Since Business in Focus profiled the city one year ago, Lafayette, Indiana, has continued to grow by leaps and bounds. “We were doing well last year, but we have really grown tremendously since then,” says Dennis Carson, Economic Development Director for the City of Lafayette.
“We have a lot of businesses that are making major expansions and we have more businesses looking at Lafayette than we ever have before. There is a tremendous amount of economic development activity going on and it has spurred other things, from hotels to downtown developments, to additional housing.”
A $25 million development project that is helping to reinvent downtown Lafayette broke ground in late 2015. Called the MARQ after the Marquis de Lafayette for whom the city is named, the project will include the regional headquarters for Old National Bank, as well as 96 luxury apartments, an underground parking garage, and a range of restaurants and businesses on the main floor.
Located along the scenic Wabash River, the MARQ will likely be the first of several upcoming downtown development projects. “Downtown housing has always been strong, but it is really picking up,” Mr. Carson remarks. “We are seeing a lot more people starting to move into the city center. We are seeing more and more buildings being renovated and developers are talking to us about other projects in downtown.”
Behind the MARQ, an exciting riverfront project is underway. The $3 million project will feature a promenade along the water, which will be connected to the existing pedestrian bridge. The development will include “several spaces to gather and socialize while overlooking the river,” as well as areas for community events and activities. Spearheaded by the Wabash River Enhancement Corporation, this will be the first of many projects that will open up the waterfront and enhance Tippecanoe County’s quality of life. “This is our first major project with the riverfront,” says Mr. Carson. “It is going to boost our riverfront activity and we hope to see much more development, both public and private, in the short term and long term.”
A new industrial park is also in the works, increasing options for an already robust industrial base. “We have become a hub of industry,” says Communications/Marketing Director Kara Bishop. The new park enjoys an ideal location along Interstate 65. “It is primed for industrial activity… very centrally located with easy access to major transportation routes.”
The Subaru facility located near the new industrial park is undergoing a significant expansion. “They are having major growth there and making major investments,” Mr. Carson reports. “In the past year they have announced three major expansions.” Currently, Subaru manufactures the Outback at its Lafayette facility, but the expansions will allow the company to manufacture the Impreza there as well. The $500 million investment will create employment for an additional 1,200 people.
In addition, GE Aviation has just invested $100 million in a new facility where the company’s “next generation” LEAP engine will be produced. “It is more than just opening up an engine facility,” Ms. Bishop explains. “They are trying a lot of innovative techniques in this location that they are not doing anywhere else.” Mr. Carson adds, “It is one of the few facilities that has a new, different way to produce [engines]. The employees there work in teams, so they all have an engine that they will work on from start to finish and they are responsible for building that engine and making all decisions to make that happen.” The plant will also use 3D printing to produce some of the engine parts.
Ms. Bishop says that, “It is pretty exciting to know that this industrial hub is also an innovation hub that will be known as the birthplace of a lot of these new techniques that companies are spearheading. It is great to have that right in our backyard.”
The innovative GE Aviation facility will create high paying, sought after jobs for locals. “They are bringing on 200 personnel that will have an average salary of $75,000 a year,” Mr. Carson shares. “Great jobs, a great facility, a great name to have in our community.”
Public sector investments are also picking up. “We are seeing a lot of private sector investment, but as a city we are investing a lot in our own infrastructure,” says Mr. Carson. “We have some major road projects and other infrastructure and utility projects going on.” A heavily traveled parkway running through town is getting a $25 million upgrade and a $6 million streetscape project is giving Lafayette’s downtown a makeover.
Lafayette has completed more than 30 miles of walk/bike trials and has plans to add even more. The city is also considering launching a bike share program, to enhance an existing pedestrian and bike master plan, to help make the community even more bicycle-friendly. Already home to a very robust public transportation system, Lafayette is also working on improving rail service to Indianapolis and Chicago to ensure that residents and businesses are well connected to the surrounding region. The city has also just launched an innovative new recycling initiative to promote a more sustainable community. “We are spending multimillions of dollars on infrastructure and doing things to improve the quality of transportation and the overall quality of life in the community, not only for the citizens but for businesses as well,” Mr. Carson summarizes.
What is driving Lafayette’s successful growth? “I think it is due to a lot of factors,” says Mr. Carson. “We are in a good location in the Midwest. We are in a good state that is business friendly. The city is very business friendly.” Incoming or expanding businesses are able to get operations up and running in record time. “We do things very quickly here, very efficiently. We get the job done very effectively. GE opened up their plant from start to finish in about a year. [That is] one of the quickest builds that they have ever done from the ground up.”
The entire county works together to enable those short timeframes. “We have our two cities, Lafayette and West Lafayette, and our County government, and Purdue University,” Mr. Carson points out. “So we have a lot of different entities and we all coordinate together very well. Something that we have gotten a lot of feedback on over the years is how well we work together and how seamless the process is here.” Ms. Bishop adds, “We are very transparent and accessible. At any time you can call up the mayor and talk to him. He is right in there, engaged with everything from the groundbreaking to the utilities.”
Lafayette’s emphasis on entrepreneurialism is another key factor in the community’s ongoing success. “We have a big push for entrepreneurs and coworking with our MatchBOX facility,” Mr. Carson points out. “If you want to start something here you can do it. This is a very pressure free environment full of people willing to volunteer and collaborate and our co-working has just taken off in the last year.” After being launched in April of 2014, MatchBOX Coworking Studio has grown to 214 members in just 24 months. “These are folks from all sectors and all backgrounds, from traditional small businesses to high technology innovation type startups. They are leveraging technology from Purdue, from their own ideas, from the private sector, and from other businesses, and they are creating new things, new products, new businesses – all in this coworking studio called MatchBOX.”
With so much growth and development, Lafayette is working on recruiting more workers to the area. “Not only do we have these 1,200 [new jobs] from Subaru, but we have probably a few thousand more [new jobs] from new and existing manufacturers and other businesses that will also be hiring,” Mr. Carson reports. “So over the next five years we can see upwards of 10,000 or more jobs that will be available in our community. We have people here who can take [some of] these jobs and we are very excited about that. But we don’t have enough people. We need to attract more people to come here.”
Fortunately, the friendly Midwestern city boasts the quality of life that incoming employees are looking for, from affordable housing and strong educational opportunities to plenty of arts and cultural venues. “When people come here they are always really surprised by the amount of offerings we have and the level of sophistication of [those offerings]; we are a small city, but we have a lot of amenities that you don’t find in cities of similar size.” With world-class job opportunities and a winning lifestyle, Lafayette should have no trouble attracting a skilled workforce – and continuing its upward streak of innovation and development.