LEBANON, Indiana — Boone County officials confirm they are working with the state on what would be a "significant development" to bring high-tech businesses and high-wage jobs to an area west of Lebanon.
"This would be a mega-site for the state of Indiana," said Molly Whitehead, executive director of Boone County Economic Development. "'Game changer' doesn't even begin to describe what this is."
Whitehead and state officials say they can't disclose many details because the project is in the early planning stages.
Homeowners and farmers west of Lebanon say they've either already received, or are expecting to receive, an offer for their property from the State of Indiana.
"Boone County is at the forefront for development and growth due to its position between Indianapolis and Purdue University in West Lafayette, as well as its proximity to I-65," said Erin Sweitzer, a spokesperson for the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, in an email to 13News. "All of this, along with its quality of life and strong schools, make it attractive to high-tech companies in future-focused industries. The IEDC looks forward to collaborating closely with Boone County officials and the community as we move forward together."
Sweitzer described the potential collaboration as part of an effort to "innovate and compete globally for high-wage careers in high-tech industries."
According to our newsgathering partners at the Lebanon Reporter, the proposed tech park could be as large as 7,000 acres.
"The IEDC does not yet have any confirmed development details in terms of size, investment or specific businesses planning to invest," Sweitzer said. "To directly address some rumors, I can confirm the site will not be purchased by China or used for an airport, FedEx hub, Amazon drone delivery, rest stop or gas station, big box distribution warehouse, or penitentiary."
Whitehead acknowledged some businesses would be better suited for the location than others.
"We know that from a national security standpoint, there are some types of companies that would be more desirable to have within the United States, and so we'd like to have them in the state of Indiana," she said.
When it comes to landing high-tech companies and high-wage jobs, Whitehead said the competition is fierce. So it's critical to be prepared with land, utilities and other infrastructure already in place.
"It makes those communities stand out," she said. "And those communities that are welcoming, and are excited about having those prospects .. that's certainly a bonus."
Lots of questions
Not everyone is all that excited. More than 1,700 people have signed an online petition to "save Boone County farmland before it's too late."
And some neighbors are frustrated with the mystery of it all.
"I don't know anything," said Patti Hollingsworth, who added that she wished her locally elected leaders would be able to find out more. She and her husband built their home more than 30 years ago. "We like the farmland. We like our wide open spaces, our quiet way of life."
It has become a familiar puzzle in growing communities: respecting and protecting the longtime rural way of life, while also planning for the future.
"I grew up here myself and not many people who grew up here come back," Whitehead said. "And so this is potentially an opportunity to provide some higher-paying, higher-skilled positions that could attract generations to come."
Whitehead said they will work with property owners who do not want to sell.
"At the end of the day, we believe in landowner's rights — that land owners should be able to do what they want with their land," Whitehead said.
That includes discussions about property setbacks and other aesthetics.
"So if you do live across the street," she said, "the building isn't right there in front of your door."
Sweitzer said the IEDC and Boone County are still in the early stages of planning and discussions.
"These types of developments take years of planning," she said.
Whitehead told 13News shovels could hit the dirt within five years.