ROI Annual Report to the Region: State of the Indiana Uplands

On April 18, hundreds of Hoosiers from all over Indiana Uplands and beyond gathered in French Lick for ROI’s third Annual Report to the Region. Thank you to all who attended, to our presenters, our award winners, and our partners. We shared progress, announced new opportunities, and honored those doing exceptional work. Most importantly, we celebrated the unique identity and story of the Indiana Uplands, and we hope that you will share that story, too.

Highlights of the day included:

  • Updated state of the region data on occupational needs, housing, and more
  • Industry insights from sector leaders representing life sciences, defense, and advanced manufacturing
  • What’s next for ROI education and workforce programs
  • State funding opportunities for workforce development
  • Indiana Uplands Regional Innovation Awards

ROI’s CEO Tina Peterson kicked off the day by sharing the new branding story of the Indiana Uplands. The name “Indiana Uplands” represents not only the geology and geography of our 11 counties but also our potential: We are a region on the way up!

Understanding our regional identity—communicating and sharing it with others—is an important piece of our strategic positioning.

What defines the Indiana Uplands?

  • We are the home of industry and determination.
  • We are home to innovation and creativity.
  • We are the home of good friends and caring neighbors.

Our key industry sectors are advanced manufacturing, life sciences, and national security & defense. Technology is embedded in all of these industries, but it’s the human factor that makes the difference in our industries’ success, whether they manufacture engine parts, design stents, or ensure microelectronics are trusted.

Our regional story, and videos that highlight the jobs, opportunities, and skills in Indiana Uplands, are highlighted on a new website,, for use by all Uplands businesses and organizations in promoting our regional strengths. Please visit the site, download and add the Uplands Proud Partner logo to your own site, and share the videos!

Peterson also shared updates on ROI initiatives and information from regional studies.

ROI’s 2019 occupational needs assessment is in process, and a final report will be available from our consultant, Futureworks, by June 1. Early findings, however, affirm our greatest strengths and confirm the most urgent challenges.

  • While overall employment in our region has increased by 4% from 2010–2018, we are significantly behind the state average of 11% for the same time period.
  • However, when we disaggregate that number for just those jobs in our key sectors, our employment increase almost mirrors the state at 10%.
  • Growth in Uplands employment can be tied quantifiably to the success in our advanced manufacturing, defense and life sciences industries within the region. These high skill, and often-high wage, sectors are driving employment growth across our 11 counties.
  • Overall, the employment increase in the region was 6,871 jobs in the eight-year time period; while the population of 15- to 60-year-old people – the workforce – declined by 6,153.

We must continue to grow efforts to support students and schools in aligning education opportunities with career and work realities in our region. School design, pathway development, work-based learning, career awareness, and STEM literacy are all essential to growing our workforce pipeline.

CTE and career-related workforce enrollment in our region is increasing sharply despite declines in overall school enrollment. Degree programs of particular importance to the Uplands — like engineering, computer and information sciences, biomedical sciences, engineering technology, math and statistics — all make the list of top 15 fields represented by bachelor and master’s degree recipients in Indiana. These five fields alone account for 22% of all four-year degrees in Indiana. This is positive, and we need to attract these graduates to our region and keep them here.

This need to retain and attract new talent to the Uplands lies behind ROI’s Ready Communities initiative to encourage people to move to the region. In October, every county in the region attended a Quality of Place and Workforce Attraction workshop. With teams of 5 to 10, these counties began identifying stakeholders, looking at data, and configuring a Quality of Place Advisory Team. In December, ROI made a $50,000 grant to every county to use a design thinking approach for creating a county-wide Quality of Place and Workforce Attraction plan.

By the end of this year, every county in the region will have a Quality of Place and Workforce Attraction plan that includes a tiered list of projects and programs essential for attracting and retaining talent. These strategies will fall into three categories:

  1. Community Cohesion and Support
  2. Connectivity Infrastructure Development
  3. Aesthetics and Beautification Enhancements

Quality of Place and Workforce Attraction Plans can be used by governmental entities, nonprofits, community organizations, and others to build out action plans and deploy resources. They should also prepare communities to pursue support from state, federal, philanthropic, and other funders.

Housing is perhaps the #1 barrier (followed closely by broadband) cited as an inhibiting factor for workforce attraction and retention in this region. Last fall, ROI issued an RFP for a housing consultant and hired RDG Planning & Design to complete a regional housing study that encompasses all 11 counties. The final Indiana Uplands housing report will be available in June and will include an analysis of current housing stock, projections for future housing needs, and a range of strategies tailored to individual counties.

Ultimately, the final plan will provide both county-specific information and a regional perspective as well. A few of the regional findings expected from the study:

  • The current housing market is not meeting the needs of any group except perhaps empty-nesters.
  • The region needs more small & mid-size single-family houses, independent senior living, townhomes, and duplexes.
  • There is a significant demand for rental units below $800 a month and houses of $200,000 or less — tough price ranges for developers to make financially feasible.

RDG’s final report will provide suggested strategies and examples that will allow us to improve housing in our region.

ROI will also be hiring a Director of Quality of Place Initiatives in the coming months and begin to work regionally and support efforts locally to activate strategies.

Attracting and developing talent with expertise that aligns with emerging technologies must be a priority for the Uplands region. As the prominence and relevance of local employers and higher education institutions in trusted microelectronics, cybersecurity, informatics and computing continues to grow, we will need a workforce equipped to evolve with our growing technological capacity and the needs of employers.

ROI has been working with our partners from Crane, the WestGate authority, Radius, White River Military Coordination Alliance, Purdue, and IU to conduct a feasibility analysis and master planning for the WestGate@Crane Technology Park and the I-69/231 Interchange. Never has Crane and WestGate been more accessible with the completion of I-69. This accessibility creates opportunity to build upon the strengths of Crane and the contractor community that currently calls the tech park home.

For many reasons, the timing is ideal to catalyze broad-based economic development around the WestGate@Crane Technology Park, a state-certified park established to support NSA Crane and facilitate technology commercialization related to defense-related research and development. Home to 34 technology-focused enterprises — including the Battery Innovation Center, General Dynamics, SAIC, AECOM, and Artisan Electronics — and three higher education partners, including Purdue@WestGate, WestGate@Crane has the foundation necessary to grow its technological relevancy, innovation-based culture, and economic impact.

Two nationally recognized firms have been selected to conduct the study that will help us understand the differentiating potential at Crane through an understanding of core technology capacities and emerging new technical needs that are candidates for targeted industry growth. Coupled with a concept master plan, this analysis will provide us with the information we need to take advantage of a prime location near Crane on a new terrain interstate that will allow WestGate@Crane to become an innovation gateway into our region.

Next – Annual Report to the Region: State of Our Key Sectors

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