Speaker: Finding workers for jobs statewide issue

Strengthening the economy of a community requires having people who are actively involved and engaged at every level of making that growth happen.

An economist recently delivered that message at the Jackson County Industrial Development Corp.’s annual meeting in Seymour.

Gerry Dick, host and creator of the radio and television show “Inside Indiana Business,” said communities that have strong schools, health care systems and other infrastructure are the most successful.

“I see a lot of that here in this room,” Dick said during the luncheon Friday at The Pines Evergreen Room.

The Clinton native said in speaking with area residents before the luncheon, he learned that Seymour and Jackson County face an issue that is statewide — workforce development.

“Every segment of the economy is facing that challenge, but in manufacturing in particular,” he said. “How do we get enough trained workers and the workers we need?”

Dick said despite that issue, the state continues to compete and do very well from an economic and business development standpoint.

Recent jobs announcements, such as one in Seymour, demonstrate continued economic growth, he said.

“Aisin recently announced an investment of nearly $100 million and 100 new jobs,” Dick said of Aisin USA Mfg. Inc.’s plans for growth over the next four years.

Dick said it’s encouraging the economy of the state is becoming more diverse and one sector — distribution and logistics and e-commerce in particular — continues to expand.

“We’re very well situated for that,” he said.

The technology sector also continues to explode, particularly in central Indiana, Dick said.

And there’s growth in other sectors, including agriculture, bioscience and advanced manufacturing.

“The automotive sector continues to, pardon the pun, drive the economy in the state,” he said.

Overall, Indiana’s business climate and quality of life are good, he said.

“The state’s reputation is going north in a big and positive way,” he said.

Dick said too few Hoosiers have associate and two-year degrees, and that’s one reason there are not enough people to fill all of the job openings.

“It’s an important challenge for many businesses,” he said.

The issue is how to attract and keep talent, Dick said.

He said young people today often move to an area without a job because they like the quality of life there.

They look for a job after they make the move, he said.

Before Dick spoke, JCIDC board President Andy Applewhite made brief comments about the state of the economy in Jackson County.

“A couple of stats stick out in mind about the quality of life, which is something we can really, really be proud of,” Applewhite said.

One is the county’s low unemployment rate, which continues to be among the 10 lowest in the state, and the other is the $750 million in capital investments that have occurred in the county in the past eight years, he said.

Jim Plump, the only director in the 32-year history of JCDIC, recognized Darren Wildman, manager of Cummins’ Seymour Engine Plant.

Plump said Wildman has overseen Cummins’ startup of the Hedgehog high-power diesel engine in Seymour. The company initially had planned an investment of $205 million and 305 new jobs with an annual payroll of $25 million by 2014, but it actually invested $276 million and created 584 new jobs with an annual payroll of more than $46 million, Plump said.

Cummins and Wildman have been involved in workforce development, and Wildman presently is chairman of the Jackson County Education Coalition board.

“I came here in 2007 as an Englishman in a place I found very scary,” Wildman said. “They told me we spoke the same language. Trust me, we don’t. I made quite a few mistakes.”

Wildman said the support of the community has made it impossible for him to not fall in love with the place.

“I was supposed to be here two years, and I’m still not ready to leave,” he said.

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