Katie Culp, President and CEO of KSM Location Advisors, partner at Katz, Sapper & Miller
Although she’s always lived in Central Indiana, Katie Culp has more than 20 years of economic development experience in 48 states. As the president and CEO of KSM Location Advisors, a national site selection firm, Katie works to ensure companies and organizations find the perfect physical location to meet their needs.
This Hoosier also earned her bachelor’s degree and MBA degree from Indiana University. After studying public policy, Katie went on to work for the City of Indianapolis in the economic development field. For the record, she still considers herself a “policy nerd.”
This mother of two also somehow finds the time for community involvement; she’s held leadership roles at 10 Indiana organizations and currently serves as board chair for EmployIndy.
How would you describe what you do to someone you just met?
Usually, I try to dodge the question by telling them I’m a consultant because it’s such a unique field and takes a bit of time to fully explain. If they ask for more then I tell them I help companies figure out where to locate new facilities or expansions, like a new office or manufacturing plant. If they persist with more questions I begin to wonder about their sanity. I’m not sure my family even knows what I do—I’m always the “Chandler” of the group.
How did you decide to get into the location advising field?
I’ve always been passionate about government and public policy, but this was an accidental career. When I graduated from college in the late ’90s I thought I wanted a position in community development. I had just wrapped up an internship with the City of Indianapolis and while they did not have any openings in community development, they did have an open position in economic development. I erroneously assumed the jobs were similar, and the rest is history.
You’ve had an incredible career thus far in economic development for Indiana. What is it about the field that keeps you coming back?
I love the variety of my work—I can be working with a tech company one minute and a pharmaceutical manufacturer the next minute. My job requires a variety of skill sets and has taken me all across the country. The policy nerd in me really enjoys seeing how other states and cities do things differently than we do in Indiana.
When you’re advising a client, what are the most significant aspects of a location?
While there are a host of considerations, workforce is usually the most important. Proximity to customers/supply chain and overall cost-of-doing business (including but not limited to the availability of economic incentives) are also powerful factors. However, it generally starts with workforce.
Do you have any guiding principles for your professional life?
As cliché as it may sound, I try to remember a lesson I learned from one of my favorite books, To Kill A Mockingbird. I always try to stand in the other person’s shoes. Even if I dislike or don’t respect someone, I still try to walk a mile in their shoes to understand the perspective they bring to a difficult conversation or negotiation. It helps me communicate more effectively with them and usually achieve a quicker resolution to issues. In addition, a great mentor of mine taught me early on that being busy and being productive are two very different things. I still struggle with that!
What is the most challenging part about being the president of a location advising business?
Managing the volume of work. Like most women I know, I’m pulled in what feels like a thousand different directions at the same time. I have this job but I’m also a wife to a wonderful husband and a mom of two amazing middle school kids. There is not enough time to give every part of my life the 150% it deserves, so I always feel like someone or something is getting cheated. The pandemic has made that even more abundantly clear!
Why is Indiana’s development important to you personally?
Except for a semester abroad as an undergrad, I’ve always lived in Central Indiana. I love so much of our state and region, and see great potential in our future. When I was growing up there was a group of community leaders who rallied together to transform the Indy region into what it is today. They catalyzed so many positive changes like attracting the Pan Am games and other sporting events, and were successful in revitalizing downtown. I am excited to see a younger and more diverse group of community leaders banding together now to achieve similar results.
It matters to me personally because it is my home and I am raising my family here—I want it to be a vibrant community that my kids want to live in after they are grown. This means smart development which attracts awesome employers and impressive conventions, but also social change which allows all Hoosiers to feel welcome here. That also means addressing any racial inequities which prevent any of our neighbors from having access to the same opportunities.
What about your job brings you the most joy?
I am more known for being sarcastic than being sentimental, but the honest answer is that I enjoy helping people. Whether it is helping my clients navigate a once-in-a-lifetime site selection project or satisfy an unreasonable boss/board, or helping my colleagues grow professionally and develop new skills, I really enjoy understanding what makes people tick and helping them achieve their goals.
What’s something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I’m an unapologetic Harry Potter fan. I’ve read the whole series at least a half dozen times and seen the movies more times than I can count. As my colleagues can tell you, I’m regularly drawing parallels between business/life situations and the Harry Potter universe. This makes me the butt of many jokes and concerned expressions—but it is their loss if they are unfamiliar with the references!
Meghan Stratton is Indy Maven’s Communication Coordinator.