After working with Jackson County Industrial Development Corp. on a third three-year plan, Thayr Richey said it has been interesting to see the organization change and adapt to different conditions.
Richey, president of Strategic Development Group in Bloomington, said JCIDC continues to be a model for Midwest local economic development organizations because of its outstanding track record of recruiting new basic employers and also working with existing manufacturers.
But, he said, nothing is perfect. The county has strengths and weaknesses, and it faces a lot of challenges and has to keep up with trends around the nation and world.
After surveying JCIDC board members, interviewing key stakeholders throughout the county, comparing and contrasting area communities and looking at economic trends that will likely impact the county, Richey came up with five recommendations for a strategy through 2018.
The strategy was shared during the third annual JCIDC Reports, Reviews and Rewards Luncheon on Friday at The Pines Evergreen Room south of Seymour. The other featured speaker was Dr. Ryan Brewer, assistant professor of finance at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus.
Keep up the good work
First, Richey said JCIDC has a great system going and encouraged the staff to keep doing good work. He said promised investment topping $100 million in each of the past three years and industrial employment numbers continuing to rise are both positives, especially considering there was a recession in 2009.
“The state of manufacturing, transportation, distribution and logistics is your employment wheelhouse,” he said. “Keep working with it. That should be the brunt of your efforts.”
Second, Richey said the staff needs to continue to help manufacturers find quality workers, which can be done through strong workforce development and educational systems.
Since people from other counties commute here to work, he suggested finding some funds and creating a regional program.
“Work closely with your manufacturing employers and take advantage of their knowledge, their training people and find out what they want or what they are not being able to find in terms of worker qualifications,” he said.
High-paying service jobs
Third, a focus needs to be placed on the service economy.
While more than 80 percent of the jobs in the United States are in that sector, they often are low-paying jobs, Richey said.
“So I’m recommending that you focus a small amount of your resources on targeting a high-paying service sector subsector, and that’s professional and technical services,” he said “They have slightly different needs than the manufacturers and distribution operations that you normally work with.”
Fourth, the county is down to roughly 100 acres of new employer or “shovel-ready” sites.
However, there are approximately 500 acres at Freeman Field that officials have been looking at, and Richey said that needs to be investigated.
Also, he said there needs to be more employer sites in the industrial areas of Brownstown and Crothersville.
“There’s a lot of possibilities,” he said.
Finally, Richey said support needs to be given to the revitalization of downtown Seymour. That issue was discovered after talking to stakeholders.
“You need to begin supporting the city as it goes through a revitalization program and make this a better place to want to dine, shop and live. It’s really that simple,” he said.
Twenty years ago, quality of life wasn’t on anybody’s radar in terms of new business recruitment, Richey said. But today, it is a much higher location factor for many companies.
“In many ways, your ability in the future to attract professional and technical service companies is going to be limited by the quality of life you have,” he said. “If you want your children who may go away to college at some point to come back and have a chance at a job here, you may want to have more professional and technical services, and you may want to have a downtown environment that is attractive to them.”
From the recession forward
In Brewer’s presentation, he focused on the economy since the recession hit, where the economy is now and what’s going to happen going forward. He then looked at the region, including Jackson County, and how it has been affected.
Brewer said he liked seeing a lot of investment in the area in the past few years, and he expects 2015 to be strong for corporation and middle-class growth.
Since the recession, Brewer said Jackson County’s population growth is the ninth-highest in the state. Also, the unemployment rate is 15th-best and is down to pre-recession levels, and the county’s labor force, which is the amount of population available for work, is about the same as it was before the recession.
Brewer said counties can experience growth in population and labor force based on educational attainment levels. In Jackson County, the high school educational attainment rate for 2013 was 46.7, which was 14th in the state. The rate for associate, bachelor and professional degrees, however, wasn’t as high.
“I think that’s an opportunity for the community members of Jackson County to focus on,” Brewer said.