Region’s changing demographics attract health care, service-based jobs
Northwest Indiana is undergoing a demographic transformation. Changes to the age, race, gender and ethnicity of those in the Region present challenges and opportunities, experts say. As in life, it’s how we respond to those changes that will dictate the success of our future.
Between 2010 and 2018, the population of the seven counties that make up Northwest Indiana experienced a decrease of more than 11,000 people, according to research by the Center for Regional Development at Purdue University.
“That may not sound like a large number, but it contrasts with a 3 percent growth in the state and a 6 percent growth in the country,” says Anthony Sindone, an economics professor at Purdue University Northwest.
The population decreased in every age category younger than 55. Conversely, every age category north of 55 saw increases.
“What that tells us is that the population of Northwest Indiana is aging,” Sindone says.
According to Micah Pollak, an economics professor at Indiana University Northwest, the negative impact hits certain age groups harder than others.
“The two age groups that lag the most behind the national average in terms of growth are ages 20 to 24 and 45 to 54,” Pollak says. “These two age groups are important, as they represent the segments of the population that are most crucial for economic growth and prosperity in a region.”
Sindone says those age groups are following the money.
“The lack of high-paying jobs related to manufacturing and/or logistics has contributed to the exodus of workers who should be in their highest earning years,” he says.
The population in the age 20-to-24 group, represents the next generation of workers, including millennials and recent college graduates. This group is typically highly mobile, willing to move in search of work and likely to consider beginning a family and settling down to live wherever they may end up.
“They represent the young, skilled workers that we have educated and want to keep in the Region,” Pollak says.
The same research shows changes in race/ethnicity. The white population decreased by 4 percent and the black population by 7 percent, while the Hispanic population increased by 14 percent and the Asian population by 22 percent.
What’s the driver in these changes?
“While cultural backgrounds can play a role, ultimately the choice of a profession has more to do with the economic forces and structure in place in a community,” Pollak says. “A young worker may choose to go into the lawn maintenance industry rather than finance because they lack the resources to acquire the education and experience necessary.”
The Region’s changing demographics are impacting Northwest Indiana’s employment landscape.
Great Lakes Communications Answering Service LLC, a state-of-the-art communication management and answering service, is one business adapting to that change. It handles hundreds of calls daily for businesses across Northwest Indiana. Sherry Rundlett and Tabetha Alvarado, owners of the Crown Point-based company, went through the rigorous process of becoming a certified women and minority business enterprise by the Indiana Department of Administration.
The WMBE certification allows Great Lakes to bid on government contracts that require minority business owners and allows them to be hired by companies that need to work with minority-owned businesses as part of their government contract.
“The certification helps us professionally,” Rundlett says. “Other businesses we deal with understand the stringent work it takes to become certified, and that lets them know how hard we are willing to work.”
“From a personal perspective, I believe we receive respect from others,” Alvarado says. “Clients and potential clients understand that our certification translates into our perspective on business.”
Great Lakes hires bilingual employees when possible, providing insight into the diversity of the Region.
“We have physicians with an office in East Chicago,” Rundlett says. “Many of the calls they get are from people speaking Spanish. We need to be able to take the message, understand the nature of the call, and be able to communicate with someone who may be in distress.”
Rundlett and Alvarado say they occasionally run into other business owners who are surprised their company is owned by women.
“One of our clients is a plumbing service that is owned by a woman,” Alvarado says. “We love the look on faces when we share that one.”
Overall, Rundlett and Alvarado say they receive respect and admiration from other business owners who know how hard it is to run a company, regardless of race or gender.
Declining population hasn’t affected job growth in the seven-county Region.
Linda Woloshansky, president and CEO of the Center of Workforce Innovations, says employment projections show Northwest Indiana will gain 4,000 new jobs during the next five years.
And where are those jobs?
“A major area of growth is in the field of health care,” says Sindone with Purdue University Northwest. “Look around the Region, and you see a large number of independent and assisted living complexes being built. That’s a direct response to our aging population in Northwest Indiana.”
“We are seeing a large increase in the need for nurses, nurse assistants and medical technicians in almost every field,” said Kathy Neary, workforce consultant for Ivy Tech Community College. “At Ivy Tech, we are experiencing an increase in the number of students in several health care programs.”
