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Spotlight: Greater Lafayette.

Visitors to Greater Lafayette may have cause to wonder if the community has heard of the recession.

While the rest of the country tries to shake off what economists are calling the longest economic recession in history, Greater Lafayette appears to be thriving. The unemployment rate continues to be among the lowest in the state, and construction projects, both public and private, are booming.

Manufacturing operations account for a dozen of Tippecanoe County's top 25 employers, and include the Subaru-Isuzu Automotive plant and ALCOA's Extrusion Tube Division/Lafayette Works. An up-and-comer is Wabash National Corp., the third-largest manufacturer of truck-trailers in the country behind Fruehauf and Great Dane. Wabash National went public in November of last year, and revenues for 1991 were $199 million.

Another Greater Lafayette manufacturer that enjoyed record earnings last year is Great Lakes Chemical, a Fortune 500 company. The world's leading producer of bromine and brominated chemicals used in flame retardants, Great Lakes reported 1991 revenues up 21 percent to $1.3 billion. Construction is under way on the company's new $5.5 million corporate headquarters building, with completion slated for May 1993. Another $1.5 million is being spent on the expansion of existing facilities for a research and development center.

The role of Purdue University cannot be discounted when discussing the community's industrial base. In addition to being Tippecanoe County's largest employer, Purdue is recognized worldwide for its schools of agriculture, engineering, management and pharmaceutical sciences.

The university allocates more than $80 million annually to 400 campus-based research laboratories. The Business and Industrial Development Center at Purdue provides manufacturers with a direct line to university resources and services, including technical assistance, interaction with faculty experts and access to facilities. It's located at the Purdue Research Park, which is home to a variety of companies with particularly strong technological needs. Already, more than 100 acres of the park have been developed, and another 400 are available for future development. A high-speed fiber-optic data line connects the park with the main campus.

The university also figures prominently into Greater Lafayette's quality of life, providing not only educational opportunities but also an avenue for cultural exchange, the performing arts and Big Ten spectator sports. This contributed to a 1991 Money magazine survey that ranked Greater Lafayette the 14th-best U.S. city in which to live.

Abundant recreational opportunities, several highly regarded public school systems, and exceptional health-care facilities including two full-service hospitals and a large multispecialty outpatient clinic also help make Greater Lafayette an attractive place to call home.

J. Mike Brooks, president of Greater Lafayette Progress Inc., selectively touts all these factors as he oversees the community's economic-development efforts.

While Greater Lafayette has long been recognized as a regional center for health care and finance, the area has grown into a retail hub as well. Anchored by a Melvin Simon & Associates mall on the south end of town, Tippecanoe County's retail base includes 10 major shopping centers made up of a mixture of locally owned stores and national chains. The latest addition to the retail picture is the 16,000-square-foot Lafayette Crossing Outlet Center at the intersection of Interstate 65 and Indiana 26. And a mixed-used development called Park East, which is now taking shape, will include some retail uses.

Retailers in downtown Lafayette are adjusting to the changes in traffic patterns brought on by the opening of the new Indiana 26 twin-span bridge over the Wabash River. The bridge is part of the community's $120 million Railroad Relocation Project, which will eliminate 18 train crossings by 1995. Local business owners hope the drop in vehicular traffic on Main Street will encourage more pedestrian traffic and residential development.

A large portion of the area has recently been designated the Historic Downtown Shopping District, and six new businesses opened on Main Street over the summer months as downtown Lafayette began to recapture some of its original neighborhood atmosphere.

Members of the Downtown Business Center anticipate the reopening of the Tippecanoe County Courthouse in December will also draw visitors to the district. The county landmark has been undergoing a two-year, $10 million renovation designed to return it to its original 1885 splendor.

"It's a spectacular project," says architect Wayne Schmidt of Schmidt Associates Architects Inc. of Indianapolis. "When the project is completed, it will be an uplifting experience for people as they walk through the building."
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Regional Report: North Central; economic conditions
Author:Bowker, Sharon L.
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Sep 1, 1992
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