Indy’s shifting skyline has been thoughtfully curated, and fiercely negotiated by dynamic, passionate, and talented women in economic development.
Two women working together at a computer

Created in partnership with Indy Chamber.

The soundbites are easy to drum up: women are responsible for over 80% of purchasing decisions. Women control over $11 trillion in assets, which McKinsey projects to balloon to $30 trillion by 2030. And yes, that’s a trillion with a “T.” So it’s only natural that women be front and center at the dealmaking table, making financing calls, and facilitating conversations at a community level, writing the future of their economies and where they call home.

In central Indiana, one’s imagination need not run far to discover the impact of women in areas of leadership, decision-making, and even transformation. Aside from the traditional achievements that can lead to a carpal tunnel-inducing LinkedIn scroll, there are the stacks of data that indicate what many have already come to expect: when women lead, winning results follow.

Thoughtful Decision-Making Leads to Sustainable Investments and Thriving Communities

Most often referenced in investment circles, is the rescripting of many women’s inclination for greater risk awareness. With awareness, engagement, and research about risks, both personal and professional, women can make more resolute decisions and, better protect their bottom lines. 

The dynamic nature of the female experience is rife with contradictions. However, it’s this blending of mental toughness, empathy, long-range planning, and consideration that makes women well-equipped to lead initiatives and economic development. 

A glittering high-rise on the morning of a highly-anticipating ribbon-cutting may garner the attention of the press, but its lasting, well-considered investments, paired with the right amenities and core services are what will stand the test of time. 

Scarlett Andrews
Scarlett Andrews

Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, Scarlett Andrews has this on her mind as she leads economic development for the Hogsett administration. 

“We have the opportunity to offer the highest quality of life in the country here in Central Indiana, attracting talent because of our affordable and quality housing opportunities of all kinds, from urban to rural, and all housing types and price points,” says Scarlett. “We have internationally renowned higher education and training options, plus livability factors including increasingly diverse arts and cultural experiences and opportunities and an expanding parks and greenways system connecting across county lines. I believe we have to lean into this as an edge over peer cities and keep individual opportunity and livability at the forefront of our minds with attraction and redevelopment efforts.” 

It’s not all about the – long – list of features and benefits boasted by our circle city, it’s an awareness of the gaps and risks in front of what’s possible, plus the gumption and guts to overcome those challenges head-on. 

“There are current gaps in our ability to achieve this—including road infrastructure and equal access to quality pre-K and primary education—and it will take intentionality to increase economic mobility and preserve housing affordability.”

Taylor Schaffer
Taylor Schaffer

Former Hogsett staffer and recently-minted President/CEO of Downtown Indy, Inc. Taylor Schaffer has a front-row seat to the billions of dollars pouring into Central Indiana and, her sweet spot, Downtown Indianapolis. 

“We are seeing record investment – billions of dollars, in fact – across Central Indiana and specifically here in Downtown Indianapolis, driven by an uncommon amount of collaboration across city, state, civic, and business sectors. One of our greatest opportunities, though, is in how we pair those investments with a focus on the power of place.”

While Indy’s famed Soldiers and Sailors Monument is often flanked by one construction project or another, creativity, partnership, and ingenious ideas bring this spirit and power of place together in the recently-launched SPARK on the Circle, a collaboration between Downtown Indy, Inc. and Big Car Collaborative with support from the City of Indianapolis and the Indiana War Commission. Initiatives like these allow leaders like Taylor to infuse vibrancy and meaning into places, layering experiences along with the standard-issue offerings of a city. 

“As each new generation enters the workforce, data indicates a greater percentage of people are making “place first” choices – deciding where to live before they make a decision on where they will work,” shares Taylor. “To continue attracting talent, as well as ensure we are keeping our local talent, we have to ensure that we are investing in the types of quality of life initiatives that go alongside this development and private investment that make Indianapolis a competitive place to not just work but live and play.”

Collaborative Relationships Pay Dividends for Projects, People, and Places

Humans crave connection, in work and in life. And in business circles, there’s a good reason that networking has been associated with success, and at times, been a requirement. In fact, women with strong networks can enjoy up to three times the results than those skipping this essential career-building step. But how you set about building a network can be challenging, especially if you’re stepping into an arena outside of your comfort zone.

