Lawrence, Indiana – A city of ‘tremendous’ growth

November 1, 2021
Business View Magazine interviews representatives of Lawrence, Indiana for our focus on Economic Development in U.S. Towns & Cities

Over the past decade, the City of Lawrence, Indiana has seen exponential growth. Not only has its population grown almost eight percent, almost everything in Lawrence has grown along with it. The city has seen positive changes in everything from housing to infrastructure, recreation, business and more.

“Several years ago Lawrence wasn’t anywhere close to what we see now under Mayor (Steve) Collier’s leadership,” says Sri Venugopalan, Lawrence’s City Engineer. “I’ve seen tremendous growth here. A lot of industries have relocated to Lawrence or are wanting to relocate to Lawrence and we work closely with them. We are doing a lot of road projects and a lot of infrastructure projects to help supplement some of this growth. If you look at Lawrence six years ago, versus now, you will see a night and day difference.”

The city of just under 50,000 was founded in 1849 as Lanesville, but was officially crowned as Lawrence in 1866 in honor of War of 1812 naval hero Captain James Lawrence. It has since become a thriving and diverse community that boasts the convenience of a metropolitan city with the laidback atmosphere of a suburb, thanks to its prime location just 10 miles outside of Indianapolis.

“Although we are a suburb of Indianapolis, we are our own city,” says Scott Salsbery, Lawrence’s Utilities Superintendent. “We’re a big city, but we have a small-town feel. That is especially true with our city government. We like to have that personal touch involved in city government in dealing not only with our residents, but with the business community as well. Plus, we’ve got a lot of great amenities here.”

Located in the center of the city is the former Fort Benjamin Harrison, an active military fort from 1906 to 1991. The area has since been redeveloped to include residential neighborhoods, a golf course and the site of the Fort Harrison State Park. The former fort continues to be developed to meet the changing needs of the community, adding new housing and amenities to suit the growing city. “We have a makerspace, we have an actual brewery in there,” says Collier. “The fort has become an oasis for the east side of Indianapolis Metro. Everybody wants to live here.”

Work is set to begin next spring on Civic Plaza, the centerpiece of the fort, right in downtown Lawrence. The $1.2 million project will include a skating rink in the winter, space for the Lawrence farmers’ market, a Wind Tree, seating letters which spell ‘Fort Ben’, and entryway arches. “It’s a city park, but it’s also going to become our primary events space moving forward,” says Joe Murphy, Lawrence’s Deputy Chief of Staff. “The project will make it a fully hardscape space that will allow for a lot of city events to be held here. And it will become a great outdoor co-working space for people who live and work in the area and want an outdoor space to spend time and get some work done, or just spend some recreation time outdoors.”

Though Fort Harrison is inactive, Lawrence still retains a large military presence. The city’s largest employer is Defense Finance and Accounting Services Centre, which employs thousands of people.

The building, named after Major General Emmett J. Bean, is the 3rd largest federal government building behind only the Pentagon and Ronald Reagan Library. The city is also a stop for active-duty military, as the home of an Army Navy Marine Corps reserve center, which routinely sees 1,200 reservists participate in drills there each month, and an Army National Guard Armory.  Lawrence is also the location of an Army & Air Force Exchange Service and Commissary. “We have active duty military in and out of here all the time,” Salsbery notes, “and we have a relatively large retired military contingent here within the community as well.”

Outside of the military, the tech sector is quickly gaining momentum in the city. Lawrence is one of the top tech firm areas in all of Marion County, and they were awarded the 2020 Rising Tech City MIRA award, which represents Indiana’s best in technology each year. Murphy boasts, “That’s something we are really proud to hang our hat on. It was in part because we have a cluster of nearly 30 tech businesses on the old retired military base who co-operate to share ideas and creative space. It has been a really successful initiative for the city.”

One of the city’s newest tech businesses in Lawrence is DroneDek, a start-up company that will be producing docking stations for drone delivery for businesses like FedEx, UPS, USPS, and Amazon. Collier explains, “It will be beta-tested here next spring, for drones to actually fly the products in and drop them here to the residents. That’s a pretty fascinating project that we’re all really excited about.”

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