MICHIGAN CITY | Like in a garden, growing businesses into sustainable job-creators in Indiana takes resources, planting, tending and sometimes weeding out what’s not thriving.
That image of economic gardening comes right from the playbook of Elevate Ventures, a nonprofit venture development organization that focuses on developing emerging and existing high-potential businesses to transform them into high-performing Indiana-based companies.
On Thursday, NIPSCO contributed $175,000 to the Elevate Ventures movement to advance Northern Indiana’s entrepreneurial movement during a luncheon at Blue Chip Casino. Indiana Secretary of Commerce Dan Hasler accepted the donation from NIPSCO’s new CEO Jim Stanley along with Mark Maassel, president/CEO of the Northwest Indiana Forum and an Elevate Ventures board member.
“I’m an old-fashioned utility man,” said Stanley who took over the helm at NIPSCO less than four weeks ago. “Part of NIPSCO’s commitment to the area is community involvement.”
During the lunch, Don Babcock, of NIPSCO, put the Northwest Indiana job market into perspective. In 1978, NWI’s workers made 125 percent of the nation’s average wages. By 2008, that had dropped to 89 percent of the nation’s average wage.
“That’s a 36 percent drop in relative income. Some of it came from the consolidation of the steel industry that lost 50,000 jobs paying between $60,000 and $70,000 a year. That’s a $3 billion dollar hit to our economy.”
In order to stimulate additional job growth, the area needs to find support business growth on many levels. One of those involves growing entrepreneurs.
Hasler said in its first 18 months, Elevate Ventures has been tending the economic development garden throughout Indiana. Among those efforts have been identifying entrepreneurs who have potential to be successful and help them obtain funding to start and sustain their businesses.
“These are companies that are vetted,” he said. “One of our jobs at Elevate Ventures is to get these young entrepreneurs ready to go to the bank for funding.”
That vetting process is extensive and intensive, Hasler said. “We will reject 87 out of 100 requests, and we reject because it’s a bad idea, bad management, not the right time.”
Through a program called the 21 Fund, Elevate Ventures has been able to invest $25 million in 26 companies as a venture capital stimulator. Of those 23 are still in business and 12 have been able to find outside capital.
“Failure (of some businesses) is a part of the process,” Hasler said.
Another funding boost came from the federal government in the form of a nearly $35 million grant to stimulate entrepreneurship throughout the state, he said.
Some of the “saplings or seedlings” Elevate Ventures helps will be future Fortune 1000 companies “that our children and grandchildren will work for,” Hasler said. “We want to make sure young entrepreneurs don’t get their money from California, for example – that they get it from Indiana.”
Elevate Ventures' goal is to reach 250 companies that will accept Indiana’s offer to set up shop in the Hoosier State. Currently, Indiana is third in the nation in job growth. However, the businesses that are creating those jobs aren’t evenly distributed across the state, he said.
Northern Indiana is one of the targeted areas for this kind of business and job growth, Hasler said.
“Seventy percent of job growth comes from companies that employ 10 to 250 people,” he said.
NIPSCO's Stanley said the company plans to begin it's $246.4 million clean-coal construction project at its Michigan City Generating Station in November.