The Bloomington Economic Development Corp.’s State of the Bloomington Regional Economy lunch demonstrated how small numbers can add up to the success or failure of a region’s economy.
Presentations from regional economic leaders Wednesday spoke to the specifics of what drives Southwest Central Indiana’s economy, detailing metrics ranging from opioid addiction to the number of students completing industry-specific educational programming. Each data point spoke to a greater economic ripple felt across the region’s main industry sectors.
“In the work we do, there’s nothing more important than looking at the regional perspective,” said Tina Peterson, CEO of Regional Opportunity Initiatives. “Broadly, we’ve learned this region is the land of opportunity. We just need education to be aligned and relevant.”
According to Peterson, Regional Opportunity Initiatives’ job is to address, maintain and grow the region’s workforce. In her presentation, Peterson addressed southwest central Indiana’s three main sectors: advanced manufacturing, life sciences and national security and defense. That target region encompasses Owen, Monroe, Brown, Greene, Lawrence, Martin, Daviess, Dubois, Orange, Washington and Crawford counties.
Peterson presented the findings following a four-year review of the region’s economy and identified more than 13,000 regional and 4,000 Monroe County jobs in the advanced manufacturing sector. That sector — primarily wood furniture manufacturing and poultry processing — is struggling to find entry-level workers, who often jump from job to job in search of more attractive wages. As technology influences that market, employees who have more specific skill sets will be in demand, according to Peterson.
There are about 8,400 regional and 1,400 Monroe County jobs in the National Security and Defense sector, Peterson said, and there’s an expected growth of 700 jobs in that sector within the next five years.
Regionally, there are about 6,000 jobs in the life sciences sector, with nearly 4,400 of those jobs in Monroe County. Peterson said the life sciences sector is expected to grow by 700 jobs in the next five years. Again, Peterson stressed those jobs in both of those sectors will need to be filled by workers with a higher degree of specialized education.
“One of the things we hear over and over again is that we need impressive STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) skills in our region,” Peterson said. “We’ve got ground to make up.”
The disparity lies in the fact that, of the 17,000 high school students in Southwest Central Indiana, only about 190 have completed an educational pathway program targeting key sectors.