KOSCIUSKO COUNTY — “2015 was a fantastic year,” said George Robertson, president of Kosciusko Economic Development Corporation. “It’s certainly the best in the five years I’ve been here.”
Each year KEDCO sets a goal with 2015 having been creation of 500 manufacturing jobs and $20 million in capital investment. The goal has been met the last four years; however, this year it was blown away.
“We added 850 new manufacturing jobs and had $67 million in capital investment,” Robertson said.
Such success stories have included Poly-Wood, Syracuse; Winona PVD Coatings, Warsaw; Torrent Engineering, Milford; Banner Medical, Warsaw; KGP Logistics, Warsaw; among others. Many of these companies have decided to expand their operations in the county or move into the county.
And the entire county has not only seen an increase in jobs, but has developed a diversity of jobs that span from the orthopedics industry to fiber optic cable splicing work. This diversity provides greater stability for the area, particularly should one industry be impacted by a downturn.
Now on the cusp of 2016, Robertson said it’s harder than ever to project what the economy will be like, but there are positive signs.
“We’ve been real busy in November and December with three active prospects. Usually in business by November and December, everything has slowed down,” he said.
So if one uses trendline predictions, as has been the norm in past years, 2016 seems to be shaping up nicely. However, it’s not nearly as clear cut.
Robertson said, “We live in a global economy that is uncertain right now. There is a presidential election coming up and the Federal Reserve is increasing interest rates. It’s a year of uncertainty, and while we’re hoping for a better year, who knows.”
He explained KEDCO had a prospective German company in the hopper for two years in the development phase. “They were close to deciding; however, with the influx of migrants, social unrest (in Germany) and terrorism, that is now on hold.”
While the future is uncertain, KEDCO’s goal for the new year is clearly outlined: develop a workforce to entice perspective companies and keep the ones already here.
“Success is a two-edge sword. It’s great having jobs, but when you run out of skilled workers, then you have a problem,” Robertson said, noting without a workforce pipeline companies might start to look elsewhere to settle or even leave.
In the form of training programs, KEDCO and its partners will seek to increase Kosciusko County’s pool of skilled workers, focusing on needed skills, particularly machinists.
“It’s a win-win program,” Robertson said. “It’s a win for employers and a win for people, giving them a better life and making them self-sufficient.
“We’ve been in touch with several social services and human services agencies in the county — it’s a new partnership,” he said. “They can identify people who really want off services — who want to get jobs and better their lives.”
The training will target the underemployed and those working two jobs to meet ends. Robertson said the skills being taught will help workers get good-paying jobs with the potential for advancement. Another target is the Hispanic population, with programming teaching them English manufacturing terms.
“We’re going to have a series of meetings to get (the programs) in place,” he said, adding prior to their launch they will also begin a media blitz.
Such programming will be important to the county’s success with Robertson noting, “If we want to keep companies here, we have to create a workforce pipeline with the workers they need.”