Bill Stone has been pumping money into Evansville’s medical sector to revitalize its downtown and create new jobs. He’s hoping other philanthropists from small cities follow his lead.
By John Hyatt
Bill Stone has lived in Naples, Florida since 2012, and before that in Connecticut from 1979 to 2011, but he doesn’t want any confusion about where he’s from: Evansville, a mid-sized city in southern Indiana that is nestled against the Ohio River, across from Kentucky.
“One of the things I admire about people is when they know who they are and they know where they come from,” said Stone in a recent Google Hangouts video interview. “I don’t admire people who have been successful and are from small towns, and don’t want to act like they’re from there. I find that disingenuous.”
Stone, 67, did well for himself after leaving Evansville in 1974. He studied business and accounting at Marquette University, then rose through the ranks at big four accounting firm KPMG. In 1986, Stone founded SS&C Technologies, a publicly traded financial software firm that he still runs as CEO. Stone is worth an estimated $2.1 billion, thanks to his 12.3% stake in the publicly traded SS&C.
While Stone’s fortune grew, Evansville shrank. The city’s population–140,000 in 1970–was 116,000 last year. The city’s proximity to the 3,300-foot-wide Ohio River made it a regional manufacturing hub for the better part of the 20th century, but it’s been hit as factory jobs moved overseas and young, college-educated people moved to larger cities for work. Evansville’s downtown remains a gathering place for big events, like the annual July 4 fireworks display in the city’s riverfront park, but year-round commercial activity isn’t what it used to be.
Reversing that trend–or, at least helping to–has become a pet project for Stone and his wife Mary, two high school sweethearts from Reitz Memorial on Evansville’s east side. Stone, who was captain of his high school’s football team, has given over $50 million in the last five years towards Evansville’s medical research and healthcare sectors in the city’s downtown. He wants to revitalize the city core and make Evansville into a national leader in youth psychiatric research.
“If you go to any major city in the country, you’ll see that medicine and healthcare is a large component of what made that city,” says Stone. “We’re trying to make Evansville more sustainable,” he adds, rather than giving the city “one shot of cash.”
Stone’s campaign began in 2018, when he gave $15 million to the Health Science Center (now named the Stone Family Center for Health Sciences), a 145,000-square-foot facility shared by the University of Evansville, the University of Southern Indiana and the Indiana University School of Medicine. Stone’s money was split among the three schools to enlarge their own academic programs: The University of Evansville grew its physician assistant and physical therapy degrees; the University of Southern Indiana expanded its occupational therapy and nursing capabilities; and the Indiana University School of Medicine established a brand-new residency program for IU Medical School graduates in Evansville.
“If you get a medical center and start training students, [most] of those graduates stay in the area,” claims Stone, who also gave $2.4 million in 2018 to build a special playground designed for children with sensory processing disorders at St. Vincent Evansville hospital. “You create a magnet for young bright people to come to Evansville and become doctors and nurses, and you’ve really created an engine for growth.”
Stone pledged his biggest gift last year: $34.2 million, with 20% paid upfront, to establish the Mary O’Daniel Stone and Bill Stone Center for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, which is housed, of course, in the Stone Family Center for Health Sciences. The center appointed its director (a recruit from the University of Texas) earlier this year. Now, it’s hiring additional faculty and practicing psychiatrists to work with local young people suffering from bipolar disorder and other psychiatric illnesses.
Stone’s donation is also funding the Center’s ambitious data lake research initiative, which plans to “draw from millions of patient records across the United States” in order to “identify the most effective therapies and promising innovations” for child psychiatric disorders, according to Indiana University.
Stone’s gifts are “very strategic,” says Tara Barney, CEO of the Evansville Regional Economic Partnership, who worked closely with Stone and the universities to maximize his gifts’ impact. “He’s been very clear that he wants to support our region where it can be transformational.”
In Evansville’s case, that means revitalizing the city’s downtown, where the Stone Center is located. “A precursor to finalizing his investment in the medical school was making the decision to locate it downtown,” says Barney. “There’s still a lot more activity in what I call the suburban highway corridors in our community, and so this medical school coming down was a powerful statement to say, we’re going to put more high wage jobs and more economy stimulating initiatives in this downtown.”
Stone hopes to complement Evansville’s existing life sciences industry. Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca employs about 700 people in the city. Mead Johnson Nutrition, a maker of infant formula owned by multinational consumer goods conglomerate Reckitt, also has a large manufacturing and R&D presence there. “We have a big aggregation of people that have training in biological sciences and all the organic sciences,” says Barney, “so we’re well positioned to build on that.”
The Evansville Regional Economic Partnership is still conducting a study on the impact of Stone’s giving, but Barney is encouraged by preliminary results she’s seeing: “We’re having some early success in having residents that complete their training here stay in the greater region, and that obviously is a huge addition to our economy.”
Stone has also brought jobs to Evansville in his capacity as a businessman. In 2011, SS&C Technologies, which is headquartered in Windsor, Connecticut, opened an office in Evansville that now employs 220 people, including accountants, finance professionals, software engineers, HR managers and marketing teams. About a quarter of these employees moved there from other cities or states, says Stone. Still it’s less than 1% of SS&C’s over 24,000 employees across 100 locations in 40 countries.
Stone is not the first Hoosier to grapple with his state’s population problem. Mitch Daniels, Indiana governor from 2005 to 2013, often spoke about Indiana’s brain drain problem while in office; in his new capacity as president of Purdue University, Daniels launched a “Brain Gain” program to incentivize Purdue alumni to move back to Indiana. Population depletion problems have plagued Indiana and other Rust Belt states “since at least 1970,” according to Losing Our Minds: Brain Drain across the United States, a 2019 report from the U.S. Congressional Joint Economic Committee. In that study, Indiana ranked 9th in terms of states with the highest gap between highly-educated leavers and stayers.
In Stone’s view, his activities in Evansville should be part of a broader movement among philanthropists and corporate leaders to increase capital flow throughout the country. Stone identifies the country’s decline in public companies–from about 5,500 in 2000 to about 4,000 in 2020, per a McKinsey study–as a contributing factor to America’s geographic inequality. “Most small cities don’t have highly paid lawyers and accountants, so [companies] can’t go public because you can’t do what the SEC wants,” he says. “It’s a stranglehold on capital formation in small towns.”
“I think concentrated wealth in a few cities in the United States is not a good thing,” Stone adds. “It’s better if wealth is spread out across the country.”
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