Purdue joins Conexus on manufacturing, logistics effort: University, advocacy group predict evolving industry

An advocacy group formed a year ago to boost the visibility and growth of the state’s advanced manufacturing and logistics industries has received a major lift from Purdue University.

Conexus Indiana and Purdue earlier this month announced the formation of a partnership in which the university will lend its academic and research talents to the organization. The key goals include linking manufacturers with new suppliers, exploring emerging markets and supporting startups launched from university or privatesector research.

“Conexus is very much focused on manufacturing, and clearly that’s a good fit with many of Purdue’s degree programs and initiatives,” said Dave McKinnis, director of the university’s Technical Assistance Program.

TAP, the Center for Advanced Manufacturing and the Global Supply Chain Management Institute are Purdue resources that will be used to benefit Conexus’ mission.

The organization, launched by the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, attracts its own funding through supporters such as Purdue, Ivy Tech Community College, Eli Lilly and Co. and Cummins Inc.

Carol D’Amico, formerly the No. 2 administrator at Ivy Tech, is president and CEO of Conexus. Lisa Laughner, a former Rolls-Royce Corp. executive, serves as vice president and leads Conexus’ partnership with Purdue.

The university’s relationship with Conexus dates to its founding in June of last year. Former Purdue President Martin Jischke was part of the delegation that helped create the group and continues to serve on its executive committee.

One of the first chores the two are undertaking is building a database that includes every Indiana-based federal contractor, defense installation, and defenserelated university-researched-and-developed program. The aim is to help Indiana manufacturers get contracts with automotive, aerospace and defense companies.

For instance, “if you are Rolls and you need to find a woman-owned business that has titanium-machining capabilities, we’ll be able to provide that information,” said Laughner, who is splitting her time between the Conexus office and Purdue’s Indianapolis offices.

Indiana currently ranks 17th in federal defense business. The effort hopes to improve that ranking and will focus on grants and contract opportunities available from the U.S. Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, as well as the aerospace programs managed by NASA.

Nationwide, federal spending accounts for 20 percent of U.S. domestic product, so opportunities could lead to significant economic development in Indiana. In 2006, Indiana’s defense contracts were worth a total of $4.8 billion, according to the Department of Defense.

Another objective involves tracking research activity in emerging markets to help Indiana companies tap growing sectors such as homeland security and alternative energy systems.

Purdue and Conexus also will work together to commercialize new technologies and launch startup companies.

The Indiana Manufacturing and Logistics Report Card released by Conexus in early May suggests the industries, particularly manufacturing, are in much better shape than one might envision.

The state’s manufacturing sector is holding its own in employed workers, who are among the most productive in the Midwest, said the study. Moreover, foreign investment is pouring into the state.

Conexus is trying to boost enrollment in manufacturing training programs by 55 percent over the next five years. That may seem like a waste of time given traditional manufacturing jobs are waning, while at the same time Indiana touts the life sciences industry as its economic salvation.

But Conexus and other manufacturing supporters envision a high-tech future in which fewer traditional auto manufacturing jobs will exist. Those that remain will require a highly educated and well-compensated work force.

“At Toyota, the workers are not necessarily assembling parts but working on the robots that are assembling parts,” D’Amico said. “That is the nature of advanced manufacturing today in Indiana.”

Rather than bemoaning losses of direct manufacturing jobs, the Conexus report emphasized a series of other manufacturing measures that underscore U.S. efficiency improvements.

For instance, 2007 was a record year for U.S. industrial output. Indiana alone produced $70 billion worth of manufactured goods, or 28 percent of the state’s gross domestic product, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Figures like those are what the Indiana Manufacturers Association promotes when extolling the strength of its membership. It supports Conexus but cautions against linking manufacturing too closely with logistics, which accounts for just $9 billion of the state’s GDP.

“Manufacturers make things and logistics move them,” IMA Vice President Brian Burton said, “but the wage differential and the contributions to the state domestic product are completely different.”

Indiana employment losses within the manufacturing sector have leveled off, according to the report. Now there even may be reason to believe the industry will boast future job growth, according to a separate study by the Indianapolis Private Industry Council Inc.

Advanced manufacturing is among four industries-automotive and motor sports, life sciences and logistics are the others-that could employ tens of thousands more people in central Indiana by 2012.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: IBJ is now using a new comment system. Your Disqus account will no longer work on the IBJ site. Instead, you can leave a comment on stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Past comments are not currently showing up on stories, but they will be added in the coming weeks. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.