2022 Year in Review: State pursues innovation district in Boone County

Late last year, a mysterious limited liability corporation began snatching up farm and residential land near Interstate 65 in Boone County.

As word got out, rumors ran wild, with residents speculating that the land would be used for an airport, drone flight center, truck stop or penitentiary.

By late March, the secret was out: The Indiana Economic Development Corp. had identified the county as a key location for a future 4,000- to 7,000-acre innovation district—not unlike the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. 

The site, situated between Hazelrigg Road and State Road 32, has been dubbed the LEAP Lebanon Innovation and Research District, with LEAP short for Limitless Exploration/Advanced Pace.

The IEDC said the location between Purdue University and Indianapolis along I-65 makes it attractive to high-tech companies, but hundreds of local residents have pushed back against the project, fearing a loss of farmland and community identity.

Two months later, Eli Lilly and Co. announced plans to invest $2.1 billion in two new manufacturing sites to anchor the district, creating up to 500 permanent jobs and 1,500 temporary construction jobs. The planned facilities will increase Lilly’s manufacturing capacity for active ingredients and new kinds of drugs, such as genetic medicines, seen as a promising way to deliver treatments for a wide range of diseases.

Future developments for the innovation district just west of Lebanon are still being negotiated by the state.

Meanwhile, the IEDC is exploring a plan to tap into the Wabash River aquifer in Tippecanoe County, downstream from Lafayette, to bring as much as 100 million gallons of water a day to the site through a 35-mile pipeline. Boone County does not have adequate water resources to meet the needs of large-scale manufacturing, which requires enormous amounts of water. 

Hydrologists and engineers say the pipeline is feasible without hurting existing homeowners and businesses that rely on the water supply, but such a significant project would take years to complete, and experts say the cost would be high.

Once the water came to Lebanon, it would be used by the future tenants of the LEAP district as well as Lebanon residents. It would then be treated and discharged into Eagle Creek Reservoir, allowing Indianapolis residents to reuse that water later.•

Check out more year-in-review stories from 2022.

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