Inside INdiana Business

Northwest Indiana named 21st Century Talent Region

Heather Ennis is the president and CEO of the Northwest Indiana Forum.

VALPARAISO, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — The Indiana Office of Career Connections and Talent has named northwest Indiana as the state’s newest 21st Century Talent Region. The designation is awarded to communities that are “focused on working collaboratively to attract, develop and connect talent.” Officials from the seven-county region say they will use the designation to achieve a number of goals, including increase employer engagement with the education and workforce systems in high-demand industry sectors.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Northwest Indiana Forum Chief Executive Officer Heather Ennis said the designation will shine a spotlight on the region’s efforts.

“Talent is a top five component of site selection and so it’s as important or more important than ever to continue to create great talent in our region,” said Ennis. “From January to August of this year in 2020, our jobs number has outpaced the entire 2019 year so we are exciting about what this talent region (designation) means for continuing to grow and connect great talent in northwest Indiana.”

The northwest Indiana region is comprised of Jasper, Lake, LaPorte, Newton, Porter, Pulaski and Starke counties.

Efforts to achieve the region’s goals are being spearheaded by the Center of Workforce Innovations, the Northwest Indiana Forum and the Northwest Indiana Workforce Board.

The goals include maintaining a dashboard that will allow all regional partners to foster a deep, consistent collaboration through shared goals and operating practices. Officials will also analyze data and identify baseline and progress metrics for regional talent attraction and connection efforts by next summer.

From an education standpoint, officials plan to adopt an equity focus throughout the region with the intention of narrowing the achievement gap for minority and underserved high school students by increasing graduation rates by 3% annually. Another goal is to increase the number of high school graduates with post-secondary credentials by 5% each year.

The region also aims to increase the number of internship or apprenticeship opportunities available to both youth and adults by 10% each year. Ennis says engagement with employers is key.

“It’s so important when we go out and talk to site selectors and companies for them to know that the economic development professionals are well connected to the workforce people and the educators,” said Ennis. “And so nothing is insurmountable when we can all work together and help the companies that want to locate here figure out how to grow that talent or connect with that talent.”

Northwest Indiana is the eighth region to receive the 21st Century Talent Region designation, bringing the total number of counties involved in regional planning efforts to 83.