August 25, 2010

Indiana launches program to attract logistics investment

"Conexus Indiana" is the first initiative to promote logistics opportunities at the statewide level, official says.

By Mark B. Solomon

Indiana has launched what officials there say is the first statewide program to expand the role of logistics in attracting business investment. The program also aims to create jobs in a state that is struggling with double-digit unemployment.

The initiative, called "Conexus Indiana," is designed to steer businesses towards manufacturing and logistics opportunities, in part by highlighting the state's geographic allure as the self-styled "Crossroads of America." The initiative is part of a broad, multi-industry campaign that also involves luring companies and investors in the life sciences, information technology, and financial services sectors to the state, which in July reported a 10.2 percent unemployment rate, higher than the national average.

David Holt, Conexus Indiana's vice president, operations and business development, said that while cities like Columbus, Ohio, and Kansas City, Mo., have similar programs to draw investment by highlighting their logistics infrastructure, Indiana is the first state to have moved in that direction.

"There is no entity like us on a statewide level," he said.

Conexus Indiana will take what Holt called a "holistic approach" toward infrastructure development by demonstrating the interlocking roles of the four main transport modes in driving the state's economic growth prospects. Part of the strategic plan includes developing two or three intermodal yards. LaPorte, Evansville, Fort Wayne, and Avon, located outside of Indianapolis, are the four venues under consideration, Holt said.

Conexus Indiana is also involved in identifying the importance of two waterways locks to the region's barge traffic, Holt said. One is the Olmstead Lock, which is located in Illinois but which connects the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and affects traffic in Indiana and other states in the region. The other is the Soo Locks, which allow ships that carry about 40 percent of Indiana's iron ore shipments to travel between Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has deemed both locks at risk of catastrophic failure, according to Holt.

The program was financially seeded in 2007 with a three-year, $3 million grant from the foundation affiliated with drug giant Eli Lilly & Co. The Lilly foundation in December contributed another $3.4 million that will carry the program through the end of 2011, Holt said. To date, the Indianapolis-based company's contributions account for 70 percent of Conexus Indiana's total funding, according to Holt.

More articles by Mark B. Solomon

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