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Region’s focus is on creating good — and good-paying — jobs

June 20th, 2014

News Coverage:

Region’s focus is on creating good — and good-paying — jobs

Posted: Thursday, June 19, 2014 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:18 am, Fri Jun 20, 2014.

By John Sampson

When the latest unemployment figures were released, Business Weekly columnist Morton J. Marcus wrote that Indiana public policies and economic-development professionals are focused on the wrong priority — jobs — when they should be focused on wages.

Good jobs, those with high wages and benefits, should be the focus of our economic-development efforts. These jobs are what will help us raise the per-capita income in northeast Indiana, which is the sole focus of the region and the Vision 2020 initiative.

Northeast Indiana’s 10-county unemployment rate is 4.9 percent, an enviable position that is well below the state’s unemployment rate of 5.5 percent. It’s good news, but again, our focus is on raising the per-capita income in the region.

Last year, northeast Indiana saw $1.2 billion more in personal income circulating in our economy than the previous year. That increase can be attributed to a shift in our regional thinking over the past few years.

Leaders and economic-development professionals in northeast Indiana understand that job creation alone will not transform our economy. We are focused on creating and attracting good jobs that will further the prosperity of residents in northeast Indiana.

It’s a concept that gained momentum last year when the region embraced Gallup CEO Jim Clifton’s book “The Coming Jobs War.” In it, Clifton emphasizes the important role local leadership plays in creating our region’s economic future.

As Michael Hicks, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research and professor of economics at Ball State University, sees it, “The northeast Indiana region has figured out a strategy for balancing talent development and a goal of increasing the area’s per-capita income with economic-development efforts. More thoughtful economic-development officials and policymakers are beginning to adopt a similar type of strategy towards improving the economic climate in their regions.

“While almost every location gives some lip service to their human capital and quality of life, northeast Indiana is the only region I know of in Indiana where actual effort and resource allocation has been focused on talent development and raising wages. If every community in Indiana would focus their efforts the way northeast Indiana has, Indiana would be a far more prosperous and growing places.”

Our leaders understand that the jobs we aim to attract must lead to higher wages and per-capita personal income if we are to be successful. And we know the closest correlation to raising income is increasing educational attainment and skill levels. That is precisely why numerous educational and workforce development organizations throughout the region are aligning to respond to the needs of employers who compete in a global marketplace.

The state has put a lot of effort into policies that are aimed at job creation, but I disagree with Marcus that they haven’t put a lot of effort into policies aimed at education and workforce development.

To the credit of the current state administration, Indiana has committed to confronting the difficult challenge of the skills gap that is alive and pervasive in our state. The state’s efforts reside in the Indiana Career Council and Regional Works Council through the Center for Education and Career Innovation. The work is difficult, worthwhile and takes both near-term and long-term strategies to be directly responsive to the needs of employers.

Closer to home, northeast Indiana has adopted the Big Goal, which aims to increase the percentage of Northeast Indiana residents with high-quality degrees or credentials to 60 percent by 2025. Efforts span the entire educational continuum, from early childhood to technical education and postsecondary completion. With partners in place along each stage of the continuum, our regional workforce will be an incredible asset to existing employers and a huge magnet to other companies looking to expand.

And we can’t overlook the productive work of Northeast Indiana Works, which is solely and wholly committed to collaboration with economic-development efforts of northeast Indiana.

Through its 11 WorkOne Northeast career centers, Northeast Indiana Works serves more than 40,000 individuals and 1,200 companies annually with a variety of programs, including on-the-job training and more than 40 skill-building workshops.

Northeast Indiana leaders and economic-development professionals are not like what you might find elsewhere. They understand that economic development is about creating prosperity in their communities and the region, and they are committed to education and workforce development because if we do not have the skills, their communities will not be competitive in the global marketplace.

I can’t speak for others, but I can say that in northeast Indiana, low unemployment is not the sole objective. Our objective is creating good jobs and growing per-capita income and average wage, and that is a long-term commitment to our communities, region and Indiana.

JOHN SAMPSON is president and CEO of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership.