Long commute for former Lt. Gov.: Kathy Davis to lead South Bend tech firm

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Her days as lieutenant governor are finished, but it didn’t take Kathy Davis long to find a new management role. She’s accepted a job leading South Bend-based telecommunications connectivity provider Global Access Point.

“After we lost [the election] and I knew I’d be looking for a job, I thought it would be ideal if I could find some entrepreneur who was very technical and needed some help on the management side,” Davis said. “Then I was fortunate that opportunity came about.”

Until January, Davis served as Indiana’s first-ever female lieutenant governor, second in command to fellow Democrat Joe Kernan. Now, as CEO of Global Access Point, Davis will direct six employees-quite a few less than the 35,000 who reported to her before.

But she expressed excitement about the size of her new opportunity. Global Access Point provides computer network connectivity through a wide variety of telecommunications carriers. It also offers capacity for data storage, disaster recovery and Web hosting.

She likened her new company’s role to 19th century train depots, a time when the railroad industry began to consolidate. At one time, competing rail firms maintained separate, unconnected lines and stations. The industry took off once common depots allowed passengers to conveniently switch cars among rival train routes.

The bulk of Global Access Point’s operations, coincidentally, are in South Bend’s former Union Station. Global Access Point owner Kevin Smith began developing the facility for telecommunications exchange in 1985. His investment, he said, has now topped $12 million.

While Davis was still in office, Smith approached her to discuss ways to augment Indiana’s information technology connectivity. Smith recalled with wonder a meeting where he explained technical challenges in bridging the “last mile” between the state’s underused fiber-optic infrastructure and potential users.

“I went through a process, which I had thought about for more than a year,” Smith said. “Usually, people’s eyes glaze over. After an hour, she said, ‘Let me see if I’ve captured this.’ In two minutes, she gave everything I just told her back to me.”

Davis is best-known for her many roles in public service. Before Kernan asked her to become lieutenant governor, she served as Indianapolis city controller, state budget director, secretary of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, and organizer of the state’s 21st Century Research and Technology Fund.

But Davis began her career in the private sector. With an education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Business School, Davis was trained as a mechanical engineer. Her first job was as an acoustics consultant, analyzing vibrations in submarines for a company her father owned. A job at Columbusbased diesel-engine maker Cummins Inc. brought her to Indiana. She worked there until then-Gov. Evan Bayh tapped her as state transportation commissioner.

For the moment, Davis is attempting to secure a loan so Global Access Point can purchase a proprietary fiber-optic loop between South Bend, Indianapolis and Chicago. In the late 1990s, the then-fastexpanding telecommunications industry spent $50,000 per mile to lay the bundled fiber lines. Today, Global Access Point can purchase the individual lines it needs for less than $1,000 per mile.

Global Access Point expects heavy data movers to have a high demand for its connectivity. They include hospitals sharing high-resolution pictures of organs for surgical consultation in real-time, universities conducting leading-edge research, and big businesses integrating the efforts of far-flung engineers. Ultimately, Davis said, Global Access Point will provide access for small businesses, too.

“The business model is about providing choice to individuals in a market,” she said. “It essentially creates competition and lowers cost by consolidating transport onto a private network like the one we’re trying to build.”

During the O’Bannon/Kernan years, Jennifer Kurtz studied Indiana’s broadband infrastructure for the state. Today, she is manager and associate director for strategic relations at the Purdue University Center for Education, Research, Information, Assurance and Security, or CERIAS. Davis’ move from politics into telecommunications makes sense, Kurtz said.

“With her background, that’s a great move. She not only has the state government, but the municipal experience in Indianapolis. And having been at Cummins for years, she understands the role telecommunications has to play, and what it does to a company’s bottom line if they can’t control those costs,” Kurtz said.

Even though Global Access Point is based in South Bend, Davis plans to keep her residence in Indianapolis. She’ll commute there each Wednesday through Friday, she said, staying virtually connected the rest of the week.

South Bend is Kernan’s neck of the woods. Davis said he’s not involved in the business. But she said her former boss has been helpful making introductions to key people in South Bend.

Despite her excitement about returning to the private sector, Davis didn’t rule out another stab at politics. Democrats would happily embrace whatever decision she makes, said Indiana Democratic Party Executive Director Mike Edmonson.

“I don’t think Kathy would ever do anything she wasn’t 100 percent committed to. She’s going to give everything she’s got to this job, or she wouldn’t be doing it,” Edmonson said. “Kathy Davis is a fantastic public servant. She continues to be a leader, outside of even the public sector. [But] if she made her decision that she’d want to run for something in the future, we’d welcome her with open arms.”

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