Indiana Wesleyan University doing what it can in the community!

Survey says: County pushes past trouble
‘C-T’ staff, Ball State team ask citizens what they think about the economy, future growth

If hope could be a product, manufacturing in Grant County would be strong this Labor Day.

More than half of the county – 53 percent – believe they will be financially better off by next spring, according to a survey by the Chronicle-Tribune and Ball State University.

Yet half of those surveyed were reluctant to predict how employment would change at their workplace in the next year.

“We’ve taken some hard hits, and we’ll take more, but I think the overall attitude of the county has shifted,” said Darren Reese, manager of corporate and community relations for Ivy Tech in Marion. “The idea of ‘Poor us, Grant County is dying.’ It is shifting to excitement.”

And maybe a little fear.

Community expectations were revealed in the communitywide survey conducted in the spring by the Chronicle-Tribuneand the Ball State University Business Fellows program, which provides real-world work experiences for students. The effort of the students and the newspaper’s editorial staff is contained in Section B inside today’s Chronicle-Tribune.

The survey, which carries a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent, found that 14 percent thought employment at their workplace would fall this year.

Twenty-four percent thought employment would stay the same, while 12 percent thought employment would increase in their own place of work.

Unemployment for Grant County was 8.4 percent in July, the latest statistics available from Indiana Workforce development. That is the second highest rate in the state and slightly higher than the rate in July 2005 of 8.3 percent.

Key to recovery will be the continued education of the local workforce and high performing schools to make the community attractive to new employers, said Jeff Southworth, a local business owner and president of the Grant County Economic Growth Council.

The community has attracted two new retail distribution centers and an ethanol plant.

“We’ve had good success and we’ve shown people what we can do,” he said.

Without skilled jobs, the community faces an uphill battle for prosperity.

“The template is, you lose high-paying manufacturing jobs and you go to lower wage service sector jobs,” said Jeffrey Wenger, professor of public policy at the University of Georgia. “City renaissance is very difficult to achieve.”

Higher-paying jobs at the expanding area colleges likely will go to highly trained people recruited from outside the community, he said. The lower paying support staff jobs are just that – lower paying.

“It’s tough to replace high-paying manufacturing jobs,” Wenger said.

But while the campuses can’t make up for Thomson and Active Products and Ball-Foster Glass, all plants that have closed their doors in the past decade, their influence on the economy is nothing but positive, he said.

Alan Miller, director of university relations at Indiana Wesleyan University, said his campus is the fourth-largest employer in the community. About 800 people work there. Of those jobs, half are administrative/professional positions, and the other half is staff positions, which include clerical and housekeeping.

The number of employees the university hires grows by about 50 to 100 people each year.

“We’ve went from 300 to 800 employees in the past 10 years,” Miller said.

Professional positions at the university are somewhat difficult to fill, Miller said. In addition to seeking Christians who are in accord with the university’s mission, the university also looks for well-educated, experienced people, and it has to compete with other institutions, such as Taylor University.

Jim Garringer, public relations director at Taylor, said the Upland campus employs 380 full-time workers. Of these, 31 positions are executive, management or administrative positions; 128 are instructional, research or public service positions; 65 are clerical or secretarial positions; and 43 are skilled crafts or maintenance service positions, he said.

“They’re all a challenge to fill,” Garringer said.

There will be more of those jobs as the university has announced plans to invest more than $100 million in the Upland campus and increase student enrollment there by more than 1,000 in the next 10 years.

But there is no recipe for rebirth, Wenger said. Each community that has suffered similar job losses write their own story.

“I don’t think it takes any one thing,” he said. “Good management. Luck.”

Originally published September 4, 2006

(SOURCE: Chronicle Tribune, Marion, Indiana)

Facebook Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *