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NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: County’s $100,000 investment in Innovation Center money well spent

News-Sentinel.com applauds the Allen County Commissioners for their approval last Friday of an agreement for $100,000 as the 2020 annual appropriation for the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center.

The approval followed a discussion with the center’s president and chief executive officer, Karl R. LaPan, about plans to increase cooperation between the NIIC and Purdue Fort Wayne next year, a relationship LaPan said has waned in recent years due to the university’s extensive changes. LaPan said he believes a partnership with a university is important to the success of innovation centers like NIIC.

PFW Chancellor Ron Elsenbaumer is a member of the center’s board and will become its vice chairman in January. LaPan said that will provide more opportunities for collaboration between the university and the center, including development of curriculum and use of facilities for research and other related purposes.

The NIIC was created two decades ago to help entrepreneurs launch and grow businesses. Its stated focus is “to strengthen the economy of Northeast Indiana by empowering the entrepreneurial, innovative people, organizations and businesses who call this place home.”

LaPan pointed out to the commissioners last week that a recent study shows Indiana has fallen from 44th to 47th among states in the percentage of people starting a new business each month. The $100,000 from the county, we believe, is an investment in helping the NIIC support more entrepreneurs in their endeavors in our region.

The center reports that it has helped launch 444 new products while facilitating more than $42.6 million in research grants and $44.2 million in capital investments. It also says the businesses it has helped get started have a 91.9% rate of survivability — 41.9% better than the national average.

The NIIC, which opened in 2001, is located on a 55-acre campus at 3201 Stellhorn Road, adjacent to PFW and Ivy Tech North Community College. Its 74,400 square feet of facilities serve as

“an entrepreneurial ecosystem, home to innovators, emerging businesses and high-performance companies.”

News-Sentinel.com reported last year that LaPan said the NIIC had received about $4.6 million from city and county governments since it opened, along with $16.4 million from the state. He said about 60 percent of its annual budget of about $2.5 million comes from fees generated by the center’s programs for new and emerging businesses, which include a conference center, women’s economic opportunity center, business incubator, coaching, shared workspace and a student venture lab.

NIIC is the largest entrepreneurial community under one roof in northeast Indiana and since 2006 has generated a total payroll of more than $105 million, more than 2,100 jobs and an average salary of nearly $53,000 — 30 percent higher than the regional average. The NIIC makes a special effort to work with female and minority entrepreneurs and works to create sustainable companies, LaPan said, not just self-employment.

NIIC’s website, www.theniic.org, says, “We nurture the needs of entrepreneurs, and our facility reflects that. The NIIC is an entrepreneurial community, an inspired workplace and a dedicated service … Our services are comprehensive. We are a hub of innovation and a think tank for new ideas. We foster personal and organizational creativity and welcome homegrown ideas, individuals and businesses.”

We believe this effort in entrepreneurship has been a key element in the growth of new products and services in Northeast Indiana and deserves support and investment from local government and businesses.

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