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$6.6M grant to help project at Crane tech park

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A federal grant will pay most of the costs for an $8 million conference center that officials hope will help attract business to a technology park near the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center in southern Indiana.

The $6.6 million grant announced this week by the U.S. Department of Commerce will go toward building the conference center for the WestGate at Crane Technology Park. Plans for the two-story building include a meeting room with seating for 500 people, 22 training classrooms and office space.

"It has the potential to be the major cornerstone for the overall developmental growth for not only Westgate technology park, but for many surrounding communities," project developer Dale Ankrom said.

The park aims to attract companies doing business with the base about 25 miles southwest of Bloomington, where more than 3,500 workers develop and test military weapons systems.

Construction of the conference center is expected to start late this year at the technology park, which is overseen by a board made up of officials from Daviess, Greene and Martin counties.

Greene County Council President John Wilkes said the conference center project will boost the park, as will the expected 2012 completion of the Interstate 69 extension between the Crane area and Evansville.

"People haven't seen a multitude of jobs real quick," Wilkes told the Greene County Daily World. "But if they'll just look back for the past three or fours years since that started. It's a slow process, but they've created about 400 jobs and this is going to create another 250 and it's just going to go."

Additional money for the conference center is coming from the Indiana Economic Development Corp., WestGate Authority funds and the Daviess County Economic Development Foundation.

Developers also hope to attract a hotel, retailers and other amenities to the area, said Kent Parisien, president of the WestGate Authority.

He said he expected that would attract many Crane-related conferences and training sessions, particularly when Interstate 69 opens next to the park.

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