Editor’s note: This is part three of a three-part series. Part one focused on the path of WestGate Technology Park and its counterparts. The second part focused on the current changes being seen in the area of WestGate.
Growing the economy in Greene County and providing the educational tools to ensure its residents are educated to work in the positions available has been a long-term goal for local officials.
As changes continue to be made around Naval Support Activity (NSA) Crane, WestGate Authority President John Mensch and Greene County Economic Development Director Brianne Jerrels foresee positive impacts in the area, especially in terms of economic development.
In recent months, big announcements have been made in eastern Greene County in the area of the WestGate at Crane Technology Park. A new hotel is in the works to be constructed, which will potentially bring in jobs and hopefully more commercial businesses in the area, and the partnership with Purdue Research Foundation at WestGate Academy and Conferencing Center will provide educational opportunities.
Mensch and Jerrels said they believe the subset of the Purdue Foundry set to be operating out of the academy will hopefully be a source of new businesses in the area.
“It will support and jump start conversations that have already been in place about entrepreneurship, innovation and creating business incubators. It will help to put a driving force behind all the discussions we are already having,” Jerrels said.
Jerrels added the focus on Crane and programs at WestGate Academy will be putting more of a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) opportunities in the area. Many local jobs, especially at Crane, include a local need for those who are educated in STEM opportunities. Jerrels stressed STEM education also helps when potential businesses are looking to potentially relocate in the area, based on the type of industry.
Mensch said a Lilly Endowment Grant, which includes the Regional Opportunities Initiative (ROI) and Applied Research Institute (ARI), will also provide educational opportunities in the region whether it be re-educating some of the older workforce or providing additional knowledge to those who are already taking advantage of the technical jobs available locally.
“With Purdue coming to WestGate, that will help leverage some of the components of the ROI and the ARI that come to WestGate,” Mensch said.
“This thing with Purdue coming down is momentous, what it’s going to do for the region. You have to think big — not just these three counties. It can help Knox, Sullivan, Clay and Monroe County a little bit with jobs.”
Mensch added the area will continue to flourish with all the changes seen in the area, and more opportunities becoming available. Another of those opportunities could also include an increase in the retail faction as the traffic count in rural Greene County starts to increase.
“As I-69 gets completed and the traffic count goes up, that will enhance the retail side. Once the section is completed from Evansville to Indy, traffic counts will go up quite a bit,” Mensch said.
Jerrels said the hard work put in by local leaders has the ultimate goal of creating industry while also ensuring an efficient workforce is available to those prospective industries.
“We’ve got kids leaving that are coming back … but, we need to make sure those that are coming back are coming back with this being their destination in mind. We want them to come back to Greene County because we have the career opportunities they are looking for,” Jerrels said.
Jerrels added, from an economic standpoint, these changes also come with another important conversation: land use management.
“Right now the corridor is getting a lot of attention in the region,” Jerrels said. “Land use management has an impact on everything we are trying to accomplish.”
That impact, she said, could be negative if the wrong type of business were to move into the area.
“I don’t think everyone understands the impact that some sort of land use management has on the hard work people are trying to accomplish, whether it be business development, business retention, youth retention or future of current businesses,” Jerrels said.
The overall goal of each facet of growth in Greene County, Mensch and Jerrels both stressed, is to create jobs and ensure Greene County thrives as they look to the future.
“WestGate is a catalyst to create jobs,” Mensch said. “I-69 could work for or against us. People will complain there are no jobs, but that is what we are trying to do, is create more jobs.”
Jerrels continued by saying not only is job creation important, but also ensuring jobs fit the skill sets of the people we have here.
“We want a diversified growth of businesses for a wide range of skill sets,” Jerrels said.