CRANE — The WestGate Academy Conference and Training Center officially opened its doors Tuesday.
Although the $8.8 million center has hosted several events, the new centerpiece of the WestGate @ Crane Tech Park hosted politicians, local leaders, leaders from NSWC Crane and economic development officials for its ribbon cutting.
In the cavernous main room in the center, speakers at the ceremony said the 64,000 square-foot center is another chapter in the success story of WestGate.
“It’s been three and a half years in the making,” WestGate Authority President Kent Parisien said.
The WestGate Academy was created as a center for conferences, events, college classes, and business incubations. As Parisien was speaking Tuesday, the center was hosting college classes.
“The opening of the WestGate Academy marks the beginning of a whole new era,” Parisien said.
Eighth District Congressman Larry Bucshon gave the keynote speech, thanking everyone for the opportunity Crane and WestGate provide for the district.
“With the opening of I-69 a few miles north, I believe we will be hearing of this facility’s national impact,” Bucshon said. “Today is truly a special day.”
Bucshon said the “future is here in Indiana.”
“We collectively take a step forward toward a global leadership position right here in Indiana,” Bucshon said.
State Rep. Sue Ellspermann also spoke during the ribbon cutting. Although she is running for lt. governor on the Republican ticket, part of her non-political work deals with bringing technology from Crane and introducing it in the private sector.
“This facility will assist us in doing that,” Ellspermann said. “There are also those working on an I-69 innovation corridor which this facility will provide the kind of work that will attract jobs and new technologies.”
Southern Indiana Development Commission Director Greg Jones also gave moving remarks. As head of the SIDC, he helped secure most of the funding from federal disaster funds to help pay for the center.
Jones said it is a good example of when government works together and investing in good ideas.
“Without all the partners working toward the same goal, we would not be doing this ribbon cutting (Tuesday),” Jones said.
Jones estimated the academy will bring 250 more jobs to the area. He said the opportunity that is at WestGate will go on for future generations.
“I am most proud to stand here as a dad and know, that when he gets to working age, he will have an opportunity that exists in this area,” Jones said.
Also speaking at Tuesday’s ribbon cutting were Jeanette Tamayo, regional director of the federal Economic Development Association; Chad Pittman, executive vice president of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation; Cary Bledsoe of Stimulus Engineering, the company contracted to run the facility; and Col. Alan Pratt, commander of NSWC Crane.
Mentioned several times by many of the speakers was the work WestGate @ Crane Executive Director Charles Selby has done with the center. Selby said after he was elated personally and professionally the academy is a reality.
“I’m elated about the opportunity that has been realized here in southwestern Indiana for all of our citizens,” Selby said. “To be able to create a space where all the colleges can come together and having a place where we can have incubation where we can get new technology growing.
Also instrumental in getting the park to grow was Daviess County Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Ron Arnold. Arnold said that as conference, there’s nothing close to in the area.
“This will become the centerpiece for the transformation of this region,” Arnold said.
The WestGate @ Crane Authority makes decisions in the tri-county park. Member Floyd “Lonnie” Hawkins said he always knew this day would come.
“I was always optimistic,” Hawkins said. “Every time we would meet, it would say ‘Academy’ on top of the agenda. So every time I looked at it, I had to be hopeful.”
One longtime authority member who was not present was the late Gene Shaw. Shaw, from Martin County, was key in the development of the park and the academy and a former president of the WestGate Authority.
“It just so happened that the day we were awarded this grant was the day of his funeral,” Parisien said. “So he was not able to share this excitement but I know he is sharing it in heaven today.”
State Rep. Mark Messmer is the head of the Crane Caucus at the statehouse.
He said Tuesday was a great day for southwest Indiana.
“This building is one more piece of the puzzle together to help bring everyone together,” Messmer said. “The big benefit for the state is technology transfer and it will be a great boon to Indiana.”
The building was designed by Dale Ankrom, who has designed many of the buildings at the park. Ankrom said he is very proud of the building.
“I’m happy for the communities, happy for the region,” Ankrom said.
“This is something that I’ve been thinking about for five years and working on the plans for four years. This is something really special for the community.”
While he was not present Tuesday, Gov. Mitch Daniels released remarks in a statement.
“The WestGate Academy facility is a long-awaited development that will serve as a economic catalyst for the region,” he said.
Daniels was at the groundbreaking for the facility.
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