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Accusation of cronyism at Purdue trails plan to recruit remote workers to West Lafayette
WL council member and Mitch Daniels critic wants city to pull back support. Former Purdue trustee and Daniels campaign manager, who founded the company, calls move a political swipe
Thanks for the sponsorship today to friends Scott Greeson, Vickie Maris and the rest of those assembling for a Saturday, May 7, show featuring Michael Kelsey and Courtney Von Drehle at The Arts Federation. For ticket information, including in-person and a concert video watch party, click on the link below and scroll through today’s edition.
WORK FROM PURDUE DEFENDS INVESTMENT, AS COUNCIL MEMBER CALLS ON CITY TO DUMP FUNDING
David Sanders already was on a tear about West Lafayette ponying up $50,000 toward a $1 million project by Purdue Research Foundation and the state to recruit remote workers – geographical free agents, the company behind the plan called them – to the city, and more specifically to an evolving Purdue’s Discovery Park District just west of campus.
Sanders, a Democratic city council member, took time at an April 4 meeting to grill city officials about why West Lafayette would put money toward a Purdue program to bring in high-salaried workers instead of focusing on affordable housing and other issues. What Purdue did was its business, Sanders said, but West Lafayette was sending the wrong message when it paid people to move to a city that can stand on its own merits.
Things ramped up when Sanders learned later that one of the founders of TMap – the company that ran a one-year, MakeMyMove/Work From Purdue pilot project that turned into a $1 million expanded effort – was Bill Oesterle, a West Lafayette native, former Purdue trustee and campaign manager for Purdue President Mitch Daniels’ first run for Indiana governor in 2004.
“Unbelievable,” Sanders, a Purdue biology professor and frequent critic of Daniels’ moves at the university, said.
“It just seems unlikely to me that Purdue decided, ‘Oh, we need to pay stipends to remote workers to settle in West Lafayette. Let’s go and find a company that does that. Oh, look it’s TMap.’ I don’t think that’s the way it happened,” Sanders said. “I’m sick of friends of Daniels and former trustees making these deals and profiting from their connections at Purdue. The city shouldn’t be legitimizing it.”
Oesterle was quick to defend himself and the remote worker relocation concept, as Sanders prepared to call on the city to revoke the $50,000 commitment with a resolution going to the city council Monday night.
Oesterle – who was a Purdue trustee from 2005 to 2010, appointed by then-Gov. Daniels, and a founder of Angie’s List – called Sanders’ move an uncalled for political swipe.
“That guy is a bad actor,” Oesterle said. “He’s a political hack trying to create chaos. Just because I was Mitch Daniels’ campaign manager, he does this? … The program works. And West Lafayette is getting the best deal out of this.”
Daniels, contacted last week, declined to comment on Sanders’ resolution – one that mentions Oesterle and Daniels by name. He said he was constrained by a personal rule to speak no ill of any Purdue community member.
But Daniels did reiterate support for the Work From Purdue program, which already had used moving incentives and assorted campus perks to get 28 people from other parts of the U.S. to move to West Lafayette since 2021.
“All we’re trying to do here is lift the community up and bring some more talent,” Daniels said. “As you've probably heard me say so often, I think what's good for the community is good for Purdue, and vice versa. We're simply trying to enhance the place in this rather modest way.”
West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis said he stood behind the city’s investment. Signed off by the city’s board of works in late March, the deal pays for Purdue Research Foundation marketing and commissions of $2,000 to $2,100 to TMap each time the company lands a recruit, all of which is capped at $50,000.
“As a city, we do all sorts of things to entice people to come here and live here – parks, trails, you name it,” Dennis said. “To me, this is no different. … Who is doing it isn’t the thing. Is it working, that’s the thing. And I’m confident this is working and what we should be doing.”
Here’s how it works with a program Purdue touted as a first of its kind for a college campus, targeting remote workers looking to live next to a Big Ten university and a generally lower cost of living. Participants must come from outside Indiana, be self-employed or a full-time employee with remote work privileges and eligible to work in the United States.
