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VIEWPOINT: Advancing manufacturing is key to future

September 1, 2008

We've all heard it: Our economy is creeping to a crawl. Skyhigh oil prices, a weak housing market and the struggling U.S. dollar are discouraging consumers and business owners alike.

Fears about our nation's fiscal health are shaking broader confidence in the banking industry, the system of global trade, and even our public image abroad.

In the face of such adversity, it's helpful to remember that Americans have faced daunting challenges in the past. In tougher times, such as the Great Depression or World War II, families and individuals responded by making personal sacrifices and working hard to overcome a tight economy and poor job markets. Here at home and in countries like Great Britain, people dug in to create a better tomorrow for their children and future generations.

So while we're sweating through this current economic downturn, why should our goals be any different? Yes, our global economy has created a new landscape, but we're building on our strengths to support this new landscape.

Our economy is deep and diversified enough to support the right opportunities and keep the state on track.

For example, we know Indiana still has a strong manufacturing base.

According to the U.S. Census North American Industry Classification System's 2006 manufacturing statistics, more than 500,000 Hoosiers earn their living from manufacturing. Transportation equipment is the largest manufacturing field, with more than 133,000 employees. Other strong manufacturing areas for the state include fabricated metal products, primary metal products, machinery, food, and furniture and related products.

While manufacturing remains an important cornerstone in our economy, we are successfully diversifying and moving toward advanced manufacturing. This type of economic development advances manufacturing through research and innovation.

Economic development centers nurture startup businesses, attract life sciences and technology companies, and support the kind of job development our state needs. A number of these centers, such as the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center, Hammond Business Incubator and Flagship Enterprise Center, are thriving and building momentum throughout the state.

The state's universities are involved with economic development through many venues, including university-sponsored technology parks. These technology and research parks serve as high-tech business incubators, and provide local and state economic development hubs. The parks spark home-grown business startups, retention and expansion with a focus on offering commercialization and business development support as well as needed space for talent retention. They also invest in local schools and community arts organizations.

As this enhanced economic model has emerged in many states, strategically planned mixed-use campuses create an environment of collaboration and innovation. They promote the development, transfer and commercializa tion of technology, a key strategy of the infrastructure that spurs growth.

The prospects for advancing and diversifying manufacturing throughout our state means Hoosiers can feel optimistic about their role in this global economy. And even if our nation seems to be struggling today, I'm confident we're on the right course in Indiana for economic progress.



Hornett is senior vice president, treasurer and chief operating officer of the Purdue Research Foundation.
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