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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, November 09, 2019 1:00 am

Innovation Center gets $100,000

County hears closer ties with PFW expected

ROSA SALTER RODRIGUEZ | The Journal Gazette

The Northeast Indiana Innovation Center expects closer cooperation with Purdue University Fort Wayne next year, the Allen County commissioners learned Friday.

The information came during a discussion that led to the commissioners' approval of an agreement for $100,000 as the 2020 annual appropriation for the center.

Center President and Chief Executive Officer Karl R. LaPan said it has long maintained a relationship with the nearby university.

But the tie had waned somewhat in recent years as the university focused “on internal issues” and governance, he said.

Although Purdue Fort Wayne Chancellor Ron Elsenbaumer already is on the center's board, he will become its vice chairman in January, LaPan said.

That opens the door for additional endeavors between university faculty, students and the center, which could aid in curriculum development and availability of facilities for research and collaboration, LaPan said.

Elsenbaumer has an economic development background used while at his previous employer, the University of Texas, LaPan said. Immediately before being hired by PFW, Elsenbaumer was senior adviser for entrepreneurship and economic development in Texas. He also has a background in chemistry and materials science.

LaPan stressed that one recent study shows Indiana slipped from 44th among states to 47th in a key measure of entrepreneurship – the percentage of people starting a new business each month.

He said that argues for continuation of the center's program, which is broadening its reach to women and rural communities, among other groups.

Republican Nelson Peters, commissioners' president, asked LaPan if the program had done an economic impact study. ­LaPan said no.

He said cost is the primary reason, although some centers affiliated with universities do get economic impact studies.

LaPan told The Journal Gazette after the meeting that closer PFW ties do not mean that the center would become a department or program of the university.

“But if you look at successful innovation centers around the country, a close relationship with a university is an important factor,” he said.

In other business, commissioners approved having the Purdue Fort Wayne Community Research Institute at PFW analyze 2017 U.S. Department of Agriculture data on the county's farming industry.

The data are collected every five years and the research institute analyzed it the last time, said Chris Cloud, chief of staff for the commissioners.

The report should be done by Nov. 27, and the cost is $1,500, he said.

rsalter@jg.net