Sunday, November 19th, 2017

Talk is cheap, let’s do something

Posted: Thursday, March 9, 2017

John Sampson, president and CEO
Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership

It is time for a little less talking and a lot more doing. Why? Let us first reflect on the progress of the Regional Cities Initiatives.

A friend reminded me that we began work on the Road to One Million back in 2014 when the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) commissioned a study of population stagnation. Then, throughout the 2015 legislative process, former Governor Mike Pence led the concept of the Regional Cities Initiative. By June 2015, all 11 county councils in Northeast Indiana committed to joining the Northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA). Immediately, 37 mayors and commissioners unanimously elected the five board members to lead the RDA through numerous difficult decisions on our journey to one million residents. Then we promptly submitted the Road to One Million (RTOM) plan to confront the population stagnation that threatens the growth of our region’s employers and Indiana’s economy.

On Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2016, the IEDC announced their approval of our economic development plan and Northeast Indiana won a $42 million dollar grant. An article by the Journal Gazette declared a “New future for our region.” Today, the RDA continues to celebrate opportunities to grow the region.

Just a few weeks ago, the RDA voted to suspend acceptance of applications for new project funding. While no one likes to “run out of money,” in this case, this is very good news. The objective of the Road to One Million Plan is to get big projects going quickly to create momentum and buzz about a region on the move. To date, the RDA has committed $33 million in gap funding to achieve almost $210 million in 16 projects with more than $130 million or 62 percent of private sector investment in eight of 11 counties. There’s no doubt that in just more than a year the RDA generated enormous momentum and buzz.

How urgent is the domestic net outmigration threatening the growth of businesses today and our economic future? We know that the total workforce will decline by more than 8,000 due to retirements in the next decade. We know that we are losing 1,000 people annually in the 15 to 40-year-old demographic due to domestic net outmigration. We also know that more than 20 percent of the workforce in Northeast Indiana is at or near retirement age. This means that with projected job growth and retirements, we will have more than 100,000 jobs to fill in the next decade. We know that from 2010-2015, Indiana lost more than 47,000 people in domestic net outmigration. The direct economic impact of this outmigration is $1.63 billion in adjusted gross income and a loss of $114 million in annual income and sales tax revenue to the state. Again, I urge less talking and more doing. It’s necessary to the growth of the region.

So what should we be doing? Here is my dream list: Your Story Made Here. We all must become storytellers to sell our home, community and region. Whether you have a relative, friend or acquaintance looking for an opportunity to start a new life, continue a career or connect to a vibrant community, we need to share our story. We can take full advantage of our natural Hoosier hospitality to be welcoming and engaging to newcomers. We can connect transplants to our community and engage them in the great things we are building together. There is no better marketing program or collateral material than you and me sharing why we love to live and work in Northeast Indiana and invite others to be a part of our engaging community.

Work-Based Learning: Northeast Indiana must be on the offensive to fight the brain drain in a new and effective way. Career and technical education, internships, co-op experiences and externships must become a priority for students and employers alike. However, work-based learning is more about connections than training. Certainly work-based learning is one of the best ways to learn and practice in a real life work setting. But, in order to reduce the domestic net outmigration that is plaguing our region, we must become much better at connecting and engaging our mobile workforce to the young professionals. If we can make an emotional connection or create a relationship with a mentor, we will have a better chance of capturing a young person’s passion and committing that to Northeast Indiana. We must become extremely proficient at connecting to our young, bright and talented people who are already living and working here.

Jobs, Jobs and More Jobs! If you don’t believe me, check out NEIndiana.com/jobs. There are literally hundreds of unfilled jobs in every single county in the region. Each job represents an opportunity to attract someone new to the region or find a job for a friend or family member. This single portal is only the beginning of surfacing thousands of opportunities across Northeast Indiana to begin a new job, grow a career or start a new life.

That is my wish list. What’s yours? What is it that you can do to share the message of a region on the move and create the opportunity for someone to build a life and career that matters?

As we attract and retain talent in Northeast Indiana, the Regional Partnership and our stakeholders will focus on the three measureable data points to grow the region by 2030. Increase personal per capita income annually against the national average; increase population of Northeast Indiana to one million residents and increase post-secondary attainment to more than 60 percent. As I stated before, it’s time for little less talking, and a lot more doing! What will you do?