Editor’s note: This is part one of a three-part series. The second part will focus on the current changes being seen in the area of WestGate. The third part will focus on what these changes mean for the future.
In the last decade, eastern Greene County has seen a big change just outside the gates of Naval Support Activity Crane.
As part of a state and federal initiative, WestGate at Crane Technology Park was founded and has since expanded significantly — growing at a rate Purdue University took notice and has forged a new partnership with an offshoot of the technology park serving the third largest naval base in the world.
With recent changes and big announcements, WestGate Authority President John Mensch provided some insight on how the technology came to be and its importance.
The process started in 2005, when the Department of Defense began the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC). Mensch said Crane remained “relatively unchanged,” but two deficiencies were cited — the first being the lack of an accessible interstate near the base and the second being no technology park to support the efforts on base.
Mensch said work began planning Interstate 69, with the nearby interchange of the work-in-progress satisfying one need. Work then began on the WestGate at Crane Technology Park, formed in 2006, which was strategically placed between the I-69 interchange at U.S. 231 and the Naval Support Activity Crane.
Mensch explained a survey showed nearly half of Bloomfield’s income came out of Crane and nearby Loogootee’s income topped the 60 percent mark. That net disposable income was spread throughout the region, with employees spending money throughout the area.
“Greene County is tied to Crane at the economic hip. It’s important to us, therefore WestGate is important,” Mensch said.
Mensch explained the technology park’s inception started with three branches, each representing the three counties it sits in — Greene, Martin and Daviess.
“That was messy, so the three county parks were held together by an interlocal agreement, which ties it together as one,” Mensch said, adding this created the WestGate Authority which consists of three board members from each county.
Since the 2006 creation of WestGate, the area has grown significantly with a continued goal of supporting Crane. The technology park now boasts 14 buildings with 32 tenants.
“Some of those (tenants) are small, and some are bigger, like SAIC. There is the new Taylor Township Fire Department and the Greene County Health Department Clinic,” Mensch said, adding the Battery Innovation Center was also built to focus on energy storage breakthroughs.
Another aspect of growth was the creation of the WestGate Academy, constructed in 2011, a 64,000 square foot conference and training center constructed to allow space for education and seminars. The academy also hosts bigger events in its conference center.
“(The goal of the academy is) to provide an area where education could be provided,” Mensch explained. “There was no diversification of the park. Until now, it was all Crane focused.”