Understanding the Current Landscape, Future Battlegrounds of Northeast Indiana’s Economic Future

By: John Sampson on October 29th, 2019

Office, Target Industry Analysis Provide Advantage in Global War for Jobs

In late October in Burns Harbor, Ind., I was privileged to attend the commissioning of the USS Indianapolis on a cold and dreary Saturday morning. This is the fourth United States (U.S.) Navy ship to carry the name of Indianapolis in the defense of freedom and our country. The commissioning, marking the first day of active duty for a Navy vessel, was highlighted with numerous state and federal dignitaries but none so significant as the four surviving crew members of the WWII USS Indianapolis, which sunk in the Pacific on July 30, 1945. These four servicemen were among the 416 survivors of the crew totaling 1,195. Despite the tragic end to the USS Indianapolis, its final mission played a critical role in concluding a global war, although the mission of securing global peace is not yet done.

Jim Clifton’s “Coming Jobs War” makes a close correlation to winning WWII and our current global war for good jobs. Jim makes a strong case that WWII was the war for “all the marbles,” and, in Northeast Indiana, the war for talent is our war for “all the marbles.” His comparison is not trivial in any respect. It can be easy to dismiss such thinking as overdramatization of a ruthless global marketplace, but what it means to the livelihood of over 789,000 residents living and working in Northeast Indiana is incredibly significant.

The story of the USS Indianapolis reminds me once again that our work in the global war for jobs is not yet done. In Northeast Indiana, we must also keep advancing our battle strategies, and we must not lose sight of the urgent and persistent nature of the battle for the skilled talent to meet the growing and transforming needs of our region’s employers.

The pace of change and strength of competing regions, states and countries demand that our fundamentals remain current, relevant and effective. While this is a marathon, not a sprint, we cannot afford to become insular or complacent in our progress.

In 2020, the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership is committing to renewed efforts to better understand the current landscape and future battlegrounds of our most critical threat—skilled talent. What we did in the past to develop, attract and retain talent will be outdated and insufficient. Today, strategies evolve as fast as the last software update on your favorite apps. 

As we plan for another year, our relentless pursuit of tactics and strategies in business development, marketing and talent development and attraction will continue to advance to new levels. These plans are taking shape and will leverage our lessons learned in 2019 and the momentum that we are enjoying together as a region.

Besides, we have committed to a deeper understanding of our assets and the vulnerabilities we will face together through three specific initiatives that will bring new understanding to the battleground of talent and our competitive position in the Midwest.

  1. Northeast Indiana Office Space analysis by Wadley Donovan Gutshaw Consulting (WDGC) will assess office space and professional services. In Northeast Indiana, we live in the shadow of major markets throughout the Midwest like Chicago, Detroit and Indianapolis. While there are distinct strengths and weaknesses for each metro, markets like Fort Wayne, Warsaw and other regional communities also hold competitive and comparative advantages for the cost of doing business and quality of life that just don't exist in the congestion and high costs of the major metros. While we have always understood and touted these features, we have never quantified and packaged our comparative weapons in a way that made the case clear. In this case, we will be upgrading our ammo and furthering our understanding of the region’s office space and professional services ecosystem.
  2. Northeast Indiana Target Industry Analysis by TEConomy will arm us with a deep and unique perspective on our target industries. We will be able to understand what it will take to build true, vibrant clusters for innovation and accelerating progress. Traditionally, we have viewed “target industries” as opportunities for business attraction and talent development within the narrow scope of verticals within the industry. In the future, the new battleground is to understand the complexity of intersections, convergences and disruptors that occur between Northeast Indiana’s target industries. Just imagine how rapidly emerging technologies in data analytics and virtual and augmented realities might define the future of global markets across our region’s industries.
  3. Through our support of the Bellwether Study launched by the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership (CICP), we must recognize that there are no geographical boundaries when it comes to economic development, only blurred interfaces of transition. This means we must be well connected to statewide initiatives across Indiana to achieve a broader view of regional and global markets without respect to political borders. The Bellwether Study is a study of Indiana’s regions, economy and workforce in partnership with the Brookings Institution and in collaboration with the American Enterprise Institute. It’s a multi-dimensional study of Indiana’s economy with in-depth analysis of both the current and projected future state of our jobs, industries and regions designed to focus business priorities, inform public policymakers and spur intentional regional growth across the state.

The message is clear and urgent. The pace of change is accelerating. To secure a place in an uncertain and competitive economic future, it is our responsibility to lead our communities to embrace and confront change.

To lead, our view of the future cannot be shaped without this critical understanding, data and expertise. As we develop our understanding of the future based on the conditions of today coupled to forward-facing analytical tools, we have a chance to confront a rapidly changing world.

Finally, in understanding the current challenges of change on the horizon, not only will we learn about the world around us and our roles, but we will also see ourselves differently. I would argue that this new perspective on our ability to compete in the future may be the most important change before us. What we are today is not we will be in the future. 

We have earned the right to enjoy tremendous momentum. It remains critical that we also understand that we have not arrived! Just like the USS Indianapolis, the important work remains to secure our future in a global war for jobs.