A Well-Kept Secret

City of Evansville, and Southwest Indiana

Evansville, population 120,000, is the largest city in the area, but the entire metro area includes at least 800,000 people. “Southwest Indiana is really the core for a three state area,” Mr. Wathen explains. As a result, Evansville’s amenities are surprisingly urban. “Our retail and medical [sectors] and our universities are much larger than people realize, primarily because they are serving a much broader market,” he says. The region’s infrastructure and business opportunities are similar to those found in the larger metropolitan areas on the east and west coasts, Mr. Wathen adds, but costs tend to be much lower. “Our central location and the overall cost of doing business are some key advantages for us,” he summarizes.

The region supports a diverse array of industries including plastics, chemicals, metals and life sciences. Mead Johnson Nutrition, Berry Plastics, Toyota, and Atlas Van Lines all have a major presence there. Each one of these companies has a widespread, positive impact on the community. “Our employment alone certainly contributes to the regional economy,” says Kelly Dillon, Toyota Indiana Manager of External Affairs. “We currently have 4,700 team members at our plant in Princeton.” Alcoa’s largest aluminum smelter in the United States is also located in Evansville. “There are only eight aluminum smelters left in the United States, and three are within an hour of us,” Mr. Wathen shares. “Forty percent of the United States aluminum smelter capacity is within an hour of our market.”

Southwest Indiana has also been chosen as the site of a state of the art nitrogen fertilizer facility. Located in Posey County, the venture will create an estimated 2,500 construction jobs during the three year construction phase and more than 200 full-time jobs once the facility is fully operational, reports Mike Chorlton, owner’s representative for Midwest Fertilizer Corporation. Midwest Fertilizer, which is partially owned by the Pakistan based Fatima Group, will be investing $2.4 billion dollars in the new venture. “It is the largest investment that Indiana has seen in the last several years and one of the largest in the Midwest,” Mr. Wathen says. “And it is by far the largest Pakistani investment in the United States.” The plant’s Pakistani roots brought some complications to the deal, Mr. Wathen admits, but did not stop the project. “There have been geopolitical considerations. We’ve had to deal with those issues and have gotten through all the barriers.” Construction will begin this fall and will take three years to complete.

All of the product produced at the new fertilizer plant will be sold in the United States, primarily within a 300 mile radius. The product will be easily moved along a strong transportation network which includes a bustling port on the Ohio River. “We have a large agricultural area within a 300 mile radius and a good distribution system to distribute the product whether it is going to be through water, rail, or truck,” Mr. Wathen says. An ammonia pipeline also runs through Southwest Indiana, supplying the ammonia needed for fertilizer production.

Another major new development is the massive expansion taking place at the Indiana University School of Medicine. “The Indiana University School of Medicine Evansville was established forty years ago, but most people didn’t know it existed; it was only two years instead of the full four years and it didn’t have a research component to it.” Now the school is about to get a complete overhaul – and a much higher profile. “They are in the process of taking it to four years and there will be a research component to it.”

The new school also features a unique partnership. “Four Universities in this town have come together and have decided to build an academic, health, education and research center,” explains Dr. Steve Becker, Director and Associate Dean of the Indiana University School of Medicine Evansville. “It is a unique model in that four universities are bringing together healthcare programs on one campus. The IU School of Medicine Evansville is the anchor institution, and IU as a university is leading the program, but it is a multi-institutional healthcare campus. The University of Southern Indiana, the University of Evansville and Ivy Tech Southwest are all involved with this.”

When it opens in 2017, the new 170,000 square foot campus will welcome around 1,800 students who will be studying everything from medicine to physical therapy to nursing to healthcare management. “There will be a lot of programs,” Mr. Wathen says. “It is going to cover the entire spectrum of healthcare.”

The school’s research capabilities are already attracting the interest of major pharmaceutical and medical device companies. “You are able to do clinical trials within these facilities,” Mr. Wathen points out. “The new school of medicine will be a driver of economic development.” The campus will also boast a 50,000 square foot, state of the art simulation lab, “one of the largest in the Midwest.” Other schools and organizations will also be able to utilize it, making the lab an important asset for the entire region.

