Sitting about halfway between Indianapolis and West Lafayette, with Interstate 65 serving as an economic conduit between the two, Boone County is about to undergo a transformation. On Wednesday, Indianapolis based Eli Lilly and Co. (NYSE: LLY) said it will build two manufacturing facilities in Boone County, investing more than $2.1 billion. The Lilly project, with plans to create 500 jobs, would establish operations in Boone County’s planned Limitless Exploration/Advanced Pace (LEAP) Lebanon Innovation District.
In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Boone County Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Molly Whitehead said Lilly is the caliber of a company that any community would want.
“Just having the opportunity to bring high quality jobs to this community, that gives an opportunity for our community to bring and keep talent here or bring high schoolers back home after college,” said Whitehead. “It just presents a different level of opportunity than we have previously experienced.”
The Indiana Economic Development Corp. has identified Boone County as a strategic location for future growth due to its location. The IEDC says it is exploring land purchase options for the large-scale research and innovation park which could eventually measure more than 7,500 acres. The project begins with a 600-acre parcel for Lilly.
The creation of high-wage careers in high-tech industries is at the core of the project.
“Today’s very significant investment by Lilly in Indiana is an endorsement of today’s Indiana but also consistent with our vision for Indiana’s vibrant economic future,” said Indiana Secretary of Commerce Brad Chambers. “Lilly’s interest in the LEAP Lebanon Innovation District, if approved, validates our view that well located infrastructure is important to our future growth and innovation.”
In addition to the 500 full-time jobs Lilly plans to create, the company says it estimates up to 1,500 construction jobs will be required while the facilities are being built.
While Boone County communities, including Lebanon and Whitestown, have welcomed recent investments and jobs, including the NewCold storage facility, Monosol plastics manufacturer, and DS Smith corrugated cardboard maker, the Lilly project far surpasses those investments.
“It’s the largest investment in Boone County ever,” said Lebanon Mayor Matt Gentry, who acknowledges the complexity of the project will create challenges. “But we’re going to work through all the challenges, because at the end of the day, Lilly is the type of company that you want to see in there with you.”
Some of the challenges could include land acquisition and zoning approval. Development plans not yet been filed, but Whitehead says the site of the proposed Lilly campus is northwest of the city and east of Interstate 65 on the edge of Lebanon city limits.
“We are expecting to see a 100%, voluntary annexation petition coming our way,” said Lebanon Mayor Matt Gentry. “That will bring it within the city and then we’ll assign zoning to that. That’s when they’ll be able to start pulling permits and construction and hopefully breaking ground by Q1 of next year.”
The IEDC says it is fielding interest from various businesses to establish a presence in LEAP Lebanon. But pending local approvals, the state expects Lilly to be the first company to establish operations within the innovation district.
“This is a strategic, thoughtful, next generation play to make Indian and Lebanon stronger,” said Gentry.
Whitehead, who grew up in Boone County and leads the county’s economic development efforts, says the location between Indy and West Lafayette is a banner she’ll continue to wave to attract the attention of other businesses.
“It’s not only just the proximity of those two markets, [but] it’s also the workforce that you can draw from both of those markets,” said Whitehead. “We’re in a unique position where you’ve got two MSA (metropolitan statistical area) areas that you’re pulling in from for that workforce. Not every community has that benefit.”