Pollak and Sindone report similar increases at IUN and Purdue, respectively.
Center for Regional Development at Purdue University statistics show health care and social assistance are the No. 1 employer in Northwest Indiana, with more than 45,000 jobs, well above the national average. Jobs in these fields also are listed at the top in terms of projected growth, with more than 2,700 of those new jobs in the various categories defined as health care and social assistance.
The increase in health care professionals is tied to the increase of Asians who migrate to the Region. The 22 percent increase in the Asian population during the past 10 years includes physicians, surgeons and nurses who now call Northwest Indiana home.
That number may grow significantly, if a study underway by Region hospitals and community health centers bears fruit. The plan is to form a consortium to host medical residents in such specialties as OB-GYN, psychiatry, general surgery and family, internal and emergency medicine, starting as soon as 2019. The group received a $75,000 grant from the state to study the feasibility of the program. The state still has $7 million in funding available for residency programs.
The flip side of high-paying jobs in the health care field are the relatively low-paying ones in the field of accommodation and food services. The projected increase in food preparation is almost 2,000 positions during the next five years.
Experts see the increase in jobs as a positive, but the pay for these positions is considerably lower.
“We often ignore that 79 percent of jobs in Northwest Indiana are service-based,” says Pollak with IUN. “The largest and fastest growing service-based industries in Northwest Indiana are relatively low-paying retail stores and food service.
“With a workforce that has become tailored for these low-skill service jobs, it becomes difficult to attract more desirable service-based and professional businesses.”
Diversifying the Region
Talk to educators and workforce developers in the Region, and they all speak the same language: how to attract and retain high-paying jobs, continue to build a diverse and educated workforce, and rebuild the employment infrastructure that declined with manufacturing automation. Several initiatives are underway.
One Region is a nonprofit organization that strives to grow population, attract and retain talent, and increase household income in Northwest Indiana.
“We are focused on how to attract and retain talent by making Northwest Indiana a better place to live,” says Leah Konrady, president and CEO of One Region. “One initiative is to foster a significant investment in placemaking like the South Shore Rail Line to drive population growth.”
In 2017, One Region embarked on a benchmark research initiative with economists at Valparaiso University, Indiana University Northwest, Purdue University Northwest and the Center for Workforce Innovations to assess places across the country with a turnaround story in attracting millennials.
Another initiative One Region fosters is to make the region a welcoming community to diverse employers and employees.
“Diversity of people leads to creative ideas and innovation,” Konrady explains. “As people are deciding where to live, they often factor in the inclusiveness and diversity of a place. The more we, as a Region and as individuals, can embrace and include a wide range of demographics, the more innovative and resilient our Region will become.”
The pro-business environment created by Indiana’s state and local government has made new manufacturing, transportation, and supply chain and logistics attractive alternatives for both employers and employees.
Ivy Tech has engaged with government officials and local businesses to provide educational and hands-on programs to meet the growing industrial need, according to Neary with Ivy Tech.
“We are creating a nimble workforce that is adaptable to business needs,” Neary says. “For example, as older workers prepare for retirement, companies turn to Ivy Tech to create training programs for their younger employees to step into those better-paying jobs.”
Neary cites a growing request from businesses for students nearing completion in advanced manufacturing, health care, supply chain logistics and building construction management. Ivy Tech said these Region businesses are seeking the following types of graduates from their programs: NIPSCO: advanced manufacturing; Porter Hospital: health care services; CORE Construction: building construction; Schnider: supply chain; and NITCO: information technology.
Creating transportation, which makes it easier to commute to Chicago, also will bring in a diverse group of employees.
“The Region does have individuals with professional service skills who often commute to Chicago for the better-paying professional services positions,” says Woloshansky with the Center for Workforce Innovations. “While they work in Chicago, they live and spend (their income) in Northwest Indiana.”
Valparaiso has developed a bus line that commutes daily to both airports and moves workers to the South Shore station in Ogden Dunes. That also increases the attractiveness of the area for commuters.
“We can all find examples of individuals, friends, neighbors or children, who are eager to contribute to the economy of Northwest Indiana if the numbers make sense to them or if the position is unique or specialized enough to attract them,” Woloshansky says.