BOONE COUNTY, Ind. — Signs of change are all over Boone County. Fences, flags and construction cones mark where two future Eli Lilly manufacturing facilities will one day make medicine.
The site is just north of Lebanon. Eli Lilly CEO Dave Ricks announced Monday the company is upping its initial investment in Boone county from $2.1 billion to $3.7 billion. This facilities will now create 700 new jobs, instead of the initial 500.
Ricks said this is the largest manufacturing investment at a single location in the company’s history. The jobs will be for highly skilled workers who will utilize advanced technology to create innovative medicines.
”It’s going to be a state of the art facility that’s really going to put Lebanon on the map,” said Lebanon Mayor Matt Gentry.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb also called the groundbreaking historic for the county and state.
The Lilly facilities will also be the anchor of the LEAP Lebanon Innovation District, a planned 9,000 acre research and development park in Boone County. Gentry said the standards are high for the companies that will be in the park.
”We want these next generation, high technology, advanced manufacturing,” Gentry said. “We know what we want to see here.”
But, the project has been frustrating for many neighbors who live within the planned LEAP area.
”They want to make it warm and fuzzy but i think we’re being sold a bill of goods,” said Brian Daggy.
Daggy and his wife bought their home two years ago inside what would eventually become the outline for the LEAP district. They had plans to remodel and retire in their new home. It’s close to town and close to their grandkids, two things the couple was excited about after farming in Thorntown all their lives.
Eighteen months ago, they were approached about selling their house. So far, the Daggys have held out.
”We’re in limbo,” Daggy said. “What do you do, what don’t you do, if you’re at risk of them coming back and saying we got a buyer and we’re going to make you an offer you can’t refuse.”
In the short term, Daggy is worried about how construction on the Lilly facilities will impact Boone County traffic over the next few years. Roads in and out of the construction zone or gravel or two-lane country roads.
”There are going to be people sitting at stop lights for 30 minutes trying to get through,” Daggy said.
Eli Lilly CEO Dave Ricks said he wants people in Boone County to get to know the company as their new neighbor.
“I think we’re going to be great neighbors,” Ricks said. “We are everywhere we operate. At the end, I think the Lebanon community will be happy with our presence here.”
In the long term, Daggy wonders what happens if they don’t sell?
Indiana Secretary of Commerce Brad Chambers said no one will be forced into a decision.
“If they want to hold on, they can hold on, and we will build a great infrastructure around them,” Chambers said. “And if they want to sell we’re certainly open to doing that, as well.”
Daggy said the unknowns around this development and who his new neighbors would be worries him.
”If they say they can build around or really give us a chance to stay here, what’s that going to look like?” Daggy asked. “Quite honestly we don’t trust them right now.”
Gaggy and others also have concerns about where the water will come from to support such a huge development.
Chambers said Lebanon and Boone County were going to have a water problem, regardless, but didn’t give specific solutions.
”They were going to have a water challenge whether it’s in five years or 15 years, so being able to put this significant economic development in this are and at the same time solve a water problem for the region, that’s a double bottom line and were excited to be able to do it in the context of this overall strategy,” Chambers said.
So far, Eli Lilly is the only resident of the LEAP park. Gentry said they’re working on securing more and hoping to announce more companies this summer.
Daggy feels like the state is using this uncertainty to try and get neighbors to sell.
”You wonder whether they’re sincere when they say, ‘Oh ya, you can be here and we just build it around you and you’ll be fine,’ or are they going to count on the fact that they’re going to wear people down and there will be enough fear and concerns that people will just start selling for fear of what may be coming,” Daggy said.
Chambers also did not give an exact price tag for the state in the LEAP development. He said it would be in the hundreds of millions to billions, but said the return would be worth it.
”That return is in tax revenue, it’s in sales tax revenue, it’s in higher wages for Hoosiers and a better quality of life, so that’s the way we are looking at this,” Chambers said. “We have to invest in the future of our economy and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
Eli Lilly also announced a $15 million commitment to the Ivy Tech Foundation over the next five years on Monday. That will fund up to 1,000 scholarships for individuals interested in pursuing careers in pharmaceutical manufacturing.