2023 Year in Review: LEAP District stirs debate in Indiana communities

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Eli Lilly and Co. CEO David Ricks, left, joined Gov. Eric Holcomb in April for a groundbreaking event for Lilly’s $3.7 billion manufacturing campus at the LEAP site. (IBJ file photo)

The LEAP Research and Innovation District under development near Lebanon represents a shift in the way the Indiana Economic Development Corp., the public-private state agency overseeing the project, is working to attract companies and create jobs.

In Boone County, the IEDC has secured roughly 9,000 acres for LEAP—which stands for Limitless Exploration/Advanced Pace—and designated different areas for renewable-energy projects, shovel-ready development, research and development, and even a mixed-use village concept. State officials have compared LEAP to the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina and say its close proximity to Interstate 65, Purdue University and the city of Indianapolis made it the ideal choice for a high-tech manufacturing district.

Since July 2022, the city of Lebanon has annexed 7,200 acres for the LEAP District against the objections of some Boone
County landowners.

In April, Eli Lilly and Co. formalized plans to invest $3.7 billion in a drug manufacturing site in the district, where the Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical giant will serve as anchor tenant. The company says the expansion will create 700 jobs.

While no other projects have been announced, the LEAP District is entertaining a potential investment pipeline of $56 billion, according to IEDC officials, including a $50 billion semiconductor plant and a $3.2 billion data center.

If the IEDC lands those two projects, it would more than double the $22 billion in capital commitments the state secured in all of 2022—its best year on record.

But the agency has faced criticism about its plan to withdraw as much as 100 million gallons of water a day from an aquifer connected to the Wabash River to support water-intensive manufacturing in the LEAP District.

Amid growing concerns surrounding that plan, Gov. Eric Holcomb recently shifted oversight of a water supply study away from the IEDC to the Indiana Finance Authority.

In a statement, IEDC Secretary of Commerce David Rosenberg said the IFA has “the right experts” to continue the study.•

Check out more year-in-review stories from 2023.

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