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Engagement builds enduring partnership for Purdue & the state

As a recession and a shifting economy put thousands of Indiana residents out of work, individual as well as corporate taxpayers in the state may look to Purdue and ask, "What can you do for us?"

As a state-supported land-grant institution, Purdue always is anxious to answer the question. But the University first has a query in return.

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With the new Office of Engagement at Purdue, the University is working to step up economic outreach efforts that meet carefully measured needs and yield significant benefits for Indiana's economic future.

Essentially, Purdue is offering its help only after asking business and industry, "Exactly what is it that you need?"

"This is what the University should be doing," says Don Gentry, vice provost for engagement. "People who work in business and industry understand their own needs better than academics do. We are asking business what their needs are, then arriving at mutually agreed-upon goals and mutually agreed-upon expectations of results."

Northern Indiana, long dependent on big steel and other traditional manufacturing, is anxious to invest in the new high-technology economy.

In an initiative designed to address the area's special needs, Purdue announced in January that it will help build and develop a high-tech business incubator in Merrillville modeled after the successful Purdue Research Park in West Lafayette. U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky announced that he is seeking $7 million in federal funding to support the effort.

Purdue's participation is one of many ways in which the University is dedicating its resources to developing Indiana's economy for the long haul.

"At the news conference announcing the initiative, area reporters asked what this incubator was going to do for their laid-off steelworkers," Gentry says. "The answer was that there may be nothing this venture can do for those workers, but it could make all the difference in the lives of their sons and daughters."


Purdue has been meeting start-up needs of fledgling high-tech companies at Purdue Research Park since 1961. And in 1998, it improved its services at the park by adding the Gateways program.

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A global company, Raytheon is one of the world's largest defense contractors. The Indianapolis facility provides a full range of technical services for electronic components and systems. These services span the product life cycle and include prototype development, system design, hardware and software implementation, and fielding of systems.

Modeled after a highly successful program in place at a Pittsburgh incubator, Gateways acts as a mentor for 90 companies and their 2,500 employees at the research park.

Gateways helps the start-ups develop sound infrastructures that greatly increase the firms' chances at sustained commercial success.

A recent survey conducted by the National Business Incubation Association showed that an average of 84 percent of the firms that graduate from business incubators remain in their communities and experience a 75 percent success rate. The success rate among freestanding ventures is far lower at 33 percent.

That's why in 2001, the Indiana House voted 99-to-1 for a bill that would help create several high-tech business incubators in Indiana.

"Never in my 39 years of working in the state have I been involved in a plan that garnered more enthusiastic support from local business, industrial and governmental groups," Gentry says of the legislation.

Unfortunately, the overwhelming support has not led to funding. State revenues are running an estimated $1.3 billion behind projections and legislators have not been able to pass a bill to pay for it.

Meanwhile, Gentry says, city leaders in Shelbyville have taken notice of Purdue's programs and are looking at how they can form a partnership with Purdue to invigorate their local economy. They are interested in technical assistance to help their manufacturing industries evolve with the economy.


Gentry is quick to clarify that Purdue's latest efforts to nurture the newest, highest technologies -- as seen at the new Discovery Park where research in nanotechnology, bioscience/engineering and electronic commerce will be conducted -- should not be viewed as an abandonment of Indiana's manufacturing base.

"Purdue is not giving up on manufacturing," he says. "We are, however, helping manufacturers use new knowledge, new technology and new management practices because we're losing low-end, low-skill jobs. Those skills are cheaper elsewhere."

The Advanced Manufacturing Summit held at the West Lafayette Campus in March highlighted the latest innovations in manufacturing.

Lee Lewellen, vice president of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, a summit co-sponsor, says Indiana manufacturers must grow and change in order to thrive.

"We can't take our manufacturing base for granted," he says. "All across the state of Indiana we need advanced manufacturing - the infusing of new technology and processes - to transform our economy.

"The Advanced Manufacturing Summit is the opportunity for a variety of participants -- industry practitioners, labor, community and state leaders -- to help manufacturing evolve in Indiana."


In the case of Shelbyville, where manufacturing makes up a large part of the economy, a learning center may be the answer that meets the need. Gentry and others are discussing a center that will provide workers the chance to learn new, higher-end skills.

The idea for the learning center grew out of a needs-oriented discussion, Gentry says: "Instead of saying, `We have this credit course - do you want it?' we asked, 'What do you need?'"

As Purdue asks Indiana what it needs and how the University can help, it is doing so across all segments of the state, from local chambers of commerce to K-12 schools.

"Our engagement program should be a touchstone for learning and discovery," Gentry explains. "We are taking a fresh look at what we should be teaching so we don't have a problem that we have to fix later."

Last year, just before the University named engagement as one of its three central strategic missions, it took stock of Purdue's ongoing efforts to enhance Indiana's economy. That long list includes the Gateways program and many others, including:

  • Statewide Technology.
  • Technical Assistance Program.
  • Purdue Extension.

    These programs now are being offered in combination with others, or tailored slightly from client to client, depending on the need.

    Statewide Technology

    The School of Technology has been showing how engagement works all over Indiana with its Statewide Technology education system.

