Labor sector diversification could spur local economy: $200,000 study targets finance, retail and construction

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Sexier industry sectors like life sciences or motorsports get all the press. But to remain robust, the Indianapolis Private Industry Council believes, the area economy needs diversification.

The 23-year-old work-force-training not-for-profit believes the nine-county area also should target three tried-and-true industries: finance and insurance; retail, hospitality and restaurants; and construction.

IPIC, whose $9 million annual budget comes from public and private grants, plans to spend $200,000 during the first quarter studying the three sectors, which collectively employ 270,000 people in the Indianapolis area.

“What we’re trying to do here is lay a foundation of work-force intelligence for the community so we know where the bulk of our jobs are today, what they’re going to be in the future, and what skills they need,” IPIC CEO Joanne Joyce said.

Last year, IPIC spent $400,000 studying four far more prominent local sectors: advanced manufacturing, motorsports, life sciences and logistics. IPIC shared its findings with those responsible for shaping the local economy, everyone from economic developers to educators.

IPIC hopes they’ll use its data to adjust their training and education programs. Its ultimate goal is to ensure that local labor’s supply and demand match.

“We can draw all the companies we want here to expand, but if we don’t have the work force to serve those companies, it won’t work,” Joyce said.

Once its research is finished this year, Joyce said, IPIC will have studied more than two-thirds of all local non-government jobs, which are concentrated in the seven industries. The common denominator: IPIC believes each of the seven sectors is ripe with opportunities for growth.

For example, Joyce said, many companies in the insurance industry are moving away from hurricane-prone coastal areas to less-disaster-prone areas. Indiana’s mix of industry-friendly regulation, low cost and central location could make it an easy sell. The key, Joyce said, is demonstrating that Indiana has existing insurance assets to build upon.

The same thinking applies in other key sectors, like retail, hospitality and tourism. The city saw 21.7 million visitors in 2005, said Bob Schultz, spokesman for the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association. That’s up from 20 million in 2004 and 18 million in 2003. In all, Schultz said, visitors now

contribute $3.3 billion annually to the local economy.

“Those numbers continue to demonstrate a robust interest in Indianapolis as a visitor destination, one we know specifically has an effect on the hotels and restaurants of the area,” Schultz said.

IPIC’s study could help steer hotel construction and expansions, he said. To ensure the growth of the whole tourism sector, it’s important to make sure one hotel doesn’t pinch guests from competitors.

Joyce said she also hopes the hospitality sector will be able to mine IPIC’s research to decrease employee turnover.

Retail and restaurants offer many people their first jobs, she said, but few of those employees stay aboard for their entire careers. That means finding qualified managers is a perpetual problem.

“Those industries are looking for ways to hold onto people and keep moving them up,” Joyce said.

For economic developers, information is ammunition.

The Indy Partnership-which markets central Indiana to businesses considering expansion or relocation-helped attract 9,000 new jobs and capital investments worth $1.6 billion last year, according to Gordon Hendry, its interim CEO. That compares with 6,323 jobs and $744 million in capital investments in 2005.

By focusing more carefully on IPIC’s three targeted sectors, Hendry said, 2007 could be even stronger.

“It’s important for central Indiana’s economy to have diversification, because we have been hit hard by manufacturing job losses,” Hendry said. “By playing to our strengths-and luckily we have many-we can grow the economy, including in new sectors that haven’t received as much attention.”

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