The expanded medical school will also help ensure that the community has the physicians it needs going forward. “Research tells us that if medical students go through a four year program, and then they do their residency in the community, the probability of retaining them in that market is much greater,” Mr. Wathen reports. There will also be a Masters program for Physician Assistants, “which is going to fill a critical need in Southwest Indiana for Physician Assistants,” Dr. Becker says. Also, the Indiana University School of Dentistry will put a dental clinic in the new facility. “We are really excited about that,” Dr. Becker says. “It will help take care of our community that needs dental care.”

The new medical school campus will be strategically located near a mixed use project in Evansville. This mixed use development is currently under construction and will include a hotel, convention center, residential apartments, parking garage, retail and entertainment, all of which will be connected with above ground skywalks. “There is a lot of synergy that will be developed by having all of those facilities next to one another and rebuilding downtown Evansville,” Mr. Wathen remarks.

Another new Evansville facility is the Applied Engineering Center at the University of Southern Indiana. The 16,226 square foot facility, which opened last year, boasts leading edge equipment found nowhere else in America. Special features include a 9,000 square foot open high bay with a 10-ton bridge crane and utility trenches. The $3.3 million center is a learning tool for students studying engineering, advanced manufacturing and industrial supervision, and is also a valuable asset to the regional business community. “The Applied Engineering Center allows students and companies to design products, create prototypes and manufacture them,” Mr. Wathen shares.

Southern Indiana offers a high quality of life in addition to its business and educational opportunities. “We have a lot of amenities that larger communities have,” Mr. Wathen says. But, unlike many larger metropolitan areas, Southwest Indiana’s amenities are all easily accessible. “It is really easy to get around our community.”

The area has plenty of arts and culture, including a philharmonic orchestra and a community theatre. Indiana’s oldest zoo is also located within the region. Most notably, the Evansville museum of Arts, History, and Science is awash with funds after selling a “lost” Picasso in 2012. “They are putting that money back into the museum,” Mr. Wathen reports. The rare glasswork – one of only about 50 that Picasso ever made – had been incorrectly labeled and stashed in a crate for nearly half a century. “They had it in storage and no one knew it!” Mr. Wathen marvels. After discovering that the museum had a piece worth tens of millions of dollars, officials judged it prohibitively expensive to protect and insure it and arranged a private sale. “They never said how much they made from it, but estimates are high,” Mr. Wathen says. “Sometimes you just get lucky.”

Sports fans will also find plenty to do in Southwest Indiana. “If you like college sports, this is a great place to be,” Mr. Wathen says. In fact, the NCAA Men’s Division II Basketball Championship was held in Evansville this year, and will be there again next year too. The region also hosts major golf tournaments. Evansville also has a minor league hockey team that regularly draws 6,000 people to a game. The community does not have an NFL team, but there are plenty of other teams to root for. “We are close enough to Nashville, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and St. Louis that you can drive over for the day, see the game, and come back. We have four teams – we don’t discriminate against any one team.”

Southwest Indianan also offers plenty of opportunities to enjoy nature. “If you love the outdoors, this is a great place to be,” Mr. Wathen remarks. The community has an extensive trail system and plenty of hunting, fishing, and water sports.

Local officials work hard to maintain the community’s livability. Not only does this benefit current residents, it also brings in new business. “If we build the quality of place we can attract and retain talent,” Mr. Wathen points out. The effort is already paying off, with major investors like Midwest Fertilizer choosing Southwest Indiana for their new development. With so much to offer both businesses and residents, this little known region is starting to earn national attention.

October 23, 2017, 7:31 AM EDT

Wind on the Rise

In the world of renewable energy, wind power is growing fast. It is projected that 10 percent of the energy generated in the United States will come from wind farms by 2020. Offshore wind farms are a relatively new addition to the American energy market, but the technology has been well established in Europe and is now taking off state-side as well.