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Changing Lives: Honoring Bill & Gayle Cook

Jobs are 'gifts that keep on giving'

By Bob Zaltsberg
331-4364 |
June 17, 2010

The story of the launch of the Cook group of companies has been told often, but that doesn’t make it any less compelling. Bill and Gayle Cook, with $1,500 in capital, began making medical devices in a spare bedroom in their apartment on Bloomington’s east side.

From that start in 1963 to what their group of companies has become today led to Bill being named one of the 2010 Horatio Alger Award winners, a national honor that recognizes those who have grown from humble beginnings to lofty heights in the professional world.

The Cooks have taken a lot of people along on their ride. The jobs their companies provide, the ripple effect to other businesses in the communities where they operate, and economic development opportunities their presence sparks enhance the prosperity of south-central Indiana.

Numbers begin to tell the story.

Cook employs 3,237 people in Monroe County and another 525 at Cook Urological Inc. in Owen County. In addition, Cook companies have 1,063 full-time and 310 part-time employees in Orange County.

The economic impact far exceeds the more than 5,000 households that derive income directly from Cook jobs.
“Thousands of jobs have been created through the many Cook companies, but the ripple effect of those businesses is as far-reaching,” said Christy Gillenwater, president of the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce. “Additional jobs and the growth of new businesses to serve the needs of the Cook companies have helped to create additional opportunities for so many.”

Ron Walker, president of the Bloomington Economic Development Corp., said based on the economic impact model his organization uses, “approximately 2,500 additional jobs are supported in the local economy through supplier activity and household spending in Monroe County.” That’s just in Monroe; more than 1,000 ripple-effect jobs are likely in play in Owen and Orange counties.

Walker estimates the Cook companies generate more than $240 million in personal income every year in Monroe County alone.

“Jobs are ‘gifts that keep on giving,’” said Steve Howard, president of the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce from 1994-2005. “The Cooks have been responsible for creating thousands of secure and well-paying jobs. People with good jobs pay taxes, buy houses, educate children, invest in communities, patronize local businesses, pay for health care and in many other ways contribute to our wealth and well-being.”

The Cook impact on the economy has not only been felt through jobs, Howard said.

“The Cooks have been the linchpin in the process of establishing a new regional economic development segment, life sciences,” he said. “Cook Group led the way in showing us how to shift emphasis from 20th-century to 21st-century economic development. This has fundamentally changed the basis and culture of our economy.”

Besides the leadership brought in this area by Cook Medical Inc., the manufacturer of a variety of medical devices, the launch of Cook Pharmica also stoked the local economy in a couple of ways.

First, it located a new start-up pharmaceutical-based company in Bloomington that could have been located anywhere. Second, it gave new life to the empty RCA/Thomson factory — and the neighborhood surrounding it.
When the plant is fully operational on both the research-oriented “cell culture” side and the manufacturing “fill/finish” side, about 400 Cook employees will work there. Employees include hourly workers as well as scientists and others with advanced degrees.

A magnet for others

The presence of Cook companies also has helped attract other life sciences employers to Monroe County, said Linda Williamson, president of the BEDC from 1993-2006.

“The investments and decisions the Cooks made along the way have also leveraged the location of new companies in Bloomington, including Baxter, which came to Bloomington after purchasing the former Cook Imaging Corporation, and Guerbet, which came to Bloomington after purchasing the rights to manufacture and market a product that Cook had developed, to name only a couple,” she said. “In addition, a number of former Cook employees have started their own companies in the area making investments and creating jobs. There are countless examples of companies and jobs that are in our community because of the Cooks.”

Williamson also cited other ways the Cooks paved the way for economic growth in the community. One way was their support for Monroe County Airport, which, she said, aided the community’s ability to recruit new companies. Another involved a railroad.

“The Cooks provided support in 1998 for the formation of the not-for-profit Monon Rail Preservation Corp. and funds for the purchase of the railroad that CSX intended to abandon that ran from Vernal Pike to just beyond State Road 46 in Ellettsville,” she said. “While the railroad wasn’t being used at the time, the Cooks thought that the rail right of way should be preserved for future opportunities. Those opportunities certainly came and due to their foresight, there was an opportunity to extend a rail spur to Rogers Quarry that created jobs as well as an opportunity to provide the necessary storage track as replacement for the storage track at McDoel Switchyard.” It also allowed continued servicing of GE by rail.

Providing the storage track had another benefit, she said. It allowed CSX to close McDoel, which paved the way for the City of Bloomington to purchase the switchyard and rail right of way for what is now the B-Line trail.
Randy Lloyd, who was economic development director for the city at the time under Mayor John Fernandez, explained further.

