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New medical manufacturing facility gets nearly 100% minority-owned contractors

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A new manufacturing facility that will produce medical equipment on the northeast side of Indianapolis is nearly complete with most contracts going to Black-owned businesses.

When Cook Medical and Goodwill of Central and Southern Indiana announced their partnership to build the facility in November 2020, they set a goal to have all contractors be minority-owned.

To date, 97% have been minority-owned, and the other 3% have come from woman-, veteran- or disability-owned contractors, according to Goodwill.

Ask anyone involved with the project how it got nearly all minority-owned contractors, and Akilah Darden’s name will come up.

Cook Medical brought on Darden to recruit a general contractor and make sure subcontractors were diverse. There are a total of 20 contractors, and 16 are Black-owned, Darden said. The general contractor is Harmon Construction, which is Black-owned.

“This is unheard of,” Darden said. “I don’t think it’s been done in the country, not to this level.”

Darden called the process exhausting and said a lot of people thought it wouldn’t be possible to get that many minority-owned contractors on a $16 million project. Darden worked with community development corporations, economic development groups and organizations that work with people coming out of jail and prison.

“It just went on and on and on,” she said.

Darden’s advantage is she can talk construction, having been in the business for 23 years. She worked with subcontractors to see where the best fit might be on the project and even helped them recruit workers at job fairs and on social media. Darden guessed she helped about 20 people land jobs, including some who messaged her after seeing videos she posted on Instagram.

Bill Harmon, CEO of Harmon Construction, said it’s challenging to find as many minority-owned contractors as they needed and credited Darden for her work. Harmon said he can remember one other project that had this level of participation from minority-owned contractors, about 30 years with Eli Lilly.

“We don’t get opportunities like this every day,” Harmon said. “This is big.”

The 40,000-square-foot facility will manufacture medical devices such as drainage catheters and needles for Cook and is expected to create 100 jobs initially. Workers will be employed by Goodwill, and the goal is to hire from the community around where the facility will be at 38th Street and Sheridan Avenue. The Indianapolis Foundation and Alliance for Northeast Unification are also part of the project.

Juanita Easterling, who will be the plant manager at the facility, grew up in Detroit but was born in Indianapolis and lived in the neighborhood as a child.

“The project for me is so fulfilling,” she said.

Along with the manufacturing facility, Cook Medical added a grocery store to address food access issues. The store, Indy Fresh Market, will be in front of the new facility. Two men from the Arlington Woods neighborhood will own the store.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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