HANCOCK COUNTY — Public transportation and work ethic are emerging as big concerns in the county’s fastest-growing business sector as a labor study reaches its halfway mark.
Those are a couple key findings two months into Plainfield-based Kelley and Associates’ analysis on business retention and expansion in the Mt. Comfort area. The process continues over the next couple months and will culminate with recommendations on how to go about addressing needs in the area, which has become a hot spot for large distribution and logistics properties.
Cinda Kelley, president and CEO of Kelley and Associates, told the Hancock County Redevelopment Commission earlier this month that the firm has been identifying and reaching out to companies in Mt. Comfort to gather their thoughts on the area’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
Kelley said 75 companies have been identified, 63% of which have participated so far.
Public transportation has been identified as Mt. Comfort’s biggest need, according to feedback from companies, followed by a need for improved roads.
The biggest labor concern coming from the study so far is work ethic, Kelley continued, specifically a desire to work.
“That’s not unusual,” said Kelley, who also formerly served as Hendricks County’s economic development director. “That’s what we hear throughout central Indiana. When you have an unemployment rate such as you have in Hancock County and in central Indiana, this is what we’re seeing.”
Hancock County’s unemployment rate was estimated at 3.5% for January 2021.
The study is also looking at commuting patterns and indicates the majority of Mt. Comfort’s commuters come from Marion County.
“We have been a little surprised at how far some people are driving to come to work in the Mt. Comfort area,” Kelley said, adding some drive more than two hours. “Not surprisingly, those are companies that either are in production or have a little bit higher wage. They’re more technical positions as well.”
Kelley added people are usually willing to commute to a work community for one to three years.
“All of that really depends on their family and ages of their children, the quality of life that they’re experiencing in the community in which they live, as well as housing costs and availability,” she said.
Strengths companies have listed about Mt. Comfort include the county having a strong business attitude, good tax rate and good access to the interstate.
The study’s third month will bring visits to companies, Kelley said, followed by a final presentation, recommendations and a discussion about next steps. She hopes to reach companies that have yet to respond, and plans to seek help on doing so from the Hancock Economic Development Council.
The county redevelopment commission commissioned the study at a cost not to exceed $40,000 earlier this year.
Randy Sorrell, executive director of the county’s economic development council, called it a wise investment, explaining his office lacked the staff and time to gather all of the information.
Ideas are already starting to take shape about bolstering workforce development and training in the county, Sorrell said, including discussions with Ivy Tech Community College and a desire to be involved from the county’s four high schools.
“This will inform other discussions,” he said.
He also referred to a workforce recovery team consisting of the economic development council, Hancock County Community Foundation, WorkOne, a couple human resources officials in the community and David Pfaff, superintendent of Eastern Hancock schools.
“We are talking about how can we connect kids to jobs,” Sorrell said. “Part of that is we’ve spent 30 years telling people they need to go to college. And that’s great, a lot of us have done that, but there are a lot of people — that’s not their path. What is that alternative?”
Kelley said one part of the labor study that should help those efforts consists of identifying what kinds of training opportunities and internships Mt. Comfort companies provide.
“We’re gathering that information as well so that local communities can start connecting those dots between your business community, your public entities and your school corporations, and that’s key,” she said.