In 1994, per capita personal income in this region was 96.2 percent of the national average. It dwindled, measured against the rest of the country, bottoming out at 79.1 percent in 2009. Since then, the number has been creeping back up.
Analysis by Ellen Cutter, director of the Community Research Institute at IPFW, and John Stafford, the former director of the CRI, are the heart of the State of the Region report. The presentations look at the economic vitality of this corner of the state, which the regional partnership defines as Allen, Adams, Wells, Huntington, Wabash, Whitley, Noble, DeKalb, Steuben and LaGrange counties. The 10 counties have a total population of nearly 682,000.
An important force raising incomes here, compared with the rest of the country, is the region’s manufacturing employment. Of the roughly 390,000 workers in the region, more than 71,000 were employed in manufacturing in 2012. The average annual earnings in the region are $40,163 overall, but $59,920 in manufacturing.
The improving personal income figures in recent years reflect a rebound in manufacturing after the depths of the great recession. But manufacturing employment is still far below what it was only a decade ago.
In 2009, manufacturing employment dipped to about 63,000, compared with more than 71,000 now. But even the “recovered” manufacturing employment today is far less than it was in 2002, when nearly 90,000 people in this region worked in that sector.
Stafford identified nine key industry clusters in advanced manufacturing: chemical, pharmaceutical and fertilizer; engines; computers, electronics and precision instruments; industrial machinery; medical instruments; motor vehicles; cable and wiring; steel, metalworking and machine tools; and technical engineering. Over the next decade, he forecasts strong prospects for employment growth in medical instruments; steel, machine tools and metalworking; and technical engineering. Other fields will remain important sources of employment, too, even if they aren’t adding many employees.
A crucial part of nurturing these higher-paying sources of jobs is encouraging people to learn the trades needed for these employers.
The research highlights occupations the growing manufacturers will need: truck drivers, bookkeepers, accountants and clerks; maintenance and repair workers; industrial machinery mechanics; cabinetmakers and bench carpenters; welders, cutters, solderers and brazers; industrial production managers; computer-controlled machine-tool operators; tool and die makers; machinists; and printing press operators.
The technology engineering cluster, a particularly large and well-paying part of the business landscape in this region has its own set of occupational needs in coming years: management analysts; software developers; information security analysts, Web developers and computer network architects; programmers; sales reps and other support services; computer-support specialists; interior designers; and graphic designers.