Editor’s note: This is part two of a three-part series. Part one focused on the path of WestGate Technology Park and its counterparts. Part three will focus on economic impact.
WestGate Academy and Conferencing Center and the surrounding area has recently been the center of many changes seen in eastern Greene County in recent years.
The recent announcement about the WestGate Academy and Conferencing Center’s partnership with Purdue University was one of a few diversifications which have expanded the capabilities of the area, thus providing new opportunities to people in the region, according to WestGate Authority President John Mensch.
Mensch said the conversation with Chief Entrepreneurial Officer Dan Hasler, with the Purdue Research Foundation, began in October 2015, when the WestGate Authority learned of all the possibilities that could come along with forging the new partnership.
“Purdue is bigger and more dynamic in this arena than we ever dreamed,” Mensch explained.
By February of this year, Mensch said the conversation became more serious, starting what he called a “courtship” to see how the two entities could come together, and what the other would bring to the table.
“Purdue is the 12th largest research university in the country and the largest without a medical school,” Mensch noted as one of the stand-out perks. “That’s what we didn’t understand when they first came to us — we didn’t know how big they were. Most of this research is in engineering — technical stuff.”
Purdue’s partnership will bring in the educational tools and contacts which were a part of the long-term plan for the academy’s purpose as a part of servicing nearby Crane. Purdue’s polytechnic program will be incorporated into the academy for off-campus training, thus fulfilling a portion of the educational plan for the area.
“This is what the academy was designed for, in part,” Mensch explained.
Also, the Office of Technical Commercialization will be on site, which focuses on licenses and patents.
“They want to bundle what they call intellectual property with Crane’s for commercialization. Not classified information or knowledge used for the military, but stuff that can be commercialized and used and sold in the open market place,” Mensch explained.
“In the bundling of intellectual property with Crane, they will be dealing with Brooke Pyne, a Bloomfield native, who is the Technology Transfer/SBIR Program Manager at Crane Naval Base.”
The partnership will also bring the Purdue Foundry, which focuses on new business start-ups.
“It’s technical businesses. If a student or professor has a genius idea on how to make a better cell phone or how to make a better light bulb — something in the engineering arena — they help them get started, whether it be marketing management or the engineering side. The Office of Technical Commercialization, which does licensing and patents, they then help them get it started … You have to own it and control it,” Mensch explained.
While Purdue will be helping to manage the academy, Mensch said the partnership is not exclusive to the university. Other universities from around the state will be included in the educational.
“This is very critical because that means it’s not all about Purdue and Purdue alone. They have already identified a law professor from IU who is a patent attorney to come down … IU is already there. USI has been invited to the table. Vincennes (University) is already teaching a class at the BIC. Ivy Tech has taught some classes there. USI has taught some classes there,” Mensch explained.
Another area of expansion seen in the area around Crane started after the Battery Innovation Center began diversifying away from Crane and taking on more commercial contracts.
“Batteries are a huge deal. You’ve got them in your cell phone. You’ve got them in your car. Your watch has a battery,” Mensch stressed. “Chuck LaSota, the first president of the BIC, had a Defense Weekly Magazine on his desk that said the American soldier on average carries — I think it said — 26 batteries when he goes out in the field. So, how can you reduce the number of batteries and therefore the weight he is carrying?”
In addition, the first commercial business is set to be built near WestGate, with Mike and Debbie Hicks planning to construct a hotel at Progress Pointe near the BIC.
“The hotel will go in there with 30 extended stay units and 44 suites,” Mensch said. “The hotel will serve as an anchor for other retail coming in there, the most obvious being restaurants. (In the past) hotels have said they want to see restaurants there first. But, restaurants have said they want to see hotels there first. Well, which comes first, the chicken or the egg?”
Mensch said the Hicks’ made the move to “bite the bullet” and invest in Greene County by building a hotel.
Mensch and Economic Development Director Brianne Jerrels said these changes are going to bring economic development to Greene County.