Last week, the Valparaiso, Ind.-based Center of Workforce Innovations released the 2010 State of the Workforce Report, which provided a clear picture of the most pressing challenges and opportunities facing the workforce in Lake, La Porte, Porter, Newton, Jasper, Starke and Pulaski counties in Indiana. Among the report’s starkest findings: more than half of the 401,600 workers in Northwest Indiana’s seven-county region need some type of workforce development services.
Over the past two years, MPC has talked with hundreds of regional stakeholders about northwest Indiana’s perceived and real weaknesses and strengths, in preparation for the soon-to-launch Gary and Region Investment Project (GRIP), a partnership with The Times of Northwest Indiana’s One Region: One Vision initiative. Although GRIP’s goal is to prioritize and focus on key transformative development projects the region can work together to advance, the Center’s report reinforces a sentiment we’ve heard from many of Northwest Indiana partners: a better prepared workforce is one essential component to halting the disinvestment cycle in northwest Indiana’s urban core.
The full report is available on the Center’s web site. Other key findings include:
- Northwest Indiana is a tale of two regions: one of growth and another that struggles. The urban core communities in northern Lake County suffer from population loss and concentrated poverty. Meanwhile, the urban core is surrounded by a collar of affluent and quickly-growing suburban communities. The result is a Region marred by geographic disparity.
- The Region suffers from a concentration of low-performing high schools in the urban core communities of northern Lake County.
- Commuting patterns and labor force estimates suggest Northwest Indiana is a net importer of unemployed individuals.
- The current decade has been a heightened period of entrepreneurship as many unemployed individuals have started their own businesses. These new “non-employer” businesses could be a vital source of new jobs if they can make the transition to an establishment with employees.
The Center’s analysis identifies the way toward preparing the region’s workforce for “rising star” industries – growing industries that can make the region more economically competitive, including the following:
- personal service occupations
- agribusiness and food technology
- engineering and related services
- building, landscaping and construction design
The report also pointed to several other industries as strongholds, even during the recession, including:
- manufacturing (despite the decline in steel manufacturing, the industry still employs three out of 10 workers in the region)
- health care
- HEART: hospitality, entertainment, arts, recreation and tourism
- TDL: transportation, distribution and logistics.
The Center’s report is timed perfectly to inform the goals of GRIP. Clearly the development projects that emerge as priorities in northwest Indiana should help spark new job opportunities in emerging industries and occupation clusters – for which the region’s workforce will need to be prepared. New development also will make the region more attractive to homeowners and businesses alike, support upstarts, and make northwest Indiana a net importer of the employed, rather than the unemployed. As Linda Woloshansky, president and CEO of the Center for Workforce Innovations and chair of One Region: One Vision’s Northwest Indiana Education Summit, said recently, “There are great opportunities in Northwest Indiana with a changing workforce.”
Perhaps most apparent to me is that the same call to action at the conclusion of the Center’s report applies to GRIP: “To accomplish this shared task, [it] will take strong partnerships and dedication that stretches across both real and imagined boundaries. … Only together can many of these systemic challenges be properly addressed.”