For the past 30 years, manufacturing, transportation and warehousing jobs have topped the list of Jackson County employment numbers.

As companies have grown and others have built here, the demand for other sectors of the economy has increased.

So these days, manufacturing is not the only area of focus for Jackson County Industrial Development Corp. It also takes areas such as retail, health care and education into consideration.

“I really think you have to look at this as a total picture to really make Seymour and Jackson County the type of place where people want to live that has job opportunities, that has retail establishments, that has good health care, that has good housing,” corporation Executive Director Jim Plump said.

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When he started with JCIDC in the mid-1980s, Plump said, only a few of today’s major local employers were in business here. Since then, many more have come along.

In 2014, 9,227 people were employed by an industry in the county, according to JCIDC.

Manufacturing, transportation and warehousing jobs make up more than 40 percent of the county’s total employment, and that sector has grown by nearly 20 percentage points in the past five years, the U.S. Census Bureau reports.

Wages for those three areas average between $51,000 and $67,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

“In recent years, a lot of organizations such as ours have changed their name to economic development, which yes, we do get involved in a lot of other things. But our focus from Day 1 has always been industrial,” Plump said. “When you look at the numbers, there’s a reason why.”

While manufacturing across the United States is in decline, Plump said, those type of jobs remain important to Jackson County and the entire state.

“I think that’s one of those things where you have to look at what you’re good at, and Indiana and the Midwest as a whole have always been very strong in manufacturing,” he said.

“I think companies realize that it’s the work ethic, it’s the training, it’s the type of people that are good workers, that have good skills, and that’s why you see manufacturing still being a pretty dominant part of the economy throughout the Midwest,” he said.

When JCIDC started, Plump said Japanese automotive assembly plants were established in Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois. Those companies then needed suppliers, so plants were built in Indiana.

Indiana now is the only state with three Japanese automotive assembly plants — Toyota in Princeton, Honda in Greensburg and Subaru in Lafayette.

Jackson County has several industries that supply parts for automotive companies.

“I think our location really lent itself to that automotive sector,” Plump said.

Also, Interstate 65 running along the east end of the county drew companies such as Wal-Mart Distribution Center and Pet Supplies Plus, Plump said.

JCIDC’s focus in the 1980s was attracting major employers because the county needed more jobs for its residents. Now that companies have established here, the focus has shifted.

“Without a good workforce, companies are not going to be successful,” Plump said. “So now when you look at really what our mission is, it’s retention, expansion and workforce. All three of those blend very nicely together because the majority of the job growth that we’re seeing is coming from the expansion of our existing companies.”

Once companies locate here, Plump said, it’s crucial to have a good retention and expansion program in place.

“When you look at a brand-new location, you have a lot of risks, you have a lot of unknowns about what is it going to be like to operate a brand-new facility to move into that area versus where you already are, that you hopefully have a good relationship with the local government, that local government is business-friendly,” he said.

While the top three employers in Jackson County are industries, Schneck Medical Center comes in fourth with 864 employees, and Seymour Community School Corp. follows with 780.

In 2013, 1,124 people were employed in the health care and social assistance sector, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“If you look at what Schneck is doing, that’s obviously a big driver in the overall Jackson County economy,” Plump said. “Obviously, those are good-paying jobs. The hospital continues to grow; and, as we all know, the population is not getting any younger, so I think health care is extremely important to the overall well-being.”

As the companies grow and more people move here, they also expect a good variety of retail businesses, including stores and restaurants.

Within the past year, several businesses have opened in downtown Seymour. That includes a coffee shop, a couple of restaurants and a few locally owned stores. Another restaurant is expected to open in mid-April.

Tricia Bechman, president of the Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce, said it’s good to see the downtown area thriving with locally owned small businesses and sole-proprietorship boutiques and shops.

“Those things are just starting to take off. They’ve been very well-received,” she said.

“That is a trend that is going on across the country now,” she added. “I think that a lot of factors have to play into whether or not those can be sustainable, and we are at the point where those businesses are desired by residents of the community.”

Since she has been in her position for only a year, Bechman said, she is focused on evaluating and enhancing chamber member benefits. Once that is in order, more time may be spent on attracting more retail to the area.

Bechman said having a balance of quality of life and outstanding jobs is important.

By the numbers

Jackson County’s top 10 employers, as of the first quarter of 2014

1. Aisin USA Mfg., 1,732

2. Valeo Lighting Systems, 1,659

3. Wal-Mart Distribution Center and Transportation, 970

4. Schneck Medical Center, 864

5. Seymour Community School Corp., 780

6. Cummins Inc. Seymour Engine Plant and High Horsepower Tech Center, 546

7. Kremers Urban Pharmaceuticals Inc., 525

8. Seymour Tubing Inc., 467

9. Rose Acre Farms, 434

10. Aisin Drivetrain Inc., 296

Source: Jackson County Industrial Development Corp.

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Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.