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Organizations promote economic growth

February 9th, 2012

News Coverage:

Organizations promote economic growth

Posted: Thursday, February 9, 2012 8:30 pm

BY LUCAS BECHTOL lbechtol@h-ponline.com

John Sampson, president and CEO of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, spoke of the importance to develop, attract and retain talent in the region at the Huntington University Foundation Breakfast on Wednesday morning.

Northeast Indiana is part of the region which is the leader in job creation over the past 12 months.

"Its because of what we're willing to do together: put aside our personal interest for interest in advancing the region," Sampson said.

Even though that is true, per capita income in Northeast Indiana has been declining, something Sampson said is "not representative of our potential."

"Vision 2020 is a way for us to work together, is a framework," he said. "It's about our ability to engage the bright minds of young people ... to change, to make us competitive on a global marketplace."

Vision 2020 is meant to transform the economy to allow various institutions, such as universities, not-for-profits and businesses, to grow and thrive in the region, he said. The number one priority for this is to develop, attract and retain talent.

"That is our game changing mission, everything that we're going to do is going to line up with our ability to develop, attract and retain talent," Sampson said.

There are five pillars, or focus areas, of Vision 2020. These are 21st century talent, business climate, entrepreneurship, infrastructure and quality of life.

"All these things that we are tying together ... need to fit together in a way that will allow us to develop, attract and retain talent," he said.

These are not easy, they are in what he referred to as "Quadrant Four," which is what the area needs the most but is also most difficult to achieve.

"Some we will be successful at and some we will fail at," he said. "These are difficult things to do."

The first pillar, 21st century talent, is the big goal for Vision 2020, Sampson said. The big goal is to have 60 percent of people with an advanced degree by 2025.

This is important because these credentials and advanced degrees are important to economic development, said Kathleen Randolph, president and CEO of WorkOne Northeast and the interim director of the Questa Foundation for Education.

One of the ways to help increase this percentage is with the Questa Foundation's Scholars Payback Program.

"The value of the Scholar's Payback Program is that we are enabling students to complete their degrees, number one, to graduate from college with less debt and also to retain that talent in Northeast Indiana," she said.

The program is in place at eight schools, and students can receive scholarship funds in the form of a loan of no more than $20,000, over a four year period as long as those students retain a 2.75 GPA and graduate within those four years, she said.

"If the individual then finds employment in Northeast Indiana, we are able to basically repay the loan, or forgive the loan, of that individual up to 75 percent," Randolph said. "So, essentially, a person can graduate from college with a $20,000 loan, but only have to pay 25 percent of it," she said.

Currently, there are 25 Questa students in Huntington University.

"They are pursuing degrees and credentials in areas that will support our economy, and in fact where they will be able to find employment in Northeast Indiana," Randolph said. "That's our objective: to recapture and retain talent right here in our home region."

The objective of Questa is to make sure that finances are not the reason for students to not receive a degree, she said. Current Questa completion rates are 92 percent.

Mark Wickersham, executive director of Huntington County United Economic Development Corporation, said Sampson and Randolph represent the region well in what they do.

"John and Kathleen are the leaders are of what I refer to as a comprehensive approach to economic development in the region," he said. "They do the work that shapes the long-term prospects for how local communities, economic development strategies pan out."

This region is going to do well because of the work these people and their organizations do to lay the framework for the future, Wickersham said.

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