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By KEVIN KOELLING
TELL CITY – Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann told a local audience Feb. 21 one of her four daughters wasn’t too keen about going to college. A blended family that includes two stepdaughters with husband Jim Mehling, they range from 22 to 26 years old.
“Out of our four girls, three of them were very traditional college kids,” Ellspermann said. The other one “really wasn’t well-suited for college and didn’t want to go.” Like many parents, however, they urged her to. The result was “three semesters for one semester of credit; has anybody have that happen in your house?” she asked, eliciting laughter from the audience. “That is not that uncommon.”
The young woman told her parents she didn’t really belong in college, and they agreed, the lieutenant governor said. A job and marriage followed, “then she went back to a junior college and got a two-year degree,” Ellspermann continued. She “graduated, and guess what? She’s making more money than the other three girls right now.”
Ellspermann was speaking at the Perry County Development Corp. annual dinner meeting, whose theme was “Meeting Workforce Challenges Head-On.” As the News reported Monday, U.S. House Rep. Larry Bucshon also addressed the crowd invited to the Hoosier Heights Country Club, telling them employers across the nation are having trouble finding qualified workers.
Unemployment hovers around 8 percent in Perry County and statewide, she said, while “many jobs across the state are going unfilled … good jobs requiring good skills.” They include those requiring two-year degrees and other types of certification, including apprenticeships, she added.
“There are great jobs out there for our young people and incumbent workers alike,” she went on before explaining that two bills were being worked on. One addresses Indiana work councils, which are intended to be regionally based, “much as you’ve done here with the college-success coalition,” she said. That initiative was also explained during the meeting and will be addressed in an upcoming story. Workforce needs are regionally unique, reflecting the kinds of commerce found in different areas of the state, Ellspermann said. Dubois County is heavy on furniture-making and the north-central part of Indiana is “the medical-device region,” she said as examples. “Let’s honor that and bring our employers together with our educators to work together to decide what those regional needs are.” They should be able to change school curricula to provide training in high school to meet the local needs, she said.
The second legislative effort concerns an Indiana careers council.
“Never in Indiana have we, under one body, put career, technical and workforce training,” Ellspermann said. The governor will chair that effort and she will serve as vice chair. Also, “it will bring our commissioner of higher education, which is all of our Indiana state universities … along with our superintendent of public instruction and our Department of Workforce Development, along with employers, labor and other perspectives to look across the state and say, ‘what are the gaps?’ We have the data, but no one is really mining that data to say, ‘what are those areas where we’re not educating as we should?’ and ‘how do we get the programs in place to make sure we have the workforce of the future?’ So two very, very nice pieces of legislation are moving smoothly, bipartisanly through the legislature as we speak and should help in the longer run, to do the kinds of things that you’re doing.”
Baby-boomers moved to where the jobs were, but today’s young workers find places they want to live, then seek employment there, so “we have to make sure our cities are the places our kids want to come back to,” she said, “and I commend Perry County, because you all are doing so many things to make your community livable, (enhancing) quality of life, looking at the trails (and) greenways, looking at the new visitors center. You’ve got probably the most beautiful county in the state of Indiana, with assets like the Hoosier National Forest, the beautiful hills you have, the river that you have before you. All of that has to be developed.”
Resources available through her office can help communities grow, she continued, “and be that place people want to come back to, so please call on us.” Listing several, such as the Office of Community and Rural Affairs that has assisted with the funding of numerous projects here, she said, “we want to be of service.” She also focused on tourism, saying, “you all are just ripe for it, and that’s a great way to attract that young talent back, as well, not only to Perry County talent that’s here, but people who don’t know yet that this where they want to live; we need to tell them how beautiful it is here.”
Ellspermann also listed the state Housing and Community Development Authority, which assisted Tell City in its efforts to launch its visitors-center initiative, and the state’s Agriculture Department, which works “to grow our agriculture industry.”
“One last department we’re standing up is our Office of Defense Development,” she added, noting it will be more relevant to other areas of the state, such as the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center in Martin County.
“We have some great resources for you,” she said in concluding her remarks. “We want to be that partner. The things that are happening at the state are right on target with what you all are trying to do here, and we commend that completely. We don’t have all the answers, but we certainly want to figure them out with you.”