For Indiana’s Great Southwest, the past 24 months have been a whirlwind of activity. From the announcement of the new multi-institutional academic health science education and research campus anchored by Indiana University that will change the landscape of downtown Evansville to being named one of Indiana’s first Regional Cities and awarded $42 million for that will make Southwest Indiana destination for talent.
Starting in 2008 after the announced closure of Whirlpool’s tech and manufacturing center, the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana hired Garner Economics and Newmark Grubb Knight Frank to help craft a new direction for Southwest Indiana. Whirlpool had been an iconic employer in the region for nearly 60 years employing 10,000 workers in 1973; and, slowly dropping to around 1,100 at the time of closure.
"The objectives of the new regional strategy were simple – identify and emphasize key strengths while minimizing fundamental regional weaknesses so as to make measurable changes for the future,” said Greg Wathen, President & CEO of the Coalition.
Since then, the Garner Report has served as the guiding economic development document used to drive initiatives in order to transform a region to globally compete . The first major hurdle to jump? Us. “We started believing if nothing changes, nothing changes,” added Wathen. “As projects and initiatives were completed, more believers were brought to the table.”
From jet bridges being added to the region’s commercial airport to leveraging the PGA and Web.com Tour to build an international brand for Indiana’s Great Southwest , attitudes started to change as residents saw what could be collective achieved.
What further stoked excitement in the region occurred when Indiana’s Regional Cities Initiative was created. Designed as a strategy to combat population stagnation while creating nationally-branded regions to attract and retain talent, Indiana was willing to invest $42 million in three Indiana regions including Indiana’s Great Southwest. The winning plan laid out transformation projects to build a sustainable strategic framework. The Southwest Indiana plan consists of the following talent-attracting projects:
CORE PROJECTS – designed to assist with the transformation of Indiana’s third largest city’s downtown area and adjacent urban neighborhoods.
- Multi-Institutional Academic Health Science Education and Research Campus anchored by Indiana University – Clinical research will be embedded to the multi-institutional medical and research campus, which is a collaboration of Indiana University, University of Southern Indiana and University of Evansville as well as the regional hospital systems of Deaconess Hospital (Evansville), St. Mary’s Health Network (Evansville), Memorial Hospital (Jasper) and Good Samaritan Hospital (Vincennes) providing a statewide model for regional collaboration.
- The Market on Vine Street is a mixed-use development, which will include the New Urban Living Research Center, a unique urban platform for research focused on new energy technology and “connected” or smart appliances. Collaboration of world largest appliance manufacturer, Haier, whose Research and Tech Center is located in Evansville, and Vectren, one of Indiana’s largest publicly traded utilities, will drive the development.
- The project’s mixed-use construction will feature ground floor commercial and retail opportunities attracting essential downtown consumer outlets, such as an urban scale grocery store, pharmacy and related shopping. The development will also accommodate signature restaurants, bars, rooftop patios and other high-value entertainment venues along with public space for events, concerts and community gatherings.
- Urban Housing & Fitness Campus – a downtown YMCA with updated facilities will be an essential component in fostering a dynamic downtown area. The YMCA leverage new investment and increase talent attraction in the downtown area with events and programs also help to support quality of place. Pursuing the development of a new YMCA fitness facility provides the opportunity for construction of additional downtown housing through converting the historic YMCA residential facility into modern urban apartments
- Regional Connector Trails - Trails are an important amenity that can drive economic development and provide key linkages between neighborhoods and districts. Trail connectivity is perceived as an essential community resource to attract young professionals as well. The Regional Connector Trails include a portfolio of trails projects that collectively provide a foundation for expanded trail opportunities in Southwest Indiana.
- Signature School Science Center – When the Signature School first opened its doors, it had 210 students enroll. In the twelve years since, the Signature School has come to be recognized by The Washington Post as the 6th best high school in the US, and #1 in Indiana and the Midwest. US News and World reports Signature as the #4 Charter School in the country and the Daily Beast ranks Signature #12 in the US, #4 Charter School in the US and #1 in the Midwest. The school’s expansion will help with 90 waiting list students being able to attend. With its proximity to the new multi-institutional medical and research campus, the expanded Signature School will serve as an attraction for top medical school faculty and researchers with the opportunity for a world-class education for their children. Opportunities will be designed for Signature School students to participate in various internship programs at the medical and research facility.
GATEWAY PROJECTS – are associated with initiatives that create new and dynamic opportunities by leveraging strategic resources outside the regional city of Evansville.
- Oakland City University Downtown U revitalizes downtown development through the power of a university.
- Victoria National Conference Center helps leverage internationally televised golf events.
- Warrick County Wellness Trail is a regional health, life science and medical campus located along two key transportation arteries.
- New Harmony Arts & Food Project leverages one of the most unique and historic communities in the nation.
- Evansville Regional Airport Terminal Renovation supports commerce as an essential transportation and logistics resource for a three-state region.
Twelve Core and Gateway projects will receive Regional Cities funding leveraging $926.3 million in combined public and private investments. With every subtle change in the economic landscape, more momentum is being generated. Check www.southwestindiana.org to find out more about Indiana’s Great Southwest!