When it comes to bringing together different groups to support a goal of attracting, developing, and retaining a workforce, state leaders believe Northwest Indiana knows how to get it done.
Some of the state’s top leaders including, Blair Milo, secretary of Career Connections and Talent; Teresa Lubbers, Indiana commissioner for Higher Education; and Elaine Bedel, secretary and CEO of the Indiana Destination Development Corp., were on hand for a virtual event Sept. 18 to congratulate Region leaders and representatives from the Northwest Indiana Forum as well as the Center of Workforce Innovations, for securing an Indiana 21st Century Talent Region designation for Northwest Indiana, which includes Jasper, Lake, LaPorte, Newton, Porter, Pulaski and Starke counties. The designation is awarded to communities focused on working collaboratively to attract, develop and connect talent.
“As a La Porte native, this particular 21st Century Talent Region designation is near and dear to my heart,” said Milo, former mayor of La Porte. “I’m excited about the collaboration happening in the Northwest Indiana region among business, community and education leaders to create pathways to greater education, training and employment opportunities, and about the Region’s dedication toward continued workforce development and economic growth.”
The Office of Career Connections and Talent, with support from the Indiana Economic Development Corp. and the CivicLab, launched the 21st Century Talent Region initiative to encourage local governments, businesses, educational institutions, nonprofits, and economic and workforce development groups to develop plans to increase educational attainment, raise household income and grow the population in a region.
State officials say a collaborative approach can identify strategic priorities and projects designed to help communities create a better quality of place, develop and skill up its workforce, and connect talented Hoosiers with businesses seeking to fill high-demand, high-wage jobs.
The Northwest Indiana Forum-led Ignite the Region initiative, which has a goal of developing a long-term strategy to strengthen the Region’s economy as well as efforts by the Center of Workforce Innovations to enhance training to develop a workforce with up-to-date skills sought by employers, met much of the criteria required to earn the state’s 21st Century Talent Region designation.
“(The designation) is a recognition of the hard work in the Region that has already taken place,” Lubbers said.
But there is more to do, Milo said. She said the Ignite the Region plan has laid the groundwork to develop long-term strategies and goals, which in the long run will help Northwest Indiana prosper.
“The designation is not the end of the journey,” Milo said. “It’s important to celebrate the collaboration that already is under way and the hard work that already has been done but it’s also time to begin thinking about what’s next.”
Linda Woloshansky, president and CEO of the Center of Workforce Innovations, said she appreciates the state designation the Region received and recognizes work must continue.
“We look forward to our continued collaboration while expanding our base of partners around this exciting and vital effort benefitting Northwest Indiana,” she said.
Heather Ennis, president and CEO of NWI Forum, said the designation falls in line with the Ignite the Region strategy.
“(The designation) helps to continue to move the initiatives outlined in that plan forward,” she said.
Workforce growth already is happening in Northwest Indiana. Ennis said between January and August, the Region gained 1,660 new jobs. That number exceeds the 1,366 new jobs gained in the Region throughout 2019.
New jobs announced this year include recent announcements by Corsicana Mattress Co., which is opening a new plant in La Porte that could employ up to 350 people by 2023 and Indiana Face Mask in Rensselaer, a maker of personal protective equipment, which initially will employ 14 people.
The designation also will guide Region groups to focus on priorities to benefit Northwest Indiana long term. Key components include:
- Maintaining a dashboard to serve all regional partners to deepen consistent collaboration through shared goals and operating practices;
- Analyze data and identify baseline and progress metrics for regional talent attraction and connection by the summer of 2021;
- Adopt an equity focus across the Region with the intention of narrowing the achievement gap for minority and underserved high school students by increasing graduation rates by 3% each year;
- Increase employer engagement with the education and workforce systems in high-demand industry sectors, to be measured by increasing the number of internship or apprenticeship opportunities available to youth and adults by 10% each year, and;
- Increase the number of high school graduates with post-secondary credentials by 5% each year.
Lubbers said regional efforts to align workforce and education systems will help Indiana reach its overall goal of having at least 60% of Hoosiers with quality education and training beyond high school by 2025.
“Leaders in Northwest Indiana have long been known for collaboration and innovation to help prepare their region for a 21st century economy,” she said.
A total of 83 Indiana counties are actively engaged in regional planning through the 21st Century Talent Region initiative, the state said. The addition of Northwest Indiana brings designations to 47 of Indiana's 92 counties, covering a population of about 3.2 million people.
Previously designated 21st Century Talent Regions include West Central Indiana, Eastside Economic Recovery and Mobility District, South Bend-Elkhart, Hamilton County, Indiana Uplands, EcO Network of Southeast Indiana and Northeast Indiana.