According to MakeMyMove’s West Lafayette site, those who qualify and move here get:
$4,000 relocation stipend
$1,000 dining credit in the Purdue Memorial Union
A Purdue ID card, email address and access to Purdue’s WiFi network
Discount offers on new housing developments
Assorted networking opportunities and entrepreneurial support
The goal is to recruit 100 people, plus any trailing spouses or family members, in the next year.
Purdue Research Foundation, a private non-profit arm of Purdue developing the $1.2 billion Discovery Park District, chipped in $500,000 for the incentives, marketing and MakeMyMove’s commissions. The Indiana Economic Development Corp. put in another $500,000 for the West Lafayette program. (The IEDC has another $1 million committed to similar remote worker recruiting efforts in Muncie, Richmond, Noblesville and parts of southern Indiana, Tony Denhart, IEDC’s executive vice president of talent and workforce, said.)
“There are 40 million remote workers that are geographical free agents,” Evan Hock, another founder of MakeMyMove, said. “There’s a recent study that about 18 million of them plan to move, and many of them long, long distances, with this newfound freedom. So, there’s all this economic activity that is recruitable, all of a sudden.”
Hock said that recruitment, up against dozens of other communities offering some sort of similar incentives, takes marketing.
“Funny enough, I agree with Dr. Sanders' underlying point: West Lafayette is a great place to live,” Hock said. “But great places, like great products, deserve a little advertising. Innovative communities are figuring out that they can market themselves and grow their economies. We shouldn't be surprised that a place like West Lafayette, and an institution like Purdue are at the bleeding edge of this important trend.”
Denhart said the early results have generated 1,045 applications in West Lafayette. Those are vetted by the company, the state and Purdue Research Foundation.
Hock said TMap stands to make $207,900 in commission – or just shy of 20% of the total cost of the project – if the company hits its marks. He contends the payoff for the city is taxpaying residents who contribute way more than the $50,000 the city put in. Based on a study by IU’s Public Policy Institute about the value of transplanted remote workers, the company estimates the program, with 100 new remote workers and entrepreneurs, would generate more than $8 million in incremental economic output for the city.
“We’re building the system,” Hock said. “Purdue is a flagship operation for us. … We’re sort of in evangelism mode.”
Hock said the early trends show people showing interest from both coasts, plus a load from nearby in Chicago, which they expected. He said the bigger segments include people in their early- to mid-careers and what he called “last acts” – people in their mid-50s moving to a place to not only build a business but also consider as a place to retire.
“There’s a sense of adventure in a lot of these,” Hock said.
Among the first set of movers is Joe Orman. He moved to West Lafayette in early 2022 from Keller, Texas, just outside Dallas-Fort Worth. Orman called himself a serial entrepreneur, who started car washes, which led to work with soaps and then patented technologies developed for industry and is now being used in the trailer market.
Orman said he knew about Purdue after helping his son and daughter scout colleges. Neither came to Purdue, but when Orman started getting email pitches about the relocation program, he was familiar enough with the university to look into Work From Purdue. He said he was curious by nature – in this case, curious how someone who typically had to do all the pursuing for his business was suddenly being recruited.
“It was attractive to me, because of the type of person I am,” Orman said. “I don’t know that it would be attractive to somebody who wants to live on a beach or do remote work and ski all day. But it was attractive to me because these have been the passions of mine my whole life – entrepreneurship, business startup, technology, taking technology from the lab to the market. I found these are the calling cards of Purdue.”
Orman committed to a year to give it a shot, with his kids away in college and his wife remaining in Texas. He said he’s run into others – a cohort of nomads, he calls himself and the rest – who he’s found to be creative and willing to take a chances, by picking up and moving. He said he’s still discovering West Lafayette, but likes the pace, the small-town feel and being able to walk to where he needs to get on campus, so far.
“The people I’ve met are pretty free-spirited and are OK, I guess, with being guinea pigs,” Orman said. “We’re kind of like pioneers, invited to come in and pioneer a town that already has settlers.”
Is it a place he’d stay? Orman said he has a long way to go before making that call. But he said part of it would depend on how well he and the other nomads are able to blend into a community, rather than feeling like outsiders the whole time.
“This is experimental for us,” Orman said. “But we actually believe if you guys continue down this track, you’ll have a very amazing, creative backdrop community to tie into Lafayette and West Lafayette.”
