WEST LAFAYETTE — Wabash Heartland Innovation Network is making a big impact in Montgomery County. The organization met recently with community leaders to share its progress.
“WHIN is committed to cultivating a regional ecosystem where globally competitive businesses will plant and grow,” WHIN CEO Johnny Park told Montgomery County Chamber board members, Community Foundation board members, and others who attended the meeting.
“Our strategy,” Park said, “Is to develop our region as a Living Laboratory for digital agriculture and next-generation manufacturing, which rely on the Internet of Things.”
The Internet of Things, or IoT, uses networked sensors to attach the physical world to the internet. The technology gives users powerful, data-driven applications to increase productivity, reduce costs, and better manage their resources. With initial funding from Lilly Endowment, Inc., WHIN is helping more manufacturers and farmers adopt sensor-based products.
“WHIN and our tech partners make the first year of adoption low to no cost for farmers and manufacturers,” Park said. “Three farmers in Montgomery County, representing 12,000 acres, are members of WHIN’s Ag Alliance, giving them access to applications like aerial imaging, grain monitoring and automated soil sampling.”
Paul Hodgen is using TeleSense technology that allows him to monitor the health of his stored grain continuously and remotely.
“The grain in our bins is our financial security and we do everything we can to protect that asset,” Hodgen said. “Doing periodic manual checks is unsafe and less reliable than using automated technology. The TeleSense devices that WHIN introduced to us are lower cost and have more capability than other solutions I have tried.”
At the same time, WHIN-funded research at Purdue is leading to the next generation of IoT technology, and WHIN sponsored education at Purdue and Ivy Tech is building the workforce the region needs as it becomes more high-tech.
Purdue has engaged local manufacturers in its WHIN-sponsored programs, and WHIN is looking to engage more farmers and manufacturers in the Living Lab.
“We want to get the word out that WHIN is a key resource for our local manufacturers,” said Casey Hockersmith, assistant director of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, which co-hosted the WHIN meeting along with the Montgomery County Community Foundation. “They can try out commercial-grade technology to help with maintenance, safety and other needs.”
WHIN is also helping with the connectivity that the county needs.
“There is an I in IoT,” Park said. “Lack of internet access is an obstacle to virtually all economic development efforts and to our mission of increasing the use of digital technology.”
WHIN has been working with the county to find places where it can help accelerate broadband projects.
“Ladoga is working on a plan that would bring fiber to the homes in our community,” said Ladoga Town Council member Lester Miles. “WHIN will help build relationships with local ISPs that may be able to use that fiber to deliver newly-available, high-quality wireless service to the surrounding rural area.”
Park said that, with a year to go in the Lilly Endowment, Inc. grant, Montgomery County has already seen $1,344,440 in direct investments.
As part of that investment, WHIN has allocated $160,231 to the county’s school corporations for e-learning, with more to follow.
Dr. Shawn Greiner, superintendent of the South Montgomery School Corporation, said the help is needed.
“Many of our students do not have access to the internet at home, which is critical for homework and continued learning even with in-person instruction,” Greiner said. “WHIN funding is helping us provide hotspots to students to keep them connected.”
Next up for WHIN in Montgomery County? With funding from WHIN’s Regional Cultivation Fund, New York City artist Jenna Morello will begin painting a mural on the wall of Montgomery County Community Foundation next to Milligan’s Flowers and Gifts in Crawfordsville in mid-September.
“WHIN is helping the county in so many ways,” said Kelly Taylor, CEO of the MCCF. “A lot of what they do is not visible, though it is transformative. Our mural will help everyone become more familiar with WHIN.”
To learn more about WHIN, visit online at www.whin.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.