Innovation-Driven Economy • Northwest Indiana Business Magazine

Innovation-Driven Economy

by Tom Price

At a time when a global economic recession has put economic development on hold in many communities, South Bend has accelerated progress in 2010 toward introducing a research- and innovation-driven sector in its local economy.

Complementing these efforts at economic transformation, South Bend also became the focus of widespread attention in 2010 as the city received national awards and recognition, underscoring South Bend's affordable and attractive quality of life.

Home to Indiana's only dual-site, state-certified technology park, South Bend in November celebrated the first anniversary of the opening of Innovation Park at Notre Dame. In a year's time since the opening of the first of four planned buildings on the 12-acre site across from the University of Notre Dame campus, Innovation Park has welcomed 30 clients while marking the departure of another two firms.

The two companies, which already have reached their stated goals, graduated from the park, moving onto their next phase of development. Nexus RV will produce motor homes and The Road to Fondwa LLC generated contributions for Haitian relief while promoting the documentary film, “The Road to Fondwa.”

“The success of client companies in achieving their milestones as quickly as possible — thereby enabling them to ‘graduate' and move into a new growth phase elsewhere — is one of the park's primary performance metrics,” says David H. Brenner, Innovation Park's president and CEO. “The active engagement of university research faculty, staff and students is also a key metric, demonstrating a keen desire to breathe life into new ideas that can make a genuine difference for others, here at home or across the globe.”

Just a few miles away at Ignition Park, the second technology park site, more than 140 acres are under development. While planning continues, Ignition Park already has seen the opening of its first building: the nation's first LEED Platinum federal transit facility for Transpo, the metropolitan area's bus operator.

“The first phase of Ignition Park is now open. It's so exciting to have Transpo here with this new high-tech facility – LEED-certified,” says Mayor Stephen J. Luecke. “With Transpo opening up this wonderful new facility here in Ignition Park, it really sets us onto an arc into the future [with] … a great standard as we move forward.”

According to Luecke, the city of South Bend has been working with a private company that hopes to soon announce the construction of the first private facility in Ignition Park. Conversations also are under way with Ivy Tech Community College about expansion plans for its adjacent North Central campus in South Bend. At the close of 2010, the City of South Bend finalized a master plan for Ignition Park and prepared to demolish the last two buildings on the site related to the former Studebaker Corp., the legendary automaker whose closure in 1963 marked the end of another era in South Bend.

In the recent economic recession, South Bend has weathered its own economic challenges, too. That's what makes it even more remarkable that South Bend has seen the construction and opening of a $215 million, mixed-use development, Eddy Street Commons. Supported by $35 million in city infrastructure, Eddy Street Commons includes 90,000 square feet of retail, 82,000 square feet of office space and more than 450 residential units. The first of two hotels opened in 2010.

Eddy Street Commons was part of a larger strategy to revitalize South Bend's Northeast Neighborhood, on Notre Dame's doorstep. In December, the city received the Gold Award for Municipal Excellence from the National League of Cities for the Northeast Neighborhood Revitalization. In addition to new development at Eddy Street Commons and Innovation Park, the award-winning project also included the development of new infill housing and the construction of a cancer research center for the Indiana University School of Medicine at South Bend.

The National League of Cities award, which the city also received in 2002 for revitalizing a west-side neighborhood, marked the fourth major national recognition of the year. “In what are very tough fiscal times for Indiana's cities, South Bend continues to raise the bar,” says Matt Greller, executive director of the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns.

In January this year, NBC's “Today” show ranked South Bend No. 1 in the nation for its outstanding real estate offerings. Specifically, real estate contributor Barbara Corcoran listed South Bend first among 10 U.S. cities offering the best real estate values, based on the following criteria: home size and value, job growth in the area, and rising real estate prices over the past year.

“The ‘Today' show ranking really tells the story to the rest of the country that we already knew — that there is great value in residing here, relative to other parts of the United States,” says Jeff Rea, president and CEO of The Chamber of Commerce of St. Joseph County and former mayor of Mishawaka. “This kind of recognition certainly helps us in promoting our community to the rest of the world.”

Tom Price, a former newspaper reporter and published freelance writer, is an assistant to South Bend Mayor Stephen J. Luecke.


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