Transitioning a workforce with economic development May 16, 2006Posted by Tom in Economic Development, Events, Innovation, Technology, Workforce.
One of the great challenges as the Midwest struggles with the financial hardships of the domestic auto industry is what to do with a workforce that is really good at "making things." A manufacturing workforce doesn't automatically transition well to a "creative" economic model. And jobs in the retail service sector largely don't come close to approaching maufacturing wages.
In some parts, the answer is to keep manufacturing – just make products for other industries.
Here in northeast Indiana, auto parts suppliers have been transitioning to orthopedic parts manufacturing in support of Kosciusko County's orthopedic cluster. Milling an auto part is largely the same as milling an artificial hip. It's a piece of metal in a CNC mill, which requires skills that operate to the benefit of a number of different industries.
The latest industry to bubble to the surface is the Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS) industry. It's Indiana-based proponents (INSATS) held a seminar in Fort Wayne last Friday to outline the many angles of this new concept in aviation. If implemented, SATS would relieve congestion at major hub airports and help ensure the continued (if not expanded) use of our smaller community airports. SATS also promises point-to-point flights of up to 800 mile distances at reasonably competiive prices when considering the costs of commercial flying, hotels, etc. Not to mention the value of time! SATS networks are already getting organized in the Deep South, with DayJet and SATSAir in various stages of offering service.
Indiana hosts one of 6 SATS labs in the entire country. Local INSATS leaders hope to capitalize on pilot and businessperson enthusiasm for SATS (Who wouldn't like to wake up in their own bed, drive a few minutes to the local airstrip, hop on a virtual air taxi, fly to another state for a meeting and be home in time for dinner?) by aligning local manufacturing capacity with the new companies who are building these high-tech SATS jets (like Adam, Columbia, Cirrus and Eclipse). Unspoken but assumed is that they would like to bring a SATS assembly plant to the region – with local parts suppliers feeding the pipeline.
A local manufacturer, Dick Conrow of C&A Tool, spoke about this potential as part of a panel discussion. He informed the gathered that C&A already does a significant amount of avaiation parts manufacturing, and that he is finding that the innovations and process improvements of the auto industry are helping streamline the aircraft manufacturing industry.
And he said, without question, that he could transition his work mix to include SATS aviation parts. His staff (which is extremely capable, among the top tier in northeast Indiana) could handle the work.
So there you have it – a new industry being fed by another industry's workers. The State of Indiana made an impressive pitch to the conference, with presentations by the Secretary of State, the Commissioner of Transportation, the House Economic Development Committee Chair, the Chancellor of Ivy Tech Community College and the Mayor of Fort Wayne. Don't be surprised to see northeast Indiana turn into a hub of SATS activity.