Chamber speakers: Economy needs higher education, regionalism
Both keynote speakers last Wednesday afternoon at the Chamber of Commerce of Harrison County’s Labor Day Economic Outlook spoke of the importance of higher education to economic growth, as well as the advantages of working regionally to attract and increase economic activity.
Gerry Dick, a journalist with Inside INdiana Business TV, and Uric Dufrene, vice chancellor of Academic Affairs at Indiana University Southeast, were the guest speakers for the event at Horseshoe Southern Indiana in Bridgeport. Dufrene has been a part of each of the four Chamber-sponsored Labor Day economic update events.
He said if the audience were to take one thing away from the day, it was the importance of higher education as shown by his last two graphs of a slideshow presentation.
The graphs showed a wide gap between those with a bachelor’s degree or higher and those with only some college or an associate degree in the labor force and also employed individuals.
Even further down was the line representing the number of people in the labor force, or employed, with only a high school education.
‘It tells us how important education attainment is,’ Dufrene said.
Dick said Dufrene’s point about education as a link to the workforce and economic development is huge for Indiana.
‘It’s critically, obviously important for future growth,’ he said.
He also said employers are beginning to realize Indiana has some real talent coming out of its universities.
Dick referenced a few programs, specifically in aviation and aerospace technology, that are taking off at Indiana universities such as Purdue, Notre Dame and Indiana State.
‘Aviation is a trend (in the state),’ Dick said.
Locally, Dick said it’s very likely Purdue will expand its New Albany campus in the new future.
Indiana University Southeast Chancellor Ray Wallace, sitting in the audience, asked Dick if he thought the region made a mistake by not pursuing Regional Cities Initiative funding from state government.
‘I would think so,’ Dick said while acknowledging he doesn’t want to come down from Indianapolis and tell people what they should do or should have done.
‘There’s a real buzz about what these regions are coming up with,’ he said.
Dick said he thinks a regional focus for economic development is here to stay.
‘Regionalism is here; nationally, it’s where everyone’s going,’ he said.
The goal is to eliminate contradictions with neighboring municipalities and not duplicating, but leveraging strengths, Dick said.
Dufrene also supported the regional idea, and said what’s good for Harrison County is good for Floyd County and vice versa.
At the close of the event, Darrell Voelker, Harrison County Economic Development Corp. director, said the county will continue to work in a regional manner, but it just missed an opportunity to ‘say it out loud’ with the RCI.
Seven regions (central, east central, northern, northeast, northwest, southwest and west central) turned in proposals to the state for the initiative, meaning only two regions did not apply, according to Dick.
Two will be selected by the end of the year to split $84 million in a two-year span.
Overall, Dick said Indiana is more than holding its own economically, even in what continues to be a tough national economy.
Indiana hit its all-time peak for private sector jobs in July, he said.
Dufrene, focusing on the Louisville metro area economy, said, after a very strong 2014, to expect slower growth for the rest of this year and into 2016.
Dick mentioned a dozen or so business moves throughout the state and said the Ohio River bridges project is a top-five infrastructure project for Indiana.
Dufrene said the bridges will be a ‘tremendous asset to the entire region.’
With his job as a business reporter for the state, Dick said he gets a feel, on and off the record, of the business climate from company representatives.
The state’s Right-to-Work legislation, though controversial, has generally been positive for Indiana, he said.
Dufrene’s presentation included slides featuring the number of employees living in Harrison County but working outside the county and vice versa.
According to STATS Indiana Commuting Profiles, 696 Floyd County residents work in Harrison County leading the way ahead of Crawford County, 598 residents; Clark County, 356; Kentucky, 254; and Washington County, 261.
As for Harrison Countians commuting out of the county for work, 4,037 people do so to Kentucky; 2,305 to Floyd County; 1,688 to Clark; 194 to Crawford; and 471 work elsewhere in the state or out of state.