For the last 20 years I have worked with residents throughout Indianapolis and especially the northwest downtown area to ensure as our city grows and changes, residents are part of that growth. My current work is with one of the largest economic development projects of its time that is transforming underutilized industrial land nestled between Fall Creek and White River into the 16 Tech Innovation District. For at least two decades, city leaders have had a vision for advancing the regional economy and now momentum is making that vision a reality. The 16 Tech Innovation District opens this year with completion of the first building and construction is well under way on our second project, an innovation hub.
An innovation district is a place developed with a focus on creating new ways to solve the world’s challenges. There are nearly 100 innovation districts in the world focused on everything from development of new medical devices to starting the latest and greatest technology companies. For 16 Tech, the focus is on hosting startup and existing companies, entrepreneurs and researchers that primarily use health sciences, technology, engineering and manufacturing to solve those challenges and launch economic growth. According to a study by TEConomy Partners, 16 Tech will generate nearly 3,000 jobs of all skill levels in its first phase. Employment opportunities will be available with start-up and high-growth firms, research and corporate teams as well as retailers, housing and restaurant establishments (16 Tech).
The first phase of the 16 Tech Innovation District is being built on 50 acres of land that lies between Indiana Avenue, the White River, 16th Street to the north and 10th Street to the south. As a $500 million mixed-use development, the district will have office and lab spaces, a food and artisan marketplace, a makerspace, green spaces, restaurants, retail, hotel and housing. This place-based strategy is focused on supporting an ecosystem of innovators.
Black people have to be an integrated part of this ecosystem of innovators, entrepreneurs and corporate leaders in order to be engaged in the economic prosperity of this city in a real way. I often encounter people or research that assumes we (Black people) are not thriving in the innovation ecosystem. I know and believe we have, are and will continue to demonstrate excellence in this industry. Creativity and innovation are woven into the fabric of our being; just look at the long history of Black inventors aka innovators in this country alone.
As director of community initiatives for 16 Tech Community Corporation, my focus is to connect with the community and to create pathways for district neighbors to participate in the economic growth and success of the 16 Tech Innovation District. What does that mean?
It means I work with partners to create education and training programs that will connect to job opportunities for nearby residents. It means I work to make sure neighborhood businesses, especially Black- and brown-owned businesses, know how to work in and with the innovation district companies. Finally, it means that I create opportunities to invest in and advocate for quality of life with neighbors whether it be education, infrastructure, housing or building resident capacity to reach their goals. That is the day-to-day focus of my job, but the real work is making sure that Black and brown residents in this community know what the innovation district is and making sure we are part of the district’s culture.
In the coming weeks through a series of columns, I will share information about what is happening in 16 Tech and highlight education, training, community programs and people that are doing impactful work in science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM)-related fields. I hope to inspire the Black and brown Indianapolis community to participate in this next wave of economic growth in our city.
When my school-aged grandmother sold the Indianapolis Recorder paper on Indiana Avenue and Douglas and Blake streets back in the 1930s and ‘40s, I imagine she never dreamed of having a granddaughter who would have the opportunity to write her very own column in that paper. It is with great pride and honor that I introduce myself and I look forward to continuing this conversation.
Starla Hart is the director of community initiatives at 16 Tech Community Corporation and contributor for the Indianapolis Recorder. Contact her at [email protected].