Sanders, who also is running for the Indiana Senate District 23 seat in November’s election, said that what PRF did on that account was its business.
He said he didn’t think the city should pay stipends to bring in people at a time when West Lafayette is dealing with a housing crunch and less than 1% vacancy rates – particularly for people who won’t fill the worker shortage need in Greater Lafayette.
Sanders said Oesterle’s involvement was just one example of business deals given to former Purdue trustees or Daniels’ friends or acquaintances. (“In this case,” Sanders said, “both.”) Sanders referenced the university’s deal with the family of former trustee Bruce White to renovate the Union Club Hotel on campus and then have White Lodging run it. He also referenced a university agreement to have a tiny home company owned by Daniels’ daughter to set up on PRF land during the 2019 Purdue football season.
“Where does it end?” Sanders asked. “This is taxpayer money we’re talking about. We shouldn’t be legitimizing this arrangement.”
Oesterle contended Sanders was off base.
“I’m from West Lafayette, went to West Lafayette High School and love the place,” Oesterle said. “This is going to make money for West Lafayette without a lot of investment from the city. That’s what’s happening here.”
IF YOU GO: The West Lafayette City Council will consider the resolution about the remote worker stipends at 6 p.m. Monday at West Lafayette City Hall, 222 N. Chauncey Ave.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: The West Lafayette City Council agenda is thick Monday night. Here’s a look at what else is on the agenda.
ELECTION COUNTDOWN: LAST DAY FOR EARLY VOTING, POLLS OPEN TUESDAY
The primary election day is Tuesday and will set the major party ballots for the November election in congressional, General Assembly, assorted county and township seats, precinct committee positions and delegates to the state party conventions.
Here are a few things to know:
On ballots: To see which races will be on your ballot, go to www.indianavoters.com. Voters may ask for either a Democratic or Republican ballot at the polling place.
Early voting: The last chance for early voting polls will be 8 a.m.-noon Monday at the County Office Building, 20 N. Third St. in Lafayette.
Where to vote on Election Day: Polls will be open 6 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday. Voters in Tippecanoe County may vote at any polling place in the county. Voters should bring a valid ID. Here’s where polling places will be.
Eastside Assembly of God Church, 6121 E. County Road 50 South
Evangelical Covenant Church, 3600 S. Ninth St.
Faith East Community Center, 5526 Indiana 26 East
Lafayette City Hall, 20 N. Sixth St.
Lafayette Fire Station No. 5, 750 N. Creasy Lane
Northend Community Center, 2000 Elmwood Ave.
River City Community Center, 2842 Old U.S. 231
Tippecanoe County 4-H Fairgrounds, 1010 Teal Road
West Lafayette City Hall, 222 N. Chauncey Ave.
Faith West Community Center, 1920 Northwestern Ave.
Krach Leadership Center, 1198 Third St.
Rest of the county:
Battle Ground Fire Station, 112 North St.
Clarks Hill Christian Church, 9510 Pearl St., Clarks Hill
Dayton United Methodist Church, 7201 Wesleyan Drive, Dayton
Tippecanoe Township Fire Station No. 2, 448 W. County Road 650 North
Wabash Township Fire Station, 2899 Klondike Road
Wea Ridge Baptist Church, 1051 E. County Road 430 South
Polling place maps and wait times: The Tippecanoe County clerk and assessor’s office have developed an app that lets you know how many people have voted at a particular site and how long you can expect to wait. Here's the link: Early vote sites wait times.
For more about candidates and their stances: The League of Women Voters of Greater Lafayette compiled a series of Q&As and video interviews with candidates, assembled at www.Vote411.org. Key in your address, pick your party ballot and scan the candidate bios and responses.
Thanks, again, to today’s sponsors who are putting together a May 7 show – plus an online watch party through June 12 – featuring Scott Greeson, Vickie Maris, Michael Kelsey, Courtney Von Drehle and Trouble With Monday at The Arts Federation, 638 North St. in Lafayette. Tickets are sold through the Eventbrite link below. The venue is anticipating a sell-out for this concert, so please purchase your tickets ahead of time if you'd like to attend the in-person event. The watch party tickets can be purchased through the completion of the online event on June 12.. Tipping the musicians is fair game, with no additional Eventbrite fee charged.
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