Too much, too soon in Elkhart?

January 6, 2010
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The Elkhart area in northern Indiana is certainly ready for some good news. The city attracted visits from presidential candidate Barack Obama after becoming a poster child for job losses, and in 2009 continued to endure a brutal string of layoffs and factory closings in its core recreational vehicle and manufactured housing industries.

Good news indeed is trickling in. Yesterday, Think North America announced it would build its electric smart car in Elkhart and eventually create 400 jobs. Late last year, Elkhart RV and Keystone RV said they were calling back workers. Unemployment, which peaked at 18.9 percent in March, is down four points.

Here’s a difficult question, though: Is Elkhart getting too much good news too quickly?

No one wants unemployment, and no one boos when a company says it wants to expand. Prosperity is a good thing. But will workers in the Elkhart area interpret the announcements as evidence they have enough education and lose motivation to go back to school?

The Elkhart area desperately needs better-trained workers. The metro area ranks 10th among 16 in the state in the percentage of residents age 25 or older with a vocational-technical degree. This in a state where education levels are among the lowest in the country.

One might argue that if companies like Think are voting on Elkhart, then the workers must be good enough. Maybe so.

In the long run, though, as competing states and nations—and manufacturing itself—become more sophisticated, would the region have been better off had the announcements been delayed? Would more people have upgraded their training, and would more children still in school have aspired to a college education?

Just asking. What are your thoughts?

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  • Think in Elkhart County
    Interesting how this has all worked up here. They came to town and looked at the biggest available building (Odyssey Group 400k) and said that they had a couple other sites too. This got everyone's saliva going. According to the county council the state of Indiana has offered the largest deal ever given to a company in our history. Bigger than Toyota or any others. They also want a huge deal from the Dept of Energy. Understandable, but once they started getting these deals, the big building was too big, the numbers of employees is not talked about as anything other than a possibility and they are looking at smaller buildings. They are playing their game for sure, but the state and this county are getting played as well. Will they be around the length of their sweet heart deal? I guess we will see. If you have not eaten in a long time, even an old saltine is going to taste like a Thanksgiving meal. Was that Eddie Murphy?
  • $
    What would also be useful is to see a comparison of the pay scale for these new jobs versus the pay for the prior lay-offs. The media gets caught up in # and ignores $, which is more important.

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