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Purdue, communities hatch high-tech incubators for Indiana growth

Communities across the state are taking note: High—tech industry means jobs that pay salaries two times the state average.

That's the wage scale for positions in the Purdue Research Park in West Lafayette, and it can be for many other communities as well. What does it take? The starting point is a technology center where new ideas can be nurtured in a business incubator. Purdue has offered to help communities across the state learn how to do it. Lake County, thanks to federal dollars tapped by Congressman Pete Visclosky, is the first to step forward and take Purdue up on its offer.

The Purdue Technology Center of Northwest Indiana now is ready to recruit startups to its 400-acre site in Merrillville. Once these fledgling companies mature, they will be ready to stand alone, and we expect they will look for sites in that area.

Other Indiana communities also are considering Purdue's offer.

Why Purdue? It's not only home to Indiana's only research park, but it also already has the largest incubator in the country. We have 591 acres on which we have developed more than 1 million square feet of buildings occupied by established companies and new ventures. And once these companies reach adolescence, Purdue offers continued support to see them through to adulthood. The result? Ninety percent of these Purdue-nurtured startups succeed, compared to 30 percent of others nationwide.

This spring, a portion of the Purdue Research Park was designated the state's first certified technology park. This designation allows portions of tax revenues generated by tenants to be reinvested in the park, ensuring a good environment for businesses and growth.

Due in part to the growth of the research park, our Lafayette area rose from 56th to 21st in the Milken Institute's Best Performing Cities index. The non-profit, economic think tank's index measures where jobs are being created, economies are growing and businesses are thriving. Purdue also is nationally ranked among the top 12 universities for economic development initiatives.

Why does Purdue Research Park care? Some might suspect that there's a financial incentive. Inventions and licenses do bring in revenue that has almost tripled since 1996, to almost $3 million annually. As nice as that is, it is a drop in the bucket compared to Purdue's budget of more than $1 billion.

Simply put: It's Purdue's mission to help Indiana's economy. And we also love the impact we can have on everyday lives. Look at a few of the companies we have supported:

• Endocyte Inc. is fighting cancer by using vitamins as "Trojan horses" to target and deliver drugs. It appears to work against 30 percent of cancers, including ovarian and breast cancers. Endocyte is in FDA-regulated human clinical trials, working with the Indiana University Medical Center, among others.

• Griffin Analytical Technologies Inc. has designed a portable mass spectrometer with a wide range of applications, including homeland security. About the size of a 70-pound breadbox, their device identifies and quantifies chemicals, making it ideal for use in airports or on the battlefield.

• Cook Biotech Inc. is involved in tissue manufacturing to aid in healing wounds and burns, building artificial arteries, repairing hernias and even gums. The miracle begins with the intestines of swine, which not only serve as a scaffold for tissue regeneration, but also as a catalyst.

• gh llc has designed software that translates English into Braille and sign language. Thanks to its efforts, blind students have access to textbooks in a timely fashion, and the hearing-impaired may be able to see speech in real time by viewing sign language translation in special eyeglasses. The inventor was spurred to discovery in frustration because his blind wife couldn't get college textbooks. He licked that problem, but he could find no one to license his invention. Then he teamed with Purdue to start his own company.

The first three of these companies are based on research by Purdue faculty and graduate students. The last is the product of a Purdue alumnus.

Yes, having Purdue in its backyard is fundamental to the success of the Purdue Research Park. But Indiana is blessed with several universities with regional campuses that are generating the very discoveries that can be nurtured into high-tech companies.

Working together, we can leverage those ideas into the inventions for Indiana's future.

(Joseph Hornett is senior vice president and treasurer of the Purdue Research Foundation.)