By Dean Whittaker

An economic renaissance is underway in South Bend, Indiana, a community of 100,000 on the Indiana/Michigan border.  Recently South Bend started an effort to re-invent itself from a declining old manufacturing city with population out-migration into a new vibrant place that retains, grows and attracts talent.  

First, community leaders formed South Bend Elkhart Regional Partnership, an economic development regional effort including three counties in Indiana and two in Michigan.  Often our political boundaries do not match our economic. A region strategy to envision a future was created and a process to bring it about.  They applied for and received a State of Indiana Regional Cities Grant that affirmed the benefits of collaborative approach.  

Part of this renaissance is converting the former Studebaker Manufacturing campus into a technology hub to house and attract the companies of the future.  Renovation has begun and a few tenants have moved into the space. The estimated cost for renovation is $255 million. Located in the Renaissance District, the Studebaker Campus contains over 1,000,000 sq. ft. adaptive re-use space.

The adjacent Union Station Technology Center (USTC) was one of the early efforts.  The renovated train station houses the Global Access Point, one of the Midwest’s most sophisticated combination data centers, fiber optic interconnects, and co-location cloud and supercomputing facility.  

Notre Dame, and its 12,179 students provide a talent pipeline for the region along with   students from Purdue PolyTech, Ivy Tech and Indiana University. Meeting the talent needs of growing businesses is critical to the region’s success.   The recently renovated Studebaker Building 113 offers the potential to be a learning center for the region by housing multiple educational institutions, including the enCode, a computer programing school to provide the retraining that will be necessary for those who want to stay relevant in a rapidly changing technology-driven landscape.

What struck me about the effort underway was that is so much more than a real estate project.  It is an effort to re-skill, re-train, and re-invent the economic purpose of the region. From manufacturing Studebaker buggies and then automobiles to becoming a global player in our connected world.  As their tag line says, they are about space, power, connectivity and talent.

Will they be successful at re-inventing themselves? While it is too soon to tell, the cooperative nature of the community-wide effort is certainly a giant step in the right direction.