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Hard Tech Corridor In The Heartland

Indianapolis 500 always makes the Memorial Day weekend exciting for the Hoosier State. But last week was even busier.

Four days before the 2022 Indy 500, two special places were unveiled. Next to Purdue’s West Lafayette campus, the 460-acre Discovery Park District showcased why smart cities might get smarter faster in middle America. As mentioned in an earlier article here, a connected community of thousands of residents will also facilitate a “lab-to-life” deployment of the latest autonomy technologies, serving as a first-to-deploy site for technology solutions next to faculty expertise and student talent. On the same day, Eli Lilly

LLY
and Co., one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the country, announced their multibillion-dollar new site in Lebanon, Ind., the first anchor of the 4,000-acre LEAP District that was announced by Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb and Secretary of Commerce Brad Chambers and going through various approval steps.

When approved and fully developed, what we see is an exciting 65-mile stretch, bookended by the 16Tech campus in downtown Indianapolis on the one side and Purdue’s Discovery Park District in West Lafayette on the other. Exactly in the middle is the forward-looking Lebanon development with Indiana’s strategic leaning in.

On the map of the United States, this is going to be a hard tech corridor. Hard tech is technology that touches the hard stuff. Here are three examples:

  • Semiconductors manufacturing: Both the fabrication step and the advanced packaging step, which promises significant value-added innovation, need to be on-shored and re-shored to the U.S.
  • Bio-pharma manufacturing: Advances in the manufacturing and storage of pharmaceutical products must continue beyond the COVID-19 vaccine success.
  • Aerospace and transportation: From drones and electrified vertical-takeoff-landing vehicles to battery and engine production, we need to create and make the “smart crossroads of America.”

Hard tech is perhaps less glamorous than virtual reality and machine learning coding. But at some point, tech still needs to touch physical reality: chips, meds, cars, and food. Artificial intelligence needs to become “hard” too: AI done on hardware, AI at the physical edge of the network, and AI for things you can touch.

But why hard tech in the heartland? Among the top reasons is workforce, the new “natural resource.” A workforce rooted in the manufacturing DNA to make things and upskilled by digital technologies to make things in new ways.

Two days before the Indy 500 race, at Indiana’s first Global Economic Summit, two initiatives were announced during the same session on semiconductors. One was the formation of a statewide taskforce, Accelerating Microelectronic Production and Development (AMPD), and the other Purdue’s Semiconductor Degrees Program (SDP).

There are a few distinct features about the recently launched SDP:

  • 6-in-1 content: Chemicals/materials, tools, design, manufacturing, and packaging — all semiconductor industry’s key steps are included in one interdisciplinary program, along with supply chain management.
  • Choice of credentials: The degrees program include a range of credentials for the whole spectrum of talent needed: Master of Science degree, stackable certificates at the post-graduate level, Bachelor of Science minor or concentration; or associate degrees through partner the Ivy Tech Community College.
  • Flexible modality: SDP offers both residential and online programs, including an online suite of degrees and certificates dedicated to semiconductors.
  • Innovative delivery: Students will learn through online learning platform nanoHUB and virtual labs, co-op and internship opportunities, and design-to-fab team projects.
  • Broad partnership: SDP is a cornerstone in collaborating with Department of Defense’s SCALE (Scalable Asymmetric Lifecyle Engagement) program, American Semiconductor Academy (ASA), and other workforce consortia mobilized by the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS

    HIPS
    ) Act.

As Purdue President Mitch Daniels said, “the need to restore self-reliance in the semiconductor industry is both an economic priority and a national security imperative.” About 20 CEOs of major semiconductors companies endorsed this effort to increase the talent pipeline in this critical industry. Developing talent for the foundation of all the digital economy, SDP is also advised by a leadership board of industry senior executives.

Advances in digital, modular and additive manufacturing, in new materials and processes, and in application sectors essential to this century’s economy, are rewriting the economic equations. In the new equations, hard tech will be less about labor cost but more about innovation speed. In central Indiana and its neighbors of the heartland, jobs, talent and knowledge can be co-created along the hard tech corridors we are building today.