Roughly 80 miles southwest of Indianapolis, the Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane is home to more than 3,200 personnel – approximately two-thirds of them scientists, engineers and skilled technicians. It’s the only naval base not on a coast, a unique operation with a singular focus: Overcoming the technical challenges facing America’s military to build a decisive technological advantage over our adversaries.

As an innovative Navy laboratory part of the Naval Research & Development Establishment, Crane is a massive source of R&D activity and engineering solutions for strategic missions, electronic warfare and expeditionary warfare – in a sense, we’re a $1.3 billion high-tech "business" focused on serving one dominant customer: the U.S. warfighter.

But even though our mission is military, it doesn’t mean we insulate ourselves from the communities and companies around us – just the opposite. The flow of new technologies among public, private and academic sectors has been a robust catalyst for innovation. (It’s been observed that the typical automobile today has more computer power than the first manned mission to space –  but many breakthroughs first used by NASA, the military or other public purposes have also found their way into consumer products.)

Tapping into the excellent post-secondary institutions in Indiana and beyond, we’re actively engaged with Purdue, IU, USI, IUPUI, Rose-Hulman, Notre Dame and many others. Crane is also an active partner in Indiana’s Battery Innovation Center with industry, university and other government partners – BIC draws on the combined resources and expertise of these partners for the rapid development, testing and prototyping of cutting-edge energy storage systems for defense and commercial customers.

We’re also looking to identify potential suppliers of goods and services within our region, and cultivate relationships with local businesses. Shrinking our procurement "footprint" can save time and money as it strengthens the economies of the communities around us.

To put this opportunity into perspective, NSWC Crane procured $922 million in products and services during the last fiscal year.

As we continued to seek opportunities for shared innovation and a simplified supply chain, we see a natural ally in the Indy Chamber. In its "Accelerate Indy" blueprint for regional economic development, the Chamber points out the urgency of building innovation capacity and encouraging R&D partnerships (like BIC, or the 16Tech innovation district as an Indianapolis-specific example). The plan also prioritizes small business growth, a common goal of our Indiana supplier outreach.

Indeed, Accelerate Indy includes a specific initiative, the "Billion Dollar Challenge," aimed at keeping more of the billions in goods and service contracts currently awarded to businesses outside the Indianapolis region with competitive local firms. While NSWC Crane lies just beyond the metropolitan borders, we support this effort as a natural extension of our "Buy Indiana" program.

To capitalize on these areas of strategic agreement, we recently co-hosted "How to do Business with NSWC Crane," with the Indy Chamber, giving attendees insight on the ins-and-outs of research and technical collaborations with Crane, licensing Navy-developed technology and more. We also gave a behind-the-scenes primer on what the base buys, how and when we buy it, and tips on marketing a business to Crane to become a supplier. 

We’re optimistic that this event is just the beginning of a stronger relationship with the Indy Chamber and a wider avenue of opportunities between Indianapolis and NSWC Crane. And we’re certainly committed to making it a two-way street: Crane is eager to enlist the business community of the state’s largest region as part of the "force behind the fleet" – and in doing so, we can be a force for a stronger, more dynamic metro economy.

Kyle Werner is director of engagement at Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center.

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