Location Notebook: Indiana Workforce Initiatives Attract and Retain Industry
Indiana is meeting its workforce challenges, while drawing upon its infrastructure and other strengths to attract business.
Meeting the Workforce Challenge
Consider the example of Stant USA Corp., a maker of fuel delivery and vapor management systems in the east-central Indiana city of Connersville. Because good help is hard to find, the company needed to improve its employee retention rate and boost productivity. For the answer, it turned to Ivy Tech Corporate College and the Labor Institute for Training (LIFT) — the result is the new Industrial Manufacturing Technician (IMT) Registered Apprenticeship program.
There are 264 hours of instruction, along with 2,736 hours of on-the-job training. According to Rick Barnett, plant manager at Stant USA, “This is important to our vision for the future. The IMT apprentice program will cultivate a group of highly skilled and knowledgeable employees who will have gained a solid understanding of the IMT occupation and will play an integral part in Stant’s success.”
Ivy Tech is also a partner in workforce efforts in southwest Indiana, reports Greg Wathen, president and CEO of the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana. Along with the recently created Southwest Indiana Workforce Coalition, Ivy Tech landed a $667,000 Indiana Department of Workforce Development grant that will support paid educational opportunities in the manufacturing field, as well as job shadowing and potential job opportunities. The Northwest Indiana Center of Workforce Innovations has teamed up with our community colleges and universities to help craft general as well as very specific skills training curriculum to help companies locate and grow in our region... Heather Ennis, president and CEO of the Northwest Indiana Forum
In announcing the program, Jonathan Weinzapfel, chancellor for the Southwest and Wabash Valley region of Ivy Tech, explained that the program overcomes one big challenge facing workers who want to upgrade their skills to support the kinds of jobs that are moving into Indiana: “We know that an obstacle to receiving more education for a better-paying job is that folks must keep working the jobs that they have in order to meet their basic needs. This plan will allow them to begin their classes at Ivy Tech, and also have the guarantee of being able to meet with local employers, job-shadow with these employers, and have a potential career path laid out for them.”
“Available workforce continues to be the biggest challenge for not only new businesses locating in the region but for the existing companies that are expanding,” acknowledges Mindy Kenworthy, president and CEO of the East Central Indiana Regional Partnership in Muncie. But again, what’s more important than the problem is the solution. “There are multiple initiatives under way to address this concern, including vocational training in career centers, formal apprenticeship programs, and partnerships between employers, communities, and higher education.”
Kenworthy’s region, in fact, is home to six campuses of the state’s community college system, Ivy Tech. Also in her region are a number of state and private university campuses, including two operated by engineering powerhouse Purdue University that address the workforce needs of growing local sectors such as composites and advanced materials. “A new facility is set to open early next year in Anderson that will combine classroom space for the university and maker space for entrepreneurs,” she points out. The facility will be a reuse of former General Motors industrial land.
Matching new and expanding employers with qualified workers is a job that brings together multiple partners in Northwest Indiana, too, reports Heather Ennis, president and CEO of the Northwest Indiana Forum. “The Northwest Indiana Center of Workforce Innovations has teamed up with our community colleges and universities to help craft general as well as very specific skills training curriculum to help companies locate and grow in our region,” she says. [As for the ability to attract business investment, Indiana is aided by] our skilled labor and our centralized location with strong infrastructure. Having the seventh-largest inland port in the U.S. is a huge asset to put on the playing table of site selection. Greg Wathen, president and CEO of the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana
Maureen Donohue Krauss, who began work this past fall as chief economic development officer at the Indy Chamber, says the higher education connection also plays a big role in resolving workforce challenges in the Indianapolis area. Beyond Ivy Tech, the main Purdue and Indiana University campuses are each less than an hour away, and the two big state universities have a combined campus in downtown Indianapolis.
Talent development and attraction, she says, are two big areas of focus for Krauss’ role in economic development. “We’re working with the service providers to look at what we are doing both to provide the pipeline and what we are doing to attract new workforce,” she says. There are great opportunities, she notes, among alumni of such institutions as Purdue and Indiana — young people who graduated, tested the early-career waters elsewhere, but are lured back to Indiana by the quality of life and the lower cost of living as they start thinking about raising families. “In some cases, it’s attracting talent back,” she explains.
Krauss knows something about attracting talent to Indiana — she was, herself, attracted to the Hoosier state from Michigan earlier in 2016 to take the Indy Chamber job. What was the attraction? “For me, it was the opportunity to be in a community that has a very cohesive business community, all engaged in making this a better place to work and live.”
As for the ability to attract business investment, Wathen says Indiana and his region are aided by “our skilled labor and our centralized location with strong infrastructure. Having the seventh-largest inland port in the U.S. is a huge asset to put on the playing table of site selection.” He’s referring to the Port of Indiana at Mount Vernon, an Ohio River port that serves the agriculture, coal, and manufacturing industries.
The Port of Indiana at Jeffersonville, in the Louisville area, is also on the Ohio River and provides strong water connections for automotive and appliance manufacturers, among others. And the Port of Indiana at Burns Harbor serves international ships sailing the St. Lawrence Seaway through the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean, and also offers barge access to more than 20 states through the Inland Waterways System.
Ennis adds in other infrastructure assets, including multiple interstates, Class 1 and short-line railroads, and international airports that include Gary/Chicago International Airport and a facility that has on multiple occasions been ranked by Airports Council International as North America’s best, Indianapolis International Airport.
A Manufacturing Powerhouse
The state’s economy has long revolved around manufacturing, and it’s still a powerhouse, even as manufacturing has waned in many places. In fact, the southern Indiana economic development organization known as Radius Indiana recently launched its own Radius Manufacturing Index to measure the sector’s strength, according to the organization’s CEO, Jeff Quyle. “We will have the ability to adjust our economic development strategies to address marketplace dynamics,” he notes. The initial index determined that manufacturing jobs in the Radius region are up by more than 2,700 in the past five years, and manufacturing is nearly three times more prevalent there than the national average.
Manufacturing is strong across the state, but even so, the economy has diversified significantly, with noteworthy growth in technology and the life sciences, as well as food processing and agribusiness that ties into the agricultural heritage. The transportation infrastructure, combined with an ideal location for serving the eastern and central parts of the nation, has yielded a powerful logistics and distribution sector, as well.