August 8, 2012 — By DAVE SCHULTZ
It’s called “The Big Goal.” It’s a push to get northeast Indiana out of its economic doldrums by luring high-tech industries to the area with the lure of a qualified workforce.
The idea is to raise the percentage of working-age adults with a high-quality degree or certification to 60 percent by 2025 — 13 years from now. That’s up from the current level of 35 percent.
To underscore the problem: Workers in northeast Indiana used to make 96 percent of what the average American makes. That’s figure is now down to 78 percent.
The high-paying jobs are not in northeast Indiana, and that’s “unacceptable,” Leonard Helfrich said Tuesday.
Helfrich, director of the Talent Initiative of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, was in Bluffton Tuesday to talk with the Education Committee of the Wells County Chamber of Commerce.
One of the things he talked about was a public relations campaign including print ads (featuring Scott Glaze, the CEO of Fort Wayne Metals, stating “I Believe in 60 percent”), billboards, and television commercials featuring two characters Helfrich later referred to as Curtis and Jen. The tagline on the commercials: “It’s not about job security, it’s about skill security.”
The ads showcase the www.talentmadehere.com website.
Helfrich said a collaborative effort was necessary across the region. That is something that many of the economic development initiatives pushed forward in northeast Indiana over the past few years have emphasized.
He also said it would have to address a change in culture.
“The theory is, if we’re going to create this type of social change that we’re talking about, it isn’t going to have by an individual foundation or an individual program working within that field,” he said. “It’s going to happen when we have a commitment from a group of important actors from different sectors who come together around a common agenda to address specific social problems.”
The effort is just now gaining momentum, and several of the 20 or so committee members present sought specifics from Helfrich.
He did say that one of the key efforts will address what he called the “non-completers” — those who have gone to college or taken some specialized training, and haven’t finished it.
“The only way we are going to be able to reach that ‘Big Goal’ is if we engage the people who went to college or went to a vocational school and life got in the way and they didn’t finish,” he said. “You’d be surprised how many people out there have enough credits to maybe be a junior in college. If we don’t engage these people and get them back to get their degrees, we’ll never reach The Big Goal.”