“Most people aren’t aware of the rather complex negotiations that occurred to secure the B-Line and switchyard,” he said. “ When we (the Fernandez Administration) presented the opportunity to the Cook Group, they responded ‘this is a once in a lifetime opportunity — how can we help?’ The rest is history. But for the Cook Group/CFC support of our vision, I’m not sure the B-Line would be a reality.”

Owen County: ‘They are very engaged’

When Cook Urological in Spencer completed an expansion in August 2009, the company committed to adding 200 jobs to the existing 430, said Denise Shaw, executive director of the Owen County Chamber of Commerce & Economic Development Corp. The company has already added almost half of them with its current employment total of 525.

Shaw is excited about what the plant expansion will mean in payroll, spin-off jobs and tax payments, but that’s not all.

“When you have a Cook facility in your community, it’s not just about jobs or just about taxes,” she said. “They are very engaged, they are very community minded. They make us feel like they want Spencer to be a success, and that’s really nice. They know when a community is thriving, their business has a better chance of thriving. It’s been really great to work with them in the community.”

Orange County: Retraining

In Orange County, the Cooks’ commitment to employees went beyond providing a paycheck. It included retaining and retraining people for the new world about to hit with renovation of the French Lick Resort and the opening of the French Lick Resort Casino and the West Baden Springs Hotel.

John Whikehart, chancellor of Ivy Tech Bloomington, marvels at what was done when the French Lick Resort hotel closed for renovation in 2004.

“In January of the following year, 300 employees of the hotel were retained in full pay and benefit status while participating in a training program that Ivy Tech designed for them with the input of the Cook ownership of the hotel,” he said. “I recall buses bringing those 300 employees to our Bloomington campus to begin participation in a five-month training program we designed under a training contract with Cook.

“Many of the employees had not been out of Orange County in years, most had never been in a college building, and the group included several generations of the same families who had worked at the hotel under various owners. ...
“Not many employers would have made that commitment to training, education, economic development of a depressed area, and improving the lives of people.”


Howard, the former Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce president, said the Cooks’ activities and investments “offer a fine example of why entrepreneurs are vital to our economic health. We need to recognize, value and learn from their example. We need to encourage others to emulate them.”

Officials at Ivy Tech Community College do value their example, as illustrated by the recent announcement that they will open the Gayle and Bill Cook Center for Entrepreneurship on the Bloomington campus. The center will help individuals who want to start a business, further develop or expand a new idea within a current business, or pursue coursework to better understand entrepreneurial practices.

“The Ivy Tech-Bloomington campus is honored that Gayle and Bill Cook have permitted the center to be named for their many contributions to the community, region, and State of Indiana as well as to the example they demonstrate of the entrepreneurial spirit,” the college said in a news release.

A powerful mark

Also thankful for the work on economic development issues and in other areas by the Cooks is Walker, the current BEDC president.

“Each passing day I become more aware of and more grateful for the incredible gifts that the Cooks have given the people of Bloomington and Monroe County,” he said in an e-mail. “The impression they’ve made, both from continued employment and investment and from the generous contributions to our community and quality of life, is unparalleled. They’ve had such a wonderful and powerful mark on our city, I don’t think we could ever thank them enough.”

Cook companies

Cook and affiliated companies in south central Indiana are:
• Cook Group Inc.
• Cook Medical Inc.
• Cook Urological Inc.
• Cook Pharmica LLC
• Cook Polymer Technologies
• CFC Properties
• Cook Family Health Center
• Cook Aviation Inc.
• Star Meetings and Events
• Star Travel Services
• French Lick Resorts
• Grant Street Inn

Cook employment

• Monroe County: 3,237
• Owen County: 525
• Orange County: 1,063 full-time; 310 part-time

The production facilities at Cook Pharmica are in sterile environments, with windows to allow visitors and clients to view the equipment. David Snodgress | Herald-Times

A worker sews strut and point knots onto a RX1G graft at Cook Inc. headquarters in Bloomington in this photo from Feb. 16, 2007. Chris Howell | Herald-Times

For his 75th birthday, Bill Cook, left, is toasted by his wife, Gayle, and Steve Dawson, chairman of the board of the Bloomington Economic Development Corp., Jan. 11, 2006, at the Bloomington Convention Center. Jeremy Hogan | Herald-Times

“Thousands of jobs have been created through the many Cook companies, but the ripple effect of those businesses is as far-reaching. Additional jobs and the growth of new businesses to serve the needs of the Cook companies have helped to create additional opportunities for so many.” — Christy Gillenwater, president of the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce

Steve Howard, former president of the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce
Copyright: 2010