re over there a whole half day. Not all students can do that,” Rinehart says of the GLCA students. “These conversations have to start with our kids in middle school, in eighth grade and freshman year; we have many students who want to go but can’t fit it in their schedule.”

For parents like Kaethe Beck, it’s never too early to start preparing her children for the future. “I can expose her to many different things and let her choose what interests her, reinforcing that she can explore any one of these disciplines in a capable, confident way,” she says of her daughter Lana.

And regardless of whether Lana pursues a career in STEM or in another discipline, lessons like those at Super Summer are equipping her with important life skills, Beck says. 

“I think children are inherently curious,” she explains. “It’s the what, why, how that kids always want to ask about anyway. In my mind, STEM fields address those questions in a number of ways, but most importantly, give you the tools to think critically about any type of problem you’ll encounter in life.”

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.”

BY CINDY GERLACH
PHOTOS BY CHRISTINE PETKOV

East End Grill feels right at home on Main Street, thanks to Purdue grad’s vision.

Upper Main Street in downtown Lafayette wasn’t always known as the hippest part of the block. But things change. And much of the credit must go to the neighborhood’s swankiest eatery, East End Grill. 

Located on the north side of Main Street, between 11th and 12th streets, East End occupies a building that was formerly a coffee shop and, prior to that, a health clinic. But you’d never know it — the building has been transformed, and its previous owners would likely not even recognize it. With its exposed ductwork, open ceiling, wood and metal accents, the interior is urban and chic, evocative of an urban loft. 

It’s a transformation that was all intentional, says owner Scott Trzaskus. He did a lot of research, looking into the needs and desires of the community.

“We really wanted to bring a more urban environment,” he says. “And hopefully add something to this end of the street. We have some really well-traveled people.”

Trzaskus moved to the area in the late ’80s to attend Purdue University, planning to study civil engineering. “I wanted to build bridges,” he says. But somewhere along the way, he lost interest in construction, while, at the same time, he became fascinated with his work in dining and hospitality as he worked part-time in local restaurants.  This, he decided, was where his passion lay. So, armed with a degree in hospitality and tourism management from Purdue, he set off to make his way in the world, working in high-end establishments in Houston, San Francisco, New York and Chicago, and learning everything he could.

He ended up back in the Lafayette area when he and his wife, fellow Purdue alum Erin, decided this was where they wanted to raise their family. And Trzaskus noticed immediately the possibility of opening a new eatery in downtown Lafayette — the business community would embrace it, he felt, as would Purdue.

“I always wanted to do something. I never thought it would be here, but it turns out it was,” he says. 

Teaming up with partners Bearing Point Developers — John Nagy, Pat Jarboe and Tim Balensiefer — they chose this spot on Upper Main Street, knowing it had potential. 

“We’re really happy to be on this part of the block,” he says 

Trzaskus wanted to create a space that was open to all sorts of possibilities — he didn’t want to limit the restaurant to either high-end dining or to sandwiches and beer. Instead, he focused on creating a space that is open to multiple uses — whether it’s just dropping in for drinks and snacks, a special event or burgers with the family. 

“It’s got some serious flexibility,” he says. “Whether it be a cheese reception, a wine reception or a business function, we want it to be what the guests want.”

And the space has been designed and configured to allow for this flexibility. The main dining area has standard tables that can be moved around to fit any size party, yet you’ll note they are not terribly close together, allowing for more private conversation space. The bar area has the same sorts of tables but also has a traditional bar area along with high-top tables. An area in the back can be closed off to allow for private space — perfect for either a family reunion or an off-site business gathering, complete with audio-visual hookups and a television that doubles as a screen. 

“We didn’t want to do anything that would feel dated in two years,” he says. 

The menu is designed around local, fresh ingredients. It’s seasonal; the focus is on what is fresh and full of flavor.

“We really focus on foods when they’re available,” he says, “Everything here is from scratch. Everything is produced in house.”

And proof of this commitment to fresh ingredients? The restaurant has only a refrigerator — no freezer. 

“It’s really important for us to eat seasonal foods when they’re at the height of the season and then wait for them to come back next year,” says executive chef Ambarish Lulay. “Why push it? I know I’m going to get good quality when it’s in season.”

Not only are items only served seasonally, but they are procured as locally as possible, from local farms. All steaks are cut in house. 

The same commitment applies to the bar menu, as bartender Thomas Gregg has created all signature cocktails. 

In the coming months, East End will be expanding this same ideology across the street. Trzaskus and his investors have purchased a space across the street, where construction has begun on a new venture, a multi-use facility. Upstairs will house an event space and outdoor patio; downstairs will feature a casual eatery with counter service — yet the cuisine will be higher end, echoing the sort of menu items that can be found across the street at East End. 

“What we’re trying to do is fill all the holes that East End didn’t,” Trzaskus says. “Counter service is the direction people want. We want to make it really easy to grab high-quality food.”

Trzaskus has worked very hard to create an open, welcoming environment. He is a hands-on owner, in the restaurant, paying attention to feedback from his customers.

“One of the things we try to do is listen,” he says. “And I don’t say that lightly.”

Case in point: When the restaurant opened, the noise level was much higher than anticipated. With the open ceiling and exposed ductwork, the acoustics were dreadful — people sitting across from one another could barely engage in conversation. 

The acoustics may have been dreadful, but Trzaskus did hear the complaints. Acoustic padding was added to the ceiling, helping the sound.

“You could literally feel the difference,” he says. 

The same can be said of the menu: They listen to customer input.

“When it comes to our specials, we play with them,” says Lulay. “And people tell us one way or another. We do our best to listen to what people are saying and respond accordingly.”

As Trzaskus sees his restaurant fill up night after night, watches as he expands across the street, he feels pretty satisfied about what he’s done. 

“We want people to feel very comfortable,” he says. “People need to know the story about what we do and why we do it. 

“We don’t do anything that’s terribly fancy, but we use high-quality ingredients. We don’t want to be pretentious, but we want to be highly informed.”

Clearly, it’s a recipe for success. Fresh vegetables and sides. Clean cooking. The kitchen is always open — that’s a key part of the integrity that he wants to foster. 

“It’s not that hard to do,” Trzaskus says. “It just takes some effort.”

This simple commitment to quality, to service, has proven to work well for his clientele. 

“The fun part is when people come in and say you’ve hit both sides, the food and the service,” Trzaskus says.

“I’m really happy here. Hopefully, this place will still feel in time in 10 years.”