Indiana: The Heart Of The Heartland

With strong roots in manufacturing, Indiana’s economy is evolving to attract new areas of the sector, including green energy.

By BF Editors
From the July/August 2022 Issue

Indiana is known for many things including the University of Notre Dame, basketball, the Indy 500, and its vast amount of farmland. It is also the birthplace of several Nobel Prize winners, pro footballers, and baseballers as well as entertainers including the Michael Jackson and David Letterman.

Indiana is also a state known for some surprising firsts including the first city to be illuminated by electric light and home of the first gasoline pump. The state houses one of the largest public universities in the U.S.—Indiana University—which is well known for its academic offerings and its Division 1 sports teams.

Indiana economy
(Photo: Adobe Stock)

While all these facts add to Indiana’s appeal, it’s not why so many people and businesses want to call the Hoosier state home. For its residents, it’s about the ability to live in a state where tight-knit communities still exist, where neighbors wave hello to each other and where quality of life is high.

For business, Indiana offers a wealth of opportunities including a strong economic climate, and lower set up and operation costs, as well as a variety of incentives designed to help companies flourish. It may have a business reputation steeped in agriculture and automotive history, but in addition to several Fortune 500 companies being headquartered here, many healthcare, tech, logistics and manufacturing businesses are in Indiana as well. In fact, according to the Indiana Economic Development Corp., Indiana has the largest concentration of manufacturing jobs in the nation.

During the last 10 years Indiana has been quietly developing a reputation as a tech hub, with several startups and global software companies locating here, and its favorable economic climate is helping the state attract food manufacturing businesses as well.

Hoosier Energy: Repurposing A Coal Plant Site

In February 2022, Hoosier Energy announced plans to transfer ownership of its coal fired Merom Generating Station in Sullivan County, IN, to Hallador Power Co., a subsidiary of Hallador Energy Co.

Hoosier Energy’s Long Range Resource Plan contemplated the retirement or possible sale of the 50-year-old coal generating facility, located in southwest Indiana near Terre Haute. While planning for that retirement, Hoosier Energy began looking into redevelopment opportunities for the property surrounding the plant that would fit with the cooperative’s long-range resource strategy as well as positioning itself for environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosures.

Indiana's economy
A 185-acre tract just north of a coal plant in Sullivan County, Indiana offers an abundance of assets ready for prime development opportunities. (Photo: Hoosier Energy)

The electric generation and transmission cooperative, based in Bloomington, IN, engaged Global Location Strategies (GLS) to identify the best economic development opportunities for property owned by Hoosier Energy adjacent to, but outside the footprint of the generating station.

In a series of studies and analyses, GLS found an area rich in existing utility and rail infrastructure and a skilled labor force ready for new applications.

“The assets there are really phenomenal,” said Andrew Ratchford, Senior Consultant for GLS, a Greenville, SC-based consulting firm that specializes in corporate site selection. GLS also helps communities, regions, and states understand how they can be more competitive for investments that provide high-quality jobs.

“The labor force is skilled, and the physical infrastructure is outstanding. The confluence of water, large electric capacity, rail and acreage make the site incredibly useful for redevelopment,” Ratchford said.

Six industries were identified as attractive opportunities to leverage those assets while also offering high impact to the community. Two stood out as front-runners­—food manufacturing and green hydrogen manufacturing. “Food manufacturing enterprises can do well here. They generally don’t need a huge acreage footprint or require massive capital investment. Plus, there’s ready access to raw products and markets,” he noted.

Green hydrogen, with its positive environmental attributes, Ratchford added, is a strong fit that could capitalize on the area’s expertise in chemical manufacturing and available utility infrastructure. “Green hydrogen can be produced by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen using renewable electricity through a process called electrolysis. The result is very low or zero carbon emissions,” he said.

With additional investment, according to the GLS report the site may become competitive in four other sectors: plastic and rubber manufacturing, battery manufacturing, large automotive suppliers, and hyperscale data centers.

Hoosier Energy is already receiving inquiries on the property and has completed several due diligence reports, including environmental site assessments for the 185-acre tract identified and studied as part of the GLS report. Based on initial reviews, no concerns have been identified. With due diligence complete, Hoosier Energy plans to aggressively market Merom to site selectors and corporate decision makers.

“Value add continues to be the focus for Hoosier Energy throughout the energy transition,” said Harold Gutzwiller, Manager of Economic Development for Hoosier Energy.

New investment in advanced technology infrastructure is beginning to take place in the area as well. AboutBit, a Kentucky-based crypto pioneer, is building an ultramodern, sustainable cryptocurrency mining facility on a 10-acre site adjacent to the coal plant. The new facility will be powered by 115 megawatts of electricity from WIN Energy, one of Hoosier Energy’s 18 distribution cooperative members.

“This property is part of the community. Merom redevelopment is a great example of our commitment to facilitate economic development opportunities that are responsive to local needs and support a holistic energy strategy,” Gutzwiller said.