Northeast Indiana Colleges and Universities Network: How We Help Economic Development Partners Win
Collaborating on Business Attraction
The Northeast Indiana Colleges and Universities Network is something special.
I have been working on talent development and attraction initiatives in Northeast Indiana for a decade (almost to the day). In that time, I’ve been a part of a number of national and statewide initiatives. As far as I’m aware, no other community in the country has a group of otherwise unaffiliated public and private, two- and four-year institutions, that regularly convene to support business investment.
How It Started
The institutions first convened in 2014. Every college and university in the region is a leadership-level investor in the Regional Partnership, so our team started hosting quarterly dinner meetings to build relationships and trust. By 2018, we officially formed the Network to help Shindigz make the decision to stay in Northeast Indiana.
Talent was Shindigz’s major concern, and they felt they didn’t have the internal capacity to hold 10 relationships with 10 institutions. They thought it would be easier to find talent in a community with a land grant institution that has 40,000 students looking for internships, jobs and more.
So we made them a deal: you stay, and we’ll create a Network among our 10 institutions, representing more than 40,000 students, to create a single point of contact for companies looking to connect with our talent.
It worked. They stayed and since then, the Network has been a part of multiple business development wins with more to come.
How It Works
Landing an economic development deal is a major team effort. Once a lead turns into a bona fide project, multiple agencies come together behind the scenes, sometimes for years, to promote the region’s assets including talent pipelines.
We are almost always directly competing with other communities across the country, so any differentiator that our economic development professionals can leverage is important, and the Colleges and Universities Network is a major differentiator.
Once the Network is brought into the conversation, whoever is running point on the project reaches out to me or a colleague at the Regional Partnership. They share whatever they can about the project, including and especially the types of jobs the project will represent. From there, our team gets with all 10 of our Network members to assemble the number of current enrollments and recent grads in the programs that align with the hiring needs. Then, on the authority of the Network members, we aggregate the information and I send a letter of support to the point of contact that outlines all the ways our region’s higher ed institutions can collectively meet the needs of this employer, should they choose Northeast Indiana. If need be, we’ll even arrange a site visit with multiple institutions at once to showcase what we have.
Why It's Transformative
This sounds like a simple, no brainer type of thing. But it’s not. In no other community that I’m aware of with 10 universities, with no other obligation to each other, set aside their considerable competitive interests to help win economic development deals.
Whenever I talk about it outside the region, jaws drop.
I’ve had calls with people all over the country trying to replicate it. I always answer simply when they ask how we did it. I say, “have 10 institutions that care as much about the health of their community as they do about their enrollment.” They usually respond, “Is there something else we could do instead?” Seriously. It’s special.
If you’re interested in learning more, just email me or call me, and I’m always happy to connect. Otherwise, tune back in next month. One of our local economic developers and I will provide a case study of how the network recently helped win a research and design facility in one of our counties.
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