Clark County seeks to develop long-term jobs plan to grow economy

Economic development leaders in Clark County are starting to develop a plan that seeks to grow Clark County’s economy faster than its population.

They’re in the earliest stages of developing a long-term road map for jobs in the region as they face challenges ranging from workforce development to targeting industries for growth.

It could take months to develop the plan, which would involve input from employers, area educators and workforce development officials, said Horton Hobbs, vice president of economic development for the Community Improvement Corp. of Clark County. Local leaders often work together, he said, but there hasn’t been a specific, in-depth plan to address the county’s economic future.

“We’ve done some interesting things as a community,” Hobbs said. “This will help us get to the next level.”

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The plan could shape the region’s efforts for a decade, local leaders said, and is important as Springfield faces increasing competition to attract and retain a qualified workforce.

The region has seen some successes, including new investments that are expected to bring hundreds of new jobs to Navistar. And Topre, a Japanese auto parts supplier, announced last year it will open a new manufacturing facility in the Champion City Business Park in Springfield.

But a study from the PEW Research Center last year also showed Springfield’s middle class was among the hardest hit in the U.S. since 2000. The city tied Goldsboro, N.C., for the biggest decline in economic status and Springfield sustained the biggest loss in median income, according to the study.

READ MORE: Navistar to add 300 jobs in Springfield with second GM deal

In the past, local officials kept track of statistics about the number of jobs they created, Hobbs said, but not the number of workers who retired or moved to other communities for example.

The plan would require community members to agree on a plan and work toward specific goals, said Mark Lautman, a New Mexico-based economic development expert and author. He’s also founding director of the Community Economic Lab, a private nonprofit entity that promotes new approaches to economic development.

Those goals could include the number of new jobs created, where they should be located and in what industries. That would require community leaders to think more closely about the types of jobs and industries they’d like to attract.

“If you don’t do this, it’s all piecemeal, it’s all fragmented and there’s almost no way to hold anyone accountable for it,” Lautman said.

Much of the plan focuses on attracting what Lautman calls economic base jobs, in which a business exports most of its goods and services outside the state and brings money into a community. If a community can attract and retain those jobs, that will lead to more retail and other service sector jobs, he said.

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“Our workforce and economic development partners are working very well together and are focused on growing our local economy,” Hobbs said. “This process will allow our partners and the community at large to share in creating a vision for job growth and defining what it will take for us to reach our goals.”

The process is only in its earliest stages, but as it moves forward the CIC would likely hire a consultant, possibly Lautman, and pull together a group of 30 to 50 community members to provide input throughout the process. That group could include individuals and organizations from numerous industries and experiences, including younger workers, residential and commercial developers, elected officials, area educators and workforce development professionals.

The challenge is getting diverse groups of community members working together, Lautman said.

“The process doesn’t exist for getting everyone on the same page,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Unmatched coverage

The Springfield News-Sun provides in-depth coverage of jobs and the economy in Clark and Champaign counties, including recent stories tracking local unemployment rates and the effect of Honda suppliers in the area.

By the numbers:

10 — Years the plan would be in effect

30 to 50 — Community members likely involved

27 percent — Decline in median income in Springfield since 2000

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