Affinity groups, memberships like Indy Maven, and industry associations are a great place to start. Many, including Indy Maven, of course, offer events ranging from formal productions to casual mixers providing plenty of opportunity to meet others with shared interests. And for women in the economic space, networking repeatedly shows up as an essential component of their personal growth and their dealmaking capabilities. 

Aletha Dunston
Aletha Dunston

There is nothing more important than maintaining a solid network in economic development,” explains Aletha Dunston, Director of Develop Indy. “It is a relatively small industry at a local and regional level and it does not take long to earn a reputation – good or bad. Many of the roles are cyclical based on 4-year election cycles, company acquisitions, or the average length of projects – and you never know where the person sitting next to you or across the table during a negotiation may pop up in a new role.”

Through relationships, new opportunities present themselves, even at the idea stage, meaning cultivating your network should be job number one no matter your career path. Consider the comfort level you develop with a trusted friend or colleague. Dreams naturally enter the conversation, and when paths align, the work you can do is awe-inspiring. 

“I try to treat everyone – from CEOs to interns – equally as someone that could end up in a position to make or break a project, decide whether to involve us in a major land use decision, or recommend us for future work,” recounts Aletha. “It is also just fundamentally more rewarding to learn from and support the people around you than it is to view everyone as competition. That is why I dedicate so much time and passion to organizations like the Urban Land Institute – where I can establish lasting relationships while learning alongside others in the built environment.”

For semi-newcomers like Scarlett, who relocated to Indianapolis from New Orleans in 2015. Finding a professional community can be intimidating, but starting can be as simple as attending an event and keeping an open mind. So, too, does saying yes to opportunities to volunteer, join a board, or simply reach out to another woman whose career path interests or inspires you.  

“I’ve been in the city for eight years, so I still consider myself to be building a network and relationships. I especially appreciate Mayor Hogsett and past and present City administration leaders who offered me a chance to be involved in generational projects and meet more people in the public, non-profit, and private sectors,” shares Scarlett. “I’m interested in continuing to be a part of a network of women taking a lead in real estate and economic development, so I’m trying to spend any time I have networking with women I admire and through organizations like Indiana Women in Public Finance — I’m a new board member,  IndyCREW, and ULI that have women in leadership roles.”  

However, the rigidity of a business card exchange more suited for associates at Pierce & Pierce isn’t for everyone. Natural encounters at work, through mutual contacts, and more topic-focused events may be better suited to building authentic relationships. 

“I often think networking denotes scheduled coffees and events where you hand your card out to a lot of people. I’ve never been good at that,” admits Taylor. “What has played a massive role in my career is relationships. Here in Indianapolis, we often talk about how our ability to collaborate across the private and public sectors gives us a competitive edge – and I agree. But that wouldn’t happen without people getting to know one another and support one another. It’s a spirit of generosity that is really unmatched, and that has played an incredible role in my career and my life.”

Sarah Iglehart
Sarah Iglehart

For Indy Mavens, aspiring entrepreneurs, and those with even a tinge of interest in joining the momentum that is economic development in Indianapolis, getting involved is easier and more accessible than you might have imagined. On Sept. 6, join the Indy Chamber’s free event at Maven Space, Women in Economic Development. Guests will network with attendees, and enjoy presentations from Katie Culp, CEO of KSM Location Advisors, Angela Smith Jones, Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion at Health & Hospital Corporation, and Sarah Iglehart, Senior Vice President of Regional Economic Development at the Indy Chamber. 

With this lineup of presenters and open access to valuable support, resources, and connections, attending just might open doors and transform the Indianapolis skyline. In fact, Taylor’s vision for what Indy’s economic future holds says it all:

“My hope is that, as we continue to build and grow and improve more and more people will come to be a part of the efforts. Downtown, in particular, is moving full steam ahead, and – frankly – it’s a part of our state that belongs to all of us. With each milestone we reach, I look forward to more people experiencing downtown – whether they travel from near or far – and more people playing a role in where we go from here.”

Natalie Derrickson is a writer and communications strategist living and working in Indianapolis. You can connect with her on Instagram, LinkedIn, and her website.

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