Fledgling technology park is development bright spot

Since World War II, engineers at Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center have dreamed up electronic wizardry that helped the
United States win wars and reach the pinnacle of military power.

The
secretive base in southwestern Indiana developed night vision and radar advancements, and the Prowler
aircraft used to block enemy communication in Iraq.

But
Crane created few jobs outside the sprawling base—an area that has struggled economically. No defense
contractors flocking to its outskirts. No tweaking of military technology for civilian uses.

That’s beginning to change, thanks to a fledgling industrial park just
outside one corner of the installation.

[email protected] Technology Park, launched just three years ago, already has landed
$12.5 million of buildings, and state and local government has kicked in another
$5 million.

So far, the 100,000 square feet of office space houses
only defense contractor outposts. But Indianapolis-based developer Dale Ankrom also hopes to
attract businesses that might thrive on turning declassified technology into products for businesses
and consumers.

“In a short two-year period, WestGate has been transformed from something
that was nonexistent to something that’s thriving,” said Ankrom, managing partner
of [email protected] Development Co. LLC. “In the face of what we are looking at economically, we
have a situation that is completely unique.”

WestGate’s status as a state-certified technology park allows the development
to capture $5 million in state and local tax revenue over the lifetime of the park; it already has used
about $3 million.

All the office space is occupied by defense contractors
that support the base with engineering, software design and technical support. The park has
400 workers with salaries averaging $55,000 and some reaching into six figures.

Crane has sustained the area since 1941, and currently employs 3,100 people, including 1,900 scientists, engineers
and technicians.

But in 2005, the base was nearly closed by the latest
in a series of shutdowns guided by the Pentagon’s Defense Base Realignment
and Closure Commission. While Crane was spared, it was forced to reduce its staff and
outsource some work to contractors.

Jason Lovell, director of the Indiana
Office of Defense Development, said the creation of his office and the necessity
for a tech park near Crane both grew from the near-closure.

“They
have had to push the work out of the base and into contracting,” Lovell said. “That’s
why something like WestGate becomes very important.”

Indianapolis
roots

Ankrom started [email protected] Development
in 2006 with investors Steve Henke, a Hamilton County attorney, and HHGregg Inc. co-founder
Gerald Throgmartin. Henke and Throgmartin sold their interests to Ankrom in order to pursue other projects.

Ankrom in 2008 brought in Max Kendall and J.R. Kendall,
a father-son team from Indianapolis that runs a construction company, as partners.
Kendall Construction Group is building roads and one building in the park.

Eleven defense contractors occupy the complex. San Diego-based Science Applications
International Corp., the seventh-largest domestic defense contractor, leases a 38,000-square-foot
technology facility in WestGate. EG&G, another California-based defense contractor, takes
up 26,000 square feet.

Although WestGate doesn’t have commercial
tenants, dual technologies could spur even further expansion. Crane Technology Inc.,
a not-for-profit made up of former Crane employees promoting Crane and WestGate, is
pushing to turn some of the military advancements into civilian products.

“What we expect to happen eventually is, other technology-based companies will come into that area,”
Executive Director Mike Gentile said. “Like lithium ion batteries, for example. The Navy has many
uses for them, but the same technology can be used in vehicles and medical equipment.”

San Diego-based Science Applications International Corp. is one defense contractor establishing a
presence in the technology park. (Courtesy [email protected] Technology Park)

WestGate is the only state-certified tech park lapping into three counties—Daviess, Martin
and Greene. So, property and income taxes generated by the park flow to all three. A board with two representatives
from each county and one at-large regulates the park.

Most current development lies in Daviess and Martin counties because infrastructure was in place, but
there are plans for the Greene County section, as well.

“The
cooperation between the three counties, when you look at a project of this scope and complexity,
has been phenomenal,” said Ron Arnold, executive director of WestGate and the Daviess County representative
for the park.

The naval base and now the tech
park have driven the unemployment rate in Daviess County to some of the lowest levels in the state.

“Crane creates a leveling effect so that we don’t get some
of the wide swings in unemployment that other counties are seeing,” Arnold said. Crane and WestGate
employ 800 to 1,000 Daviess County residents, he said—about 30 percent of the county’s population.

Crane is more than an hour’s drive from Evansville, but the city
reaps benefits of Crane inventions through a technology transfer agreement with
the Growth Alliance for Greater Evansville. Declassified technologies originating
at Crane are passed on to engineers at Evansville companies who help develop them for commercial use.

Greg Wathen, president and CEO of Economic Development Commission of Southwest
Indiana, said Crane’s influence has changed the strategy for economic development
in his region.

“With the tech agreement in
place, the defense industry should be one of our target areas,” he said. “We are looking
into how that changes what we try to target in the future.”

Because of WestGate, Crane and other defense contractors in the state, the defense industry as a whole
contributes $4.6 billion annually to the state’s economy, according to the Indiana Economic Development
Corp.

WestGate’s square footage has ramped up in the past year,
occupying about three acres, but it has authority to expand on a total of approximately
300 acres. That could translate to 3 million square feet of buildings.

“The potential is almost unlimited with the WestGate just now in its infancy,” Ankrom said. “We
could easily develop $33 [million] to $35 million worth of buildings in the next three to five years.”

Ongoing negotiations

Ankrom
said he is discussing leases in the park with Indianapolis-based firms and an Arizona
company with offices already in Indianapolis. WestGate works with three Indianapolis real estate firms
to fill vacancies.

A 64,000-square-foot, $8 million conference
and training center called The WestGate Academy is in design stages. WestGate and
the Indiana Office of Defense Development are still working on the funding, including federal
stimulus-related money from the Economic Development Administration.

“Defense contractors, including Crane employees, have continuing education that they need to undergo
on a large mass format,” Lovell said. “This facility could help fulfill that shortfall in
the region.”

Ankrom plans to start construction soon on a 30,000-square-foot
office and warehouse. The $1.5 million project will be built by Kendall, and likely house a defense contractor
currently operating at Crane, he said.

WestGate also has begun negotiations with an Indianapolis-based distribution company on a 50,000-square-foot,
build-to-suit warehouse and multiuse building. Because the discussions are preliminary, Ankrom declined
to name the company.

In the next two to three years, an 80-room hotel
might be built in the area, as well. Ankrom said a hotel isn’t an immediate
priority, with WestGate now focusing on defense contracting. He hopes to add tenants specializing
in night vision and electro optics technology in the next year.

Another
major growth opportunity for Westgate lies in the distant promise of Interstate 69’s extension
from Evansville to Indianapolis, passing directly by the park. Ankrom said I-69 will exponentially increase
traffic to WestGate, but that he isn’t counting on the road for the development’s success.

“Since it is a government project, the deadline of three to five
years could turn into anywhere from five to seven years,” he said.•

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