    In the cities of Anderson, Columbus, Indianapolis, Kokomo, Lafayette, Muncie, New Albany, Richmond, South Bend/Elkhart and Versailles, Purdue extends its technology programs to help educate highly skilled technologists and technicians in areas where demand for them is high. Full- and part-time students can take programs in these areas:

  • Computer Graphics Technology.
  • Computer Information Systems Technology.
  • Electrical Engineering Technology.
  • Mechanical Engineering Technology.
  • Organizational Leadership and Supervision.

    Technical Assistance Program

    Another long-standing example of need-satisfying Purdue programming is TAP, the Technical Assistance Program, which helps business, industry and government use new technologies that will benefit Indiana residents.

    To help assess needs, TAP has been conducting labor-market studies through the Purdue Office of Manpower Studies.

    TAP's 150 faculty, professional staff and graduate students based at three Purdue campuses are working with 600 Indiana companies every year. TAP assistance spans:

  • Information technology.
  • Business management.
  • Advanced manufacturing.
  • Product development and engineering.
  • Environmental issues.

    Economic impact data reported by TAP-aided companies shows benefits in more than 90 percent of the companies.

    Companies where TAP conducted 4,908 assistance projects reported a collective two-year capital investment of $44.8 million, a cost savings of $22.7 million and increased sales of $283 million. The companies also reported saving 2,400 jobs and adding another 1,425 jobs.

    TAP also places Purdue students into internships and career positions through its intern program and high-tech job fair.

    Purdue Extension

    The grandfather of all engagement programs at Purdue, Purdue Extension, has been working to enhance Indiana's economy -- especially its agricultural economy -- since Purdue was established in 1862.

    Purdue Extension serves as Indiana's team of economists, nutritionists, foresters, community development specialists, scientists and educators who provide internationally respected research-based information. It is continually evolving to meet Indiana's changing needs.

    Extension educators, specialists, and volunteers live and work in all 92 Indiana counties and work on practical solutions to local issues. In the process they are creating economic opportunities for agriculturally oriented businesses. One needs-satisfying Purdue Extension program involves "marketing clubs" in southwest Indiana. After the Freedom to Farm Act gave producers greater independence in planting and marketing decisions, many producers were looking for ways to hone their marketing skills.

    The marketing clubs have helped farmers gain expertise to make the most of their commodities trading, Loan Deficiency Payments, grain storage and marketing plans. Club members report that they've earned at least $500,000 in additional revenue from improved marketing practices Purdue Extension helped them learn.

    Other programs

    Other Purdue programs that are enhancing Indiana's economy include:

  • A collaboration with the Indiana Information Technology Association and other universities within Indiana to counter Indiana's "brain drain," the problem of college graduates leaving Indiana for jobs elsewhere. The initiative helps raise awareness of technology careers within Indiana among college students.
  • Purdue's annual "High-tech Job Fair for Indiana Companies." This fair gives Indiana businesses the chance to recruit some of the state's brightest students for in-state job openings only.
  • The Trask Pre-Seed Capital Program. Funds from the Trask Venture Fund, which originally was established in 1974 through an estate gift from Vern and Ramoth Trask, both Purdue alumni, are invested in fledgling companies working to commercialize Purdue-invented technologies. The awards are one-time, pre-seed investments of up to $250,000 to Purdue faculty and students who have licensed intellectual property from Purdue.
  • Entrepreneur Forums. These monthly forums hosted by Purdue's Office of Technology Commercialization, offer insight and encouragement to new entrepreneurs and those interested in starting their own high-tech company at the Purdue Research Park. They provide networking opportunities that give those attending the chance to meet other entrepreneurs and learn from shared experiences.

    In response to the University's strategic planning process, the Office of Engagement has set its own strategic priorities for the future. It will target:

  • Statewide partnerships with an emphasis on regional economic development.
  • Workforce development to educate, retain and retrain Indiana's workforce.
  • Community engagement for students that expands community learning and service-learning opportunities.
  • Youth program and educational partnerships to strengthen preparatory education through enhanced engagement with K-12 schools that emphasizes reading, mathematics and science.
  • Community engagement and development to promote Purdue and its graduates.

    Purdue's new Engagement Office in Indianapolis will help to get the word out. In February, the office opened in INTECH Park on 71st Street with a celebration that featured comments from Bart Peterson, the mayor of Indianapolis.

    "Purdue's partnership with the city of Indianapolis and its commitment to focus on the needs of this city's business and educational community can only strengthen our local economy and quality of life," Peterson said.

    The Engagement Office, which also is home to the Marion County office of Purdue Extension, will work closely with the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, an alliance of Indiana business and research university leaders working to foster long-term prosperity for the region.

    PHOTO CAPTION:   Don Gentry, vice provost for engagement, has been a key figure in economic development initiatives for the state. He works closely with Purdue Research Park, which is home to more than 90 companies that employ 2,500 people. Above, one of four high-tech incubator facilities in the park is under construction.

    PHOTO CAPTION:   Christine Keefer, who now works as a software configuration manager for Raytheon, Indianapolis, was recruited by the defense contractor at a Purdue High-tech Job Fair. She graduated in December 2000 with a bachelor's degree in management and a minor in management information systems. Keefer works on Raytheon's state-of-the-art V-22 Mission Planning System.

    Story by Amy Raley
    Photographs by David Umberger