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McRobbie: IU's growth a key to region's future

  • Jan. 21, 2016

Editor's note: This story from The Bloomington Herald-Times is being published here as a courtesy for readers of IU in the News.

By Kurt Christian

The Bloomington Economic Development Corp.’s annual meeting Tuesday was on the 196th anniversary of Indiana University’s inception, further cementing the link between school and community efforts to develop Monroe County’s economic strengths.

Performing two roles as the event’s keynote speaker and the face of the university, Indiana University President Michael McRobbie demonstrated his dynamic responsibilities as both an instigating force for the region’s economic strength and a far-reaching influence on the benefactors of Indiana University. McRobbie celebrated the milestones centered around the university while crediting the region’s economic developments for such expansions over the past year.

“Indiana University Bloomington remains enormously attractive to students,” McRobbie said.

With the lowest net cost of attendance of any Big Ten school, IU’s Bloomington campus continues to be a primary factor in the retention of economic drivers, according to McRobbie. Last year, for the first time, IU graduated 20,000 students as more than 100,000 people watched those ceremonies. It’s a captive audience that holds potential economic growth as the university plans its bicentennial campaign over the next few years. That campaign, entitled “For All,” will be one of the top five largest campaigns set forth by a public university, according to McRobbie. It aims to raise $2.5 billion by Dec. 31, 2019.

The campaign is timed to end during the 2019-20 academic year, when the university’s bicentennial will be celebrated. McRobbie said he hopes the bicentennial’s focus will also be to stimulate attention on the transformation that’s been occurring at IU.

The celebration coincides with the process of reconfiguring and establishing different schools, including: two Schools of Public Health, the state’s first School of Philanthropy in Indianapolis, the merging of the Informatics school with the department of information and library science, a merger that created the Media School, the School of Art and Design, the School of Global and International Studies, the university’s expanding online programs and the new School of Engineering.

Internationally, expansion of the university’s Global Pathway Centers have extended the university’s economic reach beyond the Hoosier state. In developments across the state, Indiana University has renovated or constructed nearly 70 major facilities in a project that’s injected nearly $2 billion into the economy. Regionally, McRobbie praised the advantages I-69’s recent progress has brought to southern Indiana, and particularly, IU-Bloomington’s relationship to the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center.

“It is now accessible to us in a way that it was not accessible to us before. To me, Crane had always been the sleeping giant,” McRobbie said. “To me, that giant has been awakened.”

Lynn Coyne, president of the BEDC, IU alumnus and former assistant vice president for real estate and economic development at the university, related regional resources to the university’s success. Stressing the previous efforts and opportunities for cooperation, Coyne’s outlook included actions taken with regard to the creation of a regional academic health center in conjunction with IU Health Bloomington Hospital, regional BEDC partner meetings and more.

“We are not an island,” Coyne said. “We live in a big economy.”

Community life science achievements in the past year include Cook Pharmica’s creation of 70 new jobs, a $28 million expansion and the advent of a new drug product line. In the technology sector, the software company Cigital has announced the creation of more than 30 new jobs; more than 300 jobs have been posted on the Bloomington Technology Partnership’s website; and there were seven nominees in Bloomington for MIRA awards celebrating technology sector success stories. Last year’s entrepreneurial community also saw the rise of the B-Start pre-accelerator program, which helped contribute to nine student business startups.

Despite the positive evidence of growth seen in the recent past, Coyne offered a warning to home-grown business ventures looking to capitalize on Monroe County’s expanding economy by referring to competition among taxi service providers in light of new ride-sharing options.

“We have to understand that any sector we deal with can be ‘Ubered’ at any time, and we have to be prepared,” he said.