Defense industry pushes for growth in northeast Indiana

April 10th, 2018

By Gwen Clayton | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

The Indiana Office of Defense Development is setting its sights on economic development in northeast Indiana, which could mean more jobs for active-duty military, veterans and civilians looking for work or business opportunities in the defense sector.

That was the message Capt. Danielle Chrysler, director for the IODD gave at the March 23 luncheon for the Northeast Indiana Community Base Council.

“Northeast Indiana is one of my regional ecosystems, if you will,” she told the Business Weekly in a phone interview after the meeting. “The governor and lieutenant governor sat down with me to talk through what assets they thought we had in Indiana and we have 11 of them currently that cover all the way up from Michigan City over to northeast Indiana and down into Terre Haute, central Indiana and then the southwest/southeast also have assets located in there.”

Fort Wayne is home to the Air National Guard’s 122nd Fighter Wing, which is one of the key points being considered as the IODD plans for growth.

“How defense development works is you use your defense-heavy areas in order to drive that dialogue,” Chrysler said. “You look at the installations as a kind of economic engine driver for the conversation, or at least you take a look at them to see if there’s something that you can catch onto in the industry side or technology side of life and you have one of the best fighter wings, I would say, in the Midwest, setting up there in northeast Indiana.”

She also points to defense contractor BAE Systems right across the street and the airport next door.

“In that triangle right there, you have a lot of defense-related industry currently doing business in Fort Wayne,” she said. “When you look at the Indiana defense heat map, as we call it, which is showing you where the money goes, northeast Indiana alone is over a billion-dollar investment and DoD contracting out there.”

The mission of the IODD is spelled out in statute. Its four legislative requirements include promoting the defense assets located in Indiana; attracting defense-related industry and activities to Indiana – working with local, regional and statewide economic development organizations; promoting and assisting in the commercialization of the United States Department of Defense and other federal intellectual property and assets to create new products, companies and jobs in Indiana; and finally, to report annually to the lieutenant governor on economic, workforce and national-security impact of the defense assets and defense industry in Indiana.

“And even larger than that is to build the defense state strategy to promote the defense industry in not only Indiana but the Midwest,” Chrysler said.

A native Hoosier, Chrysler grew up on the south side of Indianapolis, earning her undergraduate degree from Butler University and her MBA from Indiana Wesleyan. She then joined the Indiana National Guard, attached to the Joint Forces Headquarters where she spent 20 years in public service, nine of those with Gov. Mitch Daniels’ administration. Her husband is a special operations officer in the south and is currently in medical school for the military in Texas. The couple actually live in Austin, Texas but 11 months ago, she was asked to come back to Indiana and take on this role to analyze defense assets.

“I had to do a Ph.D.-level deep dive into defense in the Indiana market that normally takes 18 months in other areas,” she said. “We did it for Indiana in seven — that’s working 24 hours a day, seven days a week to make sure we got all of our numbers right.”

She and her team collected information on personnel, contracts and grants in addition to military assets throughout the state.

“Now that we have that information, we’re building the state strategy to look at being released later this fall for what defense next level looks like,” she said. “What are those areas we’re going to go after in technologies, and what are our prime companies doing in these areas that we can connect our military assets along with the dialogue?”

Civilian businesses will play a large role in that dialogue.

“You have a very large subcontracting base up there along with some primes — BAE, Raytheon, Ultra Electronics,” she said. “You have some very large defense-asset conversations setting up in northeast Indiana. But you also have the supply base up there.”

The supply base to AM General out of South Bend, supply base to Rolls Royce and other civilian businesses that do defense work are all part of the IODD’s capture system.

“When we go for these large projects, we can go as a state with those subs attached to them,” she said. “Let’s say, for example, if there is a large project to re-engine one of those Army helicopters, we can go at it together with those civilian businesses doing defense work up there.”

Right now, the IODD is building its digital capture system in the state in order to compile all the information to bring all the players to the table. When large opportunities in the defense sector arise, Indiana – and even the Midwest as a region – will have some economic muscle.

One of the challenges facing the fighter wing, though is the eight-year technology gap and near-85-percent failure rate sometimes for planes in combat.

“We just have something in Indiana with the test-bed dialogue and our large defense base here could change that conversation,” Chrysler said. “It’s worth all of us pulling together and our resources together in order to be in that dialogue at a much higher level.”

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