The day when manufacturers could rely on the population in their county to fill job openings has long since passed.

To address the issue, created in part by a low unemployment rate, Jackson County Industrial Development Corp. has teamed with Economic Opportunities Through Education to provide additional resources to support the regional EcO Network initiative.

Those additional resources come in the person of Jackie Hill, who will spend part of her time as EcO Network co-facilitator for the regional EcO Manufacturing Network initiative.

Hill, who has been with Jackson County Industrial Development Corp. since 1990, will remain as its workforce director.

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“Employers don’t just look at Jackson County anymore,” Hill said. “They recruit from within the region.”

This past year, the county’s unemployment rate hovered around 4 percent and averaged 3.72 percent a month for the first five months of the second half of the year. December’s rate is not available.

The EcO initiative is funded through grants from Lilly Endowment Inc. The Community Education Coalition in Columbus provides management support and facilitation services to this regional initiative and also is supported by the Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County.

In her new role, Hill will work with EcO Manufacturing Network facilitator Stephanie Weber, area EcO county coordinators, industry leaders and educational institutions in the 10-county region that makes up Indiana Workforce Development Region 9. Those counties are Bartholomew, Dearborn, Decatur, Franklin, Jackson, Jefferson, Jennings, Ohio, Ripley and Switzerland. Hill’s role will include supporting the facilitation, guiding and connecting of the network.

The EcO initiative, established in 2007, has built a foundation and is being structured around three regional networks: Advanced Manufacturing Network, Healthcare Network and Attainment Network.

The work will continue to focus on connecting students to learning and employment opportunities in partnership with business, community and education stakeholders, ignoring county lines and developing regional strategies.

“There are so many opportunities for our kids to get engaged while in high school with the companies that are stepping up and wanted to be hands-on with these kids,” Hill said.

Some efforts are being made to even involve middle school students, who are a long way from making a decision about their futures, Hill said.

“You have to at least start planting the seed,” she said.

With the help of Hill, who will spend some of her time at the EcO Network initiative’s office in Columbus, and the EcO regional manufacturing network partners, the work will primarily focus on breaking down systematic barriers to learning by creating a redesigned framework for recruiting, educating and placing thousands of secondary students into science, technology, engineering and math courses through a “seamless pathways” educational process.

Students will move through STEM-focused programs, such as engineering, maintenance, design, technology, production process and logistics education programs. Students then will be assisted in obtaining employment in well-paying STEM-based career pathways, especially advanced manufacturing and logistics.

Substrategies to recruit, educate and place adults through the regions learning centers also will be included.

“We are delighted and very fortunate that Jackie and JCIDC have agreed to partner with our team to provide additional support at the regional level,” said John Burnett, chief executive officer of Community Education Coalition.

“Jackie brings tremendous energy and knowledge from her current Jackson County leadership role in working directly with advanced manufacturing partners and workforce development,” he said. “Her background will serve her well in accomplishing EcO’s regional work.”

Jim Plump, executive director of Jackson County Industrial Development Corp., said the initiative fits in perfectly with the corporation’s long-range goals.

“Earlier this year, our new strategic plan stressed the importance of a more regional approach to workforce development, and Jackie was a natural to be involved, given her experience,” Plump said.

JCIDC’s interest will be served not only by Hill’s work in the region. Jody Deckard, who serves as workforce partnership coordinator for JCIDC, will see an expanded role and will “step in to continue and expand local initiatives.”

Hill has broad experience in developing and maintaining positive working relationships with educational institutions and companies within Jackson County, Plump said.

She also functions as a link for the emerging worker into the educational and employment pipeline with a strong understanding of the county’s economic future, priorities and cultural identity, he said.

On the Web

For information regarding the EcO initiative, visit eco15.org.

Jackie Hill

Name: Jackie Hill

Hometown: Seymour

Occupation: Workforce director for Jackson County Industrial Development Corp. and EcO Network co-facilitator for the regional EcO Manufacturing Network initiative

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Aubrey Woods is editor of The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at awoods@tribtown.com or 812-523-7051.