Greater Evansville, in Vanderburgh County, Indiana, is going through a lot of change, and it has been positive. The third-largest city in the state, Evansville is in the midst of increasing its infrastructure capacity with huge projects in its downtown. We spoke with Growth Alliance for Greater Evansville President Ellen Horan and Marketing Communications Manager Abby Elpers.
Evansville has the perfect combination for future success. It is one of nine communities to recently receive Promise Zone Designation (PZD) in the U.S., and this designation is very helpful for economic development. It has the University of Southern Indiana, which is one of the fastest-growing universities in the state, and it has hired a new president for its economic development group, the Growth Alliance.
The City of Evansville was founded in 1812. The community prides itself on a strong work ethic which has led the area to develop the healthy manufacturing base for which it is known. Evansville is the social and economic hub for the surrounding communities in southwest Indiana and neighboring states. There are 120,000 residents within the city, with over 300,000 in the metropolitan statistical area.
“The Evansville community has a tristate footprint, encompassing northwest Kentucky and southeast Illinois. Evansville is the urban core for retail, medical and educational opportunities for the region. We are also known for our history and industry expertise in plastics fabrication and manufacturing. Geographically, we are positioned on a unique bend of the Ohio River. Our community’s location, accessibility (by road, rail, air and water), and strong work ethic, are some of the reasons we became a strong manufacturing base,” says Abby.
The Alliance provides support to new and existing businesses. It is extremely active in this capacity, but the effort does not stop there. It plays a huge role in encouraging an environment of entrepreneurship and innovation. In fact, Ellen and Abby spoke to us from a building managed by their organization, named Innovation Pointe. The facility combines the desired culture the Alliance strives to cultivate with a home base for the services they provide.
Innovation Pointe contains a maker space, a concept which is catching on in a number of cities and towns in the U.S. This communal space is where budding entrepreneurs and people with a penchant for innovation and technology can share equipment.
“We have a 3D printer. That has become quite popular, so having it in a public place is advantageous, as anyone can find out what it is all about. They can learn about the technology and design side of the printer. Through that experience, people will get over their fears of technology and utilize it effectively,” says Ellen.
Along with the commercial-sized 3D printer, the maker space also boasts a computer numeric control (CNC) laser cutter, soldering equipment, and computer labs. The distinctive thing about the computer lab is that the computers were assembled by local grade school students during a workshop hosted in the space. The goal for the collaborative space is to connect members of the community in an environment that embraces hands-on machinery, technology and a spirit of learning.
Innovation Pointe also offers co-working space for people to work in a shared work environment. It also offers access to professional conference and meeting rooms.
“They can use copiers and printers here. Not only is it an affordable space to be working at with a professional mailing address, but it promotes an environment of collaboration with other workers. Currently there are about forty people sharing that space. It is growing in popularity, so we are looking to expand that space,” says Ellen.
The low-cost startup office space at Innovation Pointe appeals to early stage companies needing a professional environment. Fledgling companies can grow here until they need to move on.
The Growth Alliance worked to attract financial services technology provider SS&C Technologies to Evansville with a distinctive incentive package utilizing Innovation Pointe. Competitors in other states could not offer an incentive like Innovation Pointe, and the low-cost, immediately available start-up space proved valuable for the company.
“When they chose Evansville, only two employees began the process. Now, they have two hundred. They have grown out of this building. The high-tech incubator that we run, with Wi-Fi, phones and everything you need to get started, enabled SS&C to start immediately, and the story is still unfolding,” says Ellen.
Ellen Horan began working with the Growth Alliance in March of 2017 but has been active in the economic development field for over twenty years. How she came to the Alliance, however, was a lucky happenstance.
“It was my husband’s career that brought us to town. I saw all of the things that were happening here in Evansville and decided that I needed to be engaged in this,” says Ellen. It just so happened that the Growth Alliance was looking for a president to head the economic development efforts, and as Abby says, “How lucky are we?”
“There is a buzz that is happening here which is noticeable and quite a few projects are underway,” Ellen says. She went on to explain that there are certain ‘anchor projects,’ driving the economy and contributing to the success of local retail outlets and restaurants. Apartments and condominiums are being built. There is much momentum occurring in Greater Evansville with bigger projects helping spur on the smaller ones.
One of these anchors is the Evansville Multi-Institutional Academic Health Science Education and Research Center—known locally as The Med School—which will be 140,000 square feet when finished and something special for many reasons.
“It is going to house medical programs from three different higher educational facilities: Indiana University, the University of Evansville and the University of Southern Indiana. The Medical School is a unique and well-coordinated collaboration between four regional hospitals and three institutions of higher education,” says Abby. Hospitals are usually in competition with one another but have come together here with higher education and a unique medical center in Evansville. It is slated for completion in 2018.
A new DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel and Convention Center opened in downtown Evansville in January of 2017, and a new Hyatt Place hotel is also breaking ground downtown. The $50 million Tropicana Entertainment development project is now under construction. The state of Indiana used to allow casinos on riverboats only. The senate recently permitted land-based casinos and Tropicana—presently located on a riverboat in downtown Evansville—was the first to take advantage of that.
“The two hotels, Med School and casino are all part of the downtown revitalization projects. These are the anchors. Also included with some of the revitalization initiatives are water and sewer projects,” says Ellen.
Evansville offers boundless opportunities for education and a career. Primary and secondary education is offered through the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation, the Catholic Diocese of Evansville, charter and independent schools. Signature School, a Charter School in downtown Evansville, was just named the thirty-third best school in the nation and the top school in Indiana by U.S. News &World Report.
The momentum continues as Evansville was one of nine communities selected to receive Promise Zone Designation (PZD) from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Qualifying communities must demonstrate a need, and Evansville has a concentrated area within the city that has higher poverty levels. However, to get this designation, the city also has to show that it has a plan and that it can work collaboratively within the community.
“Evansville is the second-smallest Promise Zone designee of the 14 urban areas selected since 2014. This most recent round of PZD included Atlanta, Nashville, Los Angeles and San Diego. While we’re ‘small’ compared to the other cities, our community has a track record for getting things done, and we are very proud of that,” says Abby.
The PZD designation prioritizes these cities in receiving funding from all types of federal programs through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is the federal government’s way of taking more of a complete approach in helping communities address high need areas.
“We are given this advantage based on our demonstration of a strategic approach, and the collaboration within the community was there. They want to know if the community is prepared for a holistic approach,” says Ellen.
On a final note, Indiana’s Regional Cities Initiative recently selected Evansville as one of three regions in Indiana to receive a grant of $42 million. This will go towards a collection of ‘quality of place’ projects. For Evansville, being selected for such a large grant is making people take notice.