Talks deepen on workforce ed facility

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HANCOCK COUNTY — Talks are deepening on a facility leaders want in the county that would house workforce education and training as well as other efforts to improve the area’s job market.

A consultant who is helping lead the initiative aided in the creation of a similar facility in the region. His firm and other Hancock County leaders involved in the project are narrowing down what the facility will offer and who it will involve, with plans to determine where it will go and when it will start.

A steering committee made up of government, economic development, education, business and nonprofit leaders throughout Hancock County lead the effort. Hancock Health, which is part of that effort, hired Indianapolis-based Veridus Group to assist.

Tim Jensen, Veridus Group’s principal, said the conceptualized facility is being called the Innovation and Education Center. He describes it as an integrated “kindergarten-through-college workforce development ecosystem” offering classes, community spaces and opportunities for private companies to be involved. He added there would likely be a higher education component as well as a community event and training space able to accommodate hundreds of people.

“We want to drive innovation and collaboration in the county,” Jensen said.

He said the center would provide career technical education for those not wanting to go the four-year college route and who are interested in fields like welding, electrical, plumbing, health sciences, aviation technology, construction, agriscience and bioscience.

“All of that will be part of these discussions as we move this forward,” Jensen said.

All four Hancock County high schools are surveying students to determine what types of courses and subjects would best support their professional goals as well.

High schools in Hancock County offer career technical education, but also often have to send students to facilities outside of the county, like the New Castle Career Center. The county also lacks a brick-and-mortar secondary education option in this vein, such as an Ivy Tech Community College.

“If we can find one facility, we can really blow this thing up and really provide some much-needed labor to the market in Hancock County,” Jensen said.

He noted how many employers are looking for workers at companies big and small.

“Everybody’s looking for employees in today’s market, so how do we educate these people?” he said. “How do we get these people that are already in your community and in your county into better jobs and higher-paying positions within the workspace that you have in the county itself?”

Jensen added he’s talked to six higher education providers, all of which have expressed interest in being involved in the Innovation and Education Center.

Veridus Group helped facilitate the creation of a similar facility called [email protected], a 100,000-square foot building in Hendricks County that’s expanding by 30,000 feet. Jensen said Amazon pays employees to take classes at the facility to learn how to program robots that operate at the company’s fulfillment centers.

“We’re looking for these employer benefits as well,” Jensen said.

He also said Hancock County’s Innovation and Education Center may include a maker space and lab along with incubator and accelerator space for companies just starting out that could use the maker space and lab to develop and make their products.

The center could end up being 100,000 to 140,000 square feet, Jensen said.

Next up are a steering committee meeting and visioning sessions, he continued, adding that developing a request for proposals from developers will likely soon be part of the committee’s discussions.

“I would say that yet this year we’re going to have some information regarding size, and look, and where, and feel,” he said.

Jensen anticipates the project requiring a public-private partnership in which the county isn’t funding the entire endeavor but still has some skin in the game, while the developer takes on the bulk of the investment.

Marc Huber, a Hancock County commissioner, agreed.

“I think it’s going to take a lot of private money,” Huber said, adding there are companies in the county with plenty of it who may be willing to participate, like Amazon, which has a fulfillment center in the county; and Walmart, which is building one. “You got some heavy hitters in there that are highly into innovation.”

Marc Huber

The Hancock County Board of Commissioners recently passed a resolution indicating their desire to see the facility come to fruition.

Bill Spalding, a member of that board, recalled how the concept has been discussed often in the past but always seems to fade out after a while. He hopes to keep the momentum going this time around.

“We’re finally getting things to take legs and walk and I think with all the growth and development we’re having here, we really need this in our community,” Spalding said.

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