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?