Cummins Inc. officials pledged a continuing commitment to Columbus as its global home base, announcing plans to spend $50 million to upgrade the company’s Corporate Office Building downtown in preparation for a milestone anniversary.

Rich Freeland, Cummins president and chief operating officer, was interrupted by applause several times at a Wednesday ceremony at the corporate headquarters at 500 Jackson St. as he promised that as Cummins approaches its 100-year mark in Columbus in 2019, the company’s roots will remain here.

“The home of this company has always been right here in Columbus, Indiana,” he said. “I am asked occasionally, as we make investments in other areas, are we moving away from our roots? Absolutely not.”

About 200 people were ushered into the entry-way area at the headquarters building to hear details about the planned investments from Gov. Eric Holcomb, Freeland and Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop, who began his presentation by thanking Holcomb.

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“Governor, to say we are pleased is a bit of an understatement,” the mayor said of the announcement that Cummins would be upgrading its corporate global headquarters and contributing to the city’s planned overpass project.

Lienhoop told the group that the collaboration among the city, county, state, and Cummins is an example of the Columbus Way, a method of pursuing a goal by finding ways to come together in public-private partnerships to meet a need or solve a problem.

“And we’re seeing it in real time,” the mayor said of Wednesday’s announcement. “It’s happening before our eyes.”

In addition to the major upgrade of the corporate headquarters downtown, Cummins also is collaborating with the city of Columbus, Bartholomew County, the state, and the Louisville & Indiana and CSX railroads to fund construction of a $30 million railroad overpass over the State Road 46/State Road 11 intersection west of downtown.

Freeland described the overpass collaboration as critical to the company’s future.

The overpass investment and solution ensures that Cummins could maximize its investment of the $50 million to renovate the Corporate Office Building, he said.

The company has agreed to allow the city to use $5 million from Cummins Engine Plant Tax Increment Financing District funding for the project, money that is accumulating in addition to the balance necessary to pay an underlying debt obligation that brought assembly lines for Cummins light-duty diesel engines to Columbus.

Freeland was complimentary of the “can-do” attitude exhibited the state, county, city and railroad officials who worked together to find a solution.

The podium for speakers was flanked on either side with an artist’s renditions of the proposed railroad overpass and renditions of some of the potential upgrades for the Corporate Office Building.

Improvements to Cummins’ headquarters will focus mainly on the interior of the building, Freeland said, although some roofing upgrades and improvements to the greenspace surrounding the building are also planned.

Freeland pointed out the lighting technology being used in the building is now 40 years old, and the cubicles and furnishings are also designed for another era.

“For example, in my office, it’s designed to store paper — we don’t store paper anymore, we store it here,” he said, holding out his smartphone.

“The layout, the workspaces, they need to change to reflect how people work today,” he said.

The upgrades will include new technology, office furniture — everything you would need to upgrade a 35-year-old house, Freeland said.

For the company president, one design feature that needs to go are the pink wall panels that line one wall of the second floor above the company’s entrance, a mauve color that was popular 40 to 50 years ago.

The artist’s renditions of the building’s new look show a airy, streamlined white palette for the headquarters’ entryway with an emphasis on clean lines and lots of light.

An estimated 1,300 people work in the building, including some in the building’s basement, which Freeland said needed to change. The basement space will be converted to meeting space and other uses, and where people work needs to have access to the light that was originally designed as a part of the building, he said.

“One of our goals is that we provide a safe, collaborative environment for our employees that fosters creativity,” Freeland told those gathered at Wednesday’s announcement.

The building’s architect, Kevin Roche, is in his 90s, and no longer travels, Cummins officials said. However, the upgrades and interior improvements are being designed to stay true to Roche’s design and view for the building.

Jason Hester, president of the Greater Columbus Economic Development Corp., described Wednesday’s announcement as huge for the Columbus community.

The 1,300 jobs at the company headquarters support an estimated 1,000 other jobs in the Columbus community and represent $130 million in household spending, Hester said.

Hester described Freeland’s comments about Cummins’ ongoing commitment to Columbus and the company’s plans to have its global headquarters here for years to come as “immeasurable” in value to the community.

Holcomb was effusive in his praise for Cummins’ continuing investment in Columbus, its help with the city’s railroad overpass project and its willingness to work with all the players to come up with solutions to benefit the stakeholders.

“It requires teamwork and what we are seeing is teamwork,” he said.

“Cummins time and time again has led the way in this state,” the governor said. “Both of these projects demonstrate the company’s long-term commitment to the state.”

Describing the company’s leadership as positive and transformational, Holcomb said the Cummins’ impact on Indiana continues to be enormous.

Holcomb was given a tour of several Cummins’ facilities in Columbus after Wednesday’s announcement and planned on meeting with company employees during the visit.

“Cummins continues to lead the way,” he said as he left with Freeland for the tour.

About Cummins corporate office building

Address: 500 Jackson St.

Houses: An estimated 1,300 Cummins Inc. employees

Size: 200,000 square feet

Built: 1983

Materials: Precast concrete and glass

Architecture type: Modernism

Architect: Kevin Roche

Of note:

  • Ivy-covered concrete columns
  • Covers three downtown city blocks
  • Has unusual shape to accommodate existing Cerealine building
  • Features a quasi-public park around the Cerealine building with ivy-covered columns, grass, trees, benches, a pond and fountains.
  • Entryway features criss-crossing walkways
  • Lobby has “Exploded Engine” sculpture by Rudolph de Harak

Project timeline

The Cummins Corporate Office Building was designed by architect Kevin Roche as the company’s corporate headquarters in 1983 under the direction and vision of J. Irwin Miller, company officials said.

The building has not undergone extensive renovation since it was built. To bring the building up to current Cummins facilities, the entire facility will be renovated in time for a celebration of Cummins 100th anniversary in 2019.

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.