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EDITORIAL: Infosys airport deal is product of patience, reminder not to jump at easy

May 11, 2018

All’s well that ends well at the former site of Indianapolis International Airport.

When India-based IT consulting giant Infosys Ltd. confirmed May 3 that it intends to build a $245 million training campus on the 125-acre former terminal grounds, the Indianapolis Airport Authority and state and local economic development officials had good reason to cheer.

The deal, fueled by $100 million in incentives, promises 3,000 jobs—the biggest commitment the Indiana Economic Development Corp. has received since the agency was established 13 years ago.

Landing Infosys at one of the city’s most appealing development sites is a victory for central Indiana, particularly the west side of Indianapolis. It’s also a reminder, after an unsettling false start at the airport, that patience is a virtue.

Once the old terminal closed in late 2008, it would have been easy for the airport authority board to turn the land over to industrial developers, who were eager to add to the area’s already healthy inventory of warehouse space. Airport leadership wisely held out for something better.

Then came Athlete’s Business Network, an obscure group introduced in February 2016 as the airport authority’s choice to develop the former terminal land. ABN’s plans for a $500 million medical center and sports complex included four office buildings, a brain health research center, two hotels and a 20,000-seat stadium seemed too good to be true—and they were.

Minimal digging into ABN’s past revealed it had no development experience and little chance of being able to finance such an ambitious project. It also failed the sniff test with leaders of IU Health and the Indiana University School of Medicine, who were skeptical ABN could create a medical research center from scratch. A little over a month later, the airport authority withdrew its support.

It wasn’t the first time flashy plans quickly fizzled after very public unveilings. In 2011, California businessman Bob Yanagihara stood beside Mayor Greg Ballard and Gov. Mitch Daniels to announce that his company, Litebox Inc., would create 1,000 jobs at a $21 million plant on the northwest side. Yanagihara was soon found to have more tax liens than business experience, and the deal quickly fell apart.

In neither case did the city or state put economic development incentives at risk; the deals didn’t get that far. But when multi-million-dollar visions are quickly debunked, the public officials who appear to endorse them take a credibility hit.

Of course, there are no guarantees that Infosys’ vision for its Indianapolis tech hub will pan out. As IBJ reported last week, not everyone is convinced that its new strategy of training and hiring U.S. workers is economically viable.

But without the benefit of hindsight, it appears the city, state and airport authority waited for the right deal to come along. Infosys, a $10.9 billion company with almost 40 years of history, is a credible candidate to transform the old airport site, add to the city’s tax base and build central Indiana’s growing tech economy.

We hope the public officials who shepherded the deal will look like geniuses when all is said and done and that they’ll continue to take a savvy approach to proposals that come their way.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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