Profitable development

If the nine-county region served by The Indy Partnership plays its cards right, its economic future is secured, says Partnership President and CEO Greg Schenkel.

The Partnership is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to strengthening the economic growth of central Indiana. Schenkel says the region simply needs to continue down its current path and play up its strengths.

“We don’t pay attention to what I call artificial boundaries [county borders],” Schenkel says. “We’ve learned to work better together.”

A strong public-private partnership and cooperation with state and county governments has resulted in a state and region that are improving the overall tax and business climate.

“It’s a unique spirit that’s kind of hard to pin down in words,” he says.

The region is holding its own and gaining ground in the three major industries it is targeting: advanced manufacturing, logistics and life sciences.

“In terms of how we compare to other areas, we are definitely considered a national leader in logistics,” says Schenkel. “We’re not a leader in life sciences, but we’re emerging.”

And the Partnership plans to facilitate the region’s growth.

“One of our main functions is to constantly stay fresh and aggressive to meet companies’ needs and show the region’s value to folks who find us,” says Schenkel. “Nobody else is playing that role.”

Smart Business spoke with Schenkel about the Partnership and its goals and challenges.


What industries are the strength of the Indianapolis area and why?


Our three strongest areas are advanced manufacturing — we have a strong, stable history of manufacturing; logistics — in part that’s due to our location (almost at the center of the country) and we are fortunate to have an outstanding airport, the interstate and railways; and life sciences.

We think we have outstanding strengths in the medical research and pharmaceutical industries. We are home to Eli Lilly and Roche Diagnostics. And those private entities are coupling with outstanding research institutions like Purdue University and Indiana University.

Life sciences is an emerging area where we have real strengths.


What industries are you targeting for economic growth in the next five to 10 years?


We are targeting the same three industries that are our strengths, and we’re targeting information technology, because they’re where we already have strengths or the capability to gain market share.

When it comes to information technology, we’re not Silicon Valley, but we’re doing a better job in that area, although logistics is so far ahead of the other areas. When the president visited, his speech was given at a logistics-related company whose approach is using high technology.

They have integrated technology into logistics.


How do you plan to attract companies?


We are trying to develop a targeted marketing plan and develop an improved process for developing leads. In this business, it’s never an exact science. Developing leads is the hardest thing we do.

What is the best use of our time? We can’t go see everyone. We have to fine-tune our message, focusing on those cluster areas. We are constantly evolving, constantly trying to get the message out through media and advertising and sales.


What are the community’s strengths, and where can it improve to support economic growth?


One of our two major strengths is the way we go about things. We have a regional approach that doesn’t pay attention to what I call artificial boundaries — county boundaries.

We have learned to work better together. We are a community in a broad sense. We have a strong public/private partnership and great cooperation with state and county governments.

We have learned we can get things done by working together. The efforts have improved the overall tax and business climate in the state and region. In the past two years, the general assembly has done some tax restructuring that is favorable to business creation and expansion.

In 2003, the assembly increased the research and development tax credit. We also have one of the largest economic development projects in the county, a $900 million airport under construction. It is the only project of its size and magnitude in the country, and it will have an incredible effect in this whole region.

The new airport and terminal will be complete in 2007 and will be better positioned. We have the second largest FedEx hub, but where they are located now they are out of expansion room. We are relocating Interstate 70, and the new airport will go over it and FedEx will have a lot more room.

One of the areas we need to improve is our overall marketing and the general perception of the region. There isn’t a negative perception, it’s just that people don’t have much of a perception at all. I hear people say, ‘I didn’t know this or that,’ about the region from client companies that are prospecting.

We need to get our message out and market ourselves.


How will the Indy Partnership continue to play a role in the area’s development?


One of our main functions is to constantly stay fresh and aggressive to meet companies’ needs and show the region’s value to folks who find us.

One of the things we’ve undertaken in the last few months is extreme efforts in improving our research and data efforts and capabilities. We’ve improved our staffing levels. And we now have live on our Web site an information warehouse with detailed information accessible to everyone, a unique feature.

Basically we have data for each of the nine counties and a 10th section that is the overall data. It is very detailed and will be updated live.


What are the biggest challenges the organization faces in the next few years, and what are the plans to meet those challenges?


Our biggest challenge is to continually show success. We also face the challenges of competition, staying fresh and relevant and providing value to the region and investors.

It’s a changing world. I’ve always told my staff that we’re in the business of progress, and that means change. If anyone isn’t ready for that, let me know now.


Do you feel there are enough government-based initiatives to foster economic growth?


A good example of the government initiatives are the incentive programs and tax changes. It’s great recognition of the fact that we need government support.

There’s a fine line, though. How much is too much or enough? We are not promoting giveaways but incentives that attract opportunities. We have a good approach, but do we have enough?

There’s never enough. We have a better way, better approach and the right attitudes. We know that business needs change, and incentives packages constantly have to be examined. We can’t use the same packages today as we did in 1990; the business world has changed too much.

We have the right attitude and approach to be creative and flexible and good recognition at state and local levels. We have great mayors that are very pro-development and understand how to get things done.


How does the Indianapolis area compare to others in your target industries?


We never know for sure. Some days we’re competing against Louisville and Columbus, other days we’re competing against Chicago and New Orleans. How well we compare depends on the cities we’re competing against.

In terms of how we compare overall and in our cluster areas, we are definitely considered a national leader in logistics and distribution. The same is true historically of manufacturing, and that’s changing.

If we can take our historically strong skills in manufacturing and adapt and change to new skills, we’ll continue to be strong in that area. In life sciences, we are not a leader, but we’re emerging.

That’s an area with real potential, and we are making headway. For example, Roche Diagnostics just announced that it is expanding operations here and making this its North American headquarters. How to reach: The Indy Partnership, (317) 236-6262 or