While innovation and talent attraction are key goals for the 16 Tech innovation district on the near northwest side of Indianapolis, the impact that the $500 million development could have on neighboring communities is something that could be overlooked. For the last three years, 16 Tech leaders have made it their priority to include area neighborhoods in the development process for the district, which could prove to be the most transformative project in the city’s history.
“The one thing that I can say about 16 Tech is they communication. They keep an open line of communication and that’s very important to a neighborhood who is hesitant about change,” said Phyllis Forney-Tate, president of the Riverside Civic League. “There’s one person…she’s been the boots on the ground teaching us about what’s going on with the buildings. She is really the true hero.”
That hero is Starla Hart, 16 Tech’s director of community initiatives. It’s Hart’s job to make sure the economic benefits of the 16 Tech Innovation District will extend to neighboring communities.
“We’re really trying to make sure that we touch the people,” said Hart. “We find them where they are and meet them where they are and figure out how we can both participate in this opportunity that 16 Tech presents.”
And one could argue perhaps those benefiting the most from 16 Tech will be the residents of the near west and near northwest sides of Indianapolis, given the project is expected to generate nearly 3,000 jobs over the next 10 years.
“There are definitely going to be positions that are entry or mid-skill level that folks can very well qualify for,” said Hart. “I definitely say yes, there’s a spot if you want to work in STEM but also remembering that the district is multi-use and that there’s going to be a hotel and restaurants and small business retail. There’s going to be a vast amount of opportunity for people to plug in wherever they want to.”
Later this year, 16 Tech will roll out its K-12 education and workforce development strategy. Hart says the goal is to ensure young people are successful and 16 Tech is providing them with STEM and STEAM-based enrichment programs that will help lead them on a path to a possible STEM career.
“In terms of the workforce pieces, we kind of took some time last year to get a better understanding of where people are now so that we can figure out which training programs, certifications, additional support that families may need in order for the adults that are in the neighborhood to really upskill and achieve job opportunities in the district.”
16 Tech isn’t only helping central Indiana bridge the skills gap. The nonprofit is building an actual bridge that will span Fall Creek and link the 50-acre district with surrounding neighborhoods.
“The bridge will literally bridge us together in more than one way: physically and mentally,” said Forney-Tate. “It will have an impact on our children. 16 Tech has absolutely inspired them. They understand the importance of what’s happening here.”
Hart says her biggest hope for 16 Tech moving forward is to create an inclusive economy to make sure there is diversity in terms of business owners and employees.