South Bend – Elkhart Region awarded transformational Lilly Endowment grant to accelerate regional innovation and workforce and economic development


Elkhart, Ind. (Apr. 26, 2019) -- The University of Notre Dame has announced a $42.4 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to form the Labs for Industry Futures and Transformation (LIFT) Network, which will enhance and link cutting-edge expertise, technologies, workforce development programs and innovation-based facilities throughout the broader South Bend-Elkhart region.

The five-year grant will bring together the University and the South Bend - Elkhart Regional Partnership (SBE Regional Partnership) along with other key regional stakeholders in a collaboration to further advance the region as an economic leader in next-generation manufacturing, entrepreneurship, applied analytics and technology.

The LIFT Network will accelerate the region’s shared vision, described in the SBE Regional Partnership’s Ensuring Prosperity Plan, to create an environment that attracts, trains and retains top talent for tomorrow’s jobs. The LIFT Network also builds on the momentum created by an Indiana Regional Cities Initiative grant awarded to the region in 2015.

The Lilly Endowment grant will help leverage additional investments in the LIFT Network. Regional leaders envision a total combined investment reaching nearly $170 million.  To help Notre Dame raise additional resources and sustain the program’s future, the Lilly Endowment grant contains a $4 million matching condition.

“We are grateful to Lilly Endowment, which made this day possible, as did its encouragement of the fundamental rethinking that is often needed to respond to new challenges and changing circumstances,” said Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. “All of us share a common, hopeful vision for our region’s future. We who live and work in the region know that a quiet transformation is underway, and that the Lilly Endowment grant is a powerful catalyst for a brighter, resilient future.”

The LIFT Network is the sixth Indiana regional community and economic development initiative Lilly Endowment has supported since 2007. Each initiative seeks to build on a region’s unique strengths by fostering collaboration among community foundations, educational institutions and other local and regional community organizations to generate enhanced regional prosperity.

“The South Bend - Elkhart region has important core strengths, including Notre Dame’s extraordinary educational and research capabilities; a strong industrial base, especially the companies and talented employees in the area’s exceptional mobility cluster; and compelling opportunities in diversified sectors such as IT and data analytics,” said Rob Smith, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for community development. “The LIFT Network will connect and strengthen these assets in ways that will help enhance the quality of life for the people in the region.”

The LIFT Network will also play a key role in helping make the regional economy more resilient. According to a 2019 Brookings report, digital automation and artificial intelligence will be most disruptive to jobs in the Midwest, with the South Bend - Elkhart region being identified as the third most vulnerable workforce in the nation. A critical component of LIFT will be focused on mitigating this risk through forward-looking workforce development and training programs designed to develop existing and future talent with advanced industry skills and knowledge while fostering a culture for lifelong learning in the region.

The long-term vision of the LIFT Network is fourfold:

  1. To leverage the research strength, faculty expertise and student creativity at regional higher education institutions to support innovation in technology, business models and skill development.
  2. To generate, educate, train and retain talent to sustain industry and economic growth in advanced sectors.
  3. To ensure that current regional manufacturing companies have the resources and capacity to innovate and become globally competitive.
  4. To develop the region as a globally competitive hub of applied analytics and technology along with other emerging industry sectors in the region.

The vision for the LIFT Network emerged in 2018 from a series of community conversations and planning meetings convened by the SBE Regional Partnership and resulted in the “Ensuring Prosperity Regional Economic Development Strategy” and publication of the “Tides of Change: Critical Investments Needed to Stimulate Long-term Economic Prosperity in the South Bend - Elkhart Region,” which was prepared by TEConomy Partners LLC. These efforts and the report, which detailed the region’s critical economic drivers — smart mobility manufacturing, IT/data analytics and Notre Dame — were funded by a planning grant from Lilly Endowment to the South Bend - Elkhart Regional Partnership Foundation.

Titled “Driving Economic Prosperity in South Bend - Elkhart through Applied Learning and Research,” LIFT’s plan, which arises from the TEConomy report, outlines how it will coordinate education, workforce training and research initiatives in support of the region’s advanced manufacturing, IT and data analytics clusters.

“Our economic vitality, community leadership, culture of collaboration and optimism for the future are stronger than ever,” said Regina Emberton, president and chief executive officer of the SBE Regional Partnership. “The LIFT Network will link the region’s industrial, academic and technology assets, presenting a transformational opportunity for the ongoing development of the regional economy.”

The Lilly Endowment grant will enable the LIFT Network to:

  • Launch iNDustry Labs at Notre Dame. Located at Innovation Park, it will be a hub of interdisciplinary teaching, applied research and industry advancement services along with facilities and expertise in next-generation manufacturing, data analytics, materials science and more. iNDustry Labs will serve as a front door to the University for industry partners and others in the LIFT Network to more effectively connect industry and community partners with faculty expertise, students, research capabilities and the University’s entrepreneurship and technology innovation hub — the IDEA Center.
  • Enhance and scale innovation-based research and development and training facilities that will help businesses gain improved access to cutting-edge technologies, applied research, and workforce development and skills training. The facilities will be located across the region at the following sites: Ivy Tech Community College South Bend, Elkhart Area Career Center, Community Education Center in South Bend, Renaissance District Tech Training and Demonstration Center in South Bend, and the South Bend - Elkhart Technology Resource Center in Ignition Park. Additional programs and facilities will be developed or enhanced throughout the five-year grant cycle.
  • Develop applied learning programs in advanced industry areas. Led by educational partners throughout the region, the programs will provide students at regional K-12 schools and colleges, as well as existing workers, with real-world experiences through capstone projects, internships, fellowships, apprenticeships and other career-enhancing programs, along with entrepreneurial training and development.
  • Launch the LIFT Catalyst Fund, a collaboration between Notre Dame and the SBE Regional Partnership that will award grants to regional nonprofit organizations and education providers to fund projects that spur applied innovation in new and emerging market sectors and innovative educational and nonprofit partnerships throughout the region.

 “We believe that the LIFT Network will be a catalyst for workforce and economic development in the region, enabling local employers to be more competitive, adaptive and resilient in an increasingly fast-paced global economy,” said Gary Neidig, president of Indiana Technology and Manufacturing Companies. “As a LIFT Network member, we welcome iNDustry Labs professionals working with our team to identify areas for innovation and to increase investments in research and development so that new technologies become future opportunities for growth.”

LIFT Network and iNDustry Labs will host a kickoff event this summer so interested parties from the South Bend - Elkhart region can learn more about how the funding will be used, what various partners’ roles will be and the potential economic benefits.

For more information about the LIFT Network, visit or contact Regina Emberton at 574-344-4686 or Scott Ford, Notre Dame associate vice president for economic development, at 574-631-3108.