You can do good business and also do ‘Good’: that’s the theory behind a new Cook Medical facility that will bring 100 new jobs and free education to a struggling Indianapolis community. The near northeast side of the city faces high rates of unemployment and poverty, but local leaders say resiliency also characterizes the area—and that spirit is getting a shot in the arm. Bloomington-based Cook Medical Inc. long considered where to open its newest manufacturing operation and chose—with great intentionality—a neighborhood “outside our normal spheres of activity” and hungry for opportunity.
Cook Group and Cook Medical President Pete Yonkman says, when considering locations for a new component manufacturing operation, the traditional approach would be to consider expanding at a current location, in another state or outsourcing to a different country, but the company was deliberate about thinking in a new way.
“When you look at [a new facility] through the lens of, ‘How do we use this as an opportunity to impact a community that just needs some help?’—it changes where you place your facilities, how you think about your resources and make sure they’re flowing through communities that haven’t seen those resources recently,” says Yonkman. “[Cook has] these tremendous opportunities, so how do we use those in a way that maximizes impact? We also wanted to get out of our normal spheres of activity and be intentional about impacting a black community.”
Building upon a long-standing relationship in Bloomington, Cook is opening the manufacturing facility inside Goodwill of Central & Southern Indiana’s new building in Indianapolis, located near 38th Street and Arlington Avenue. Hiring people from the local community, the state-of-the-art Cook operation will assemble intricate medical devices such as drainage catheters, needles and sheaths. As Cook employees, the workers can take advantage of Cook’s policy to pay for employees’ education from a high school diploma through a master’s degree.
“As a company, we’re not awesome at knowing how to support people who are struggling with homelessness, substance use disorder or trying to transition out of prison; that’s Goodwill’s whole mission,” says Yonkman. “We can provide the work, and Goodwill provides the wraparound services.”
Goodwill will support the workers with mental and physical health support, substance use disorder support, housing stabilization and other services to promote socioeconomic progress. Other local partners include the Indianapolis Foundation and United Northeast Community Development Corporation (CDC). Acknowledging that “we don’t have all the answers,” Yonkman says Cook chose the area based on the people and the “tight-knit, self-motivated” nature of the community.
“Cook and Goodwill took the time to learn about and meet the neighbors where they are; that’s done great wonders as far as the success of the project,” says United Northeast CDC Chief Operating Officer and Executive Director Ashley Gurvitz. “More often than not, our community has been over-promised and under-delivered, especially for finding pathways for economic and social mobility. Knowing how much Cook did upfront before making the commitment means everything to this community. What’s most important is the value and trust being built.”
The project also aims for local minority-owned businesses to complete all construction for the building, and it will be owned by a newly-formed nonprofit entity. Project leaders say excess proceeds from the facility will be used for community development.
“We think this is a model that can demonstrate—whether you’re in downtown Indianapolis or rural southern Indiana—a way to revitalize communities and bring energy back is to create these value-added manufacturing-type jobs,” says Yonkman. “We’re hopeful this is a model that other people will look at and say, ‘We can do this.’ If [businesses] did this on a bigger scale across Indiana, we could help start rebuilding the middle class that everybody has talked about for so long.”
Cook will begin hiring the first group of employees in the coming weeks, and they’ll begin training “so we’re ready to go on Day 1” when the facility opens near the end of the year.
“A mom talked to us recently about the future for her kids,” says Yonkman. “She said she tells her kids to do whatever they can to leave the community, because it’s the only way to be successful. With projects like this, she said, ‘I can start to see a time when I can say to my kids: you can stay right here and be successful.’ And that’s what we want to try to build.”
Yonkman says it appealed to Cook that manufacturing jobs previously existed in the area, but the main attraction was “the people.”
Gurvitz says the Cook project will have community-wide impact and help restore hope as the neighborhood rebounds from the pandemic’s effect on its minority population.