Noble County, Indiana, is committed to growth. “We are creating an environment that is very pro-business,” says Rick Sherck, Executive Director of Noble County Economic Development Corporation. “We are looking to help our current industries with growth opportunities, by creating a climate of collaboration between industry, education, and the elected officials of the county as a whole.”
A low cost of living and doing business combined with the county’s Midwestern location creates an ideal atmosphere for growth. In addition to Northeast Indiana’s regional population of 750,000, Noble County is centrally located in the Great Lakes region with easy access to major markets and a diverse workforce. Indianapolis is just two hours away, while Chicago, Detroit, Columbus and Cincinnati are all a three hour drive away.
Manufacturing is Noble County’s largest industry sector. “Fifty eight percent of the wages in Noble County are paid by the manufacturing industry,” says Mr. Sherck. “And 48 percent of those employed in Noble County are in manufacturing. Per capita, we are tenth heaviest in manufacturing in the U.S.” While manufacturers in many parts of America were fleeing overseas, local leaders in Noble County made the industry an ongoing priority, helping to keep local employers. This commitment to manufacturing – and local business as a whole – continues. “The primary focus for us is to continue to work with industry to equip them with the skill sets and the other products needed to allow them to grow in northeast Indiana,” Mr. Sherck summarizes.
Noble Up helps ensure local industry has the skilled workers it needs. The program trains Noble County’s workforce in CNC machining, industrial maintenance, and welding. “The focus is on providing the services necessary to help Noble County grow. There is a multifaceted approach, identifying educational opportunities and training needs by industry and offering industry recognized certifications in various disciplines. The tagline is ‘up your skills, wages, and quality of life.’”
Noble Up’s Manufacturing Entry Training Academy (META) is for people with little or no manufacturing experience. Potential candidates need to “have the work ethic to show up on time every day and work well with others; all those soft skills that [employers] want.” Successful completion of the free four week META program gives participants a significant edge in landing the manufacturing job that they want. “They come out with skill sets that they didn’t have prior. They understand what manufacturing is.”
The initiative was launched after local leaders saw a clear need for entry level manufacturing training. “We spend a lot of time visiting with industry to understand their needs,” Mr. Sherck explains. During one of these meetings, the team learned that a company with a manufacturing facility in Noble County had a corporate policy not to hire anyone with less than three years of manufacturing experience. “That is going to be hard to find, because people with three years of experience are [typically] already employed. While meeting with a representative from WorkOne, a workforce development group in northeast Indiana, the possibility of developing an entry-level training program was discussed.” This led to the creation of the META program, increasing opportunity for local workers and providing the entry level skills that companies seek.
People already employed in the manufacturing field can take advantage of Noble Up’s incumbent worker training program, which helps to strengthen the local workforce, advance committed employees and open up new entry-level positions. Participants are handpicked by their employers and are guaranteed a raise by that employer upon completion of the program.
The entire community has pulled together to fund the program. “We don’t work in a vacuum,” Mr. Sherck remarks. “We work in collaboration with the communities and the county that we serve.” This collaborative effort has raised tens of thousands of dollars from local governments to match additional dollars that will sustain the training program. Mr. Sherck says of the contributors, “They see the need for increased skills, and recognize the importance of manufacturing and the development of skill sets to allow those industries to grow.”
Funds are also available to incentivize businesses to consider locating in Noble County. These dollars “can be used to encourage industries to locate here or grow here,” and local officials can utilize these funds how they best see fit in order to target specific industry needs, “whether it be grant opportunities based on performance, or to help to extend a road for a community. In Noble County we have been visionary enough to [realize that] we can’t just say we have a good workforce and our property taxes are low. We have to have other incentives.”
Noble County’s quality of life also attracts incoming businesses. The community is nestled amongst more than 100 lakes, creating an ideal destination for boating, fishing, waterskiing and swimming. Chain O’Lakes in Albion has been referred to as “lake country and a small boater’s paradise,” boasting nine connecting lakes, ten miles of forested trails, hillside cabins, a campground, a beach and picnic shelters. With over 16 miles of shoreline, Sylvan Lake is another popular recreation area. Located beside a charming small town, the peaceful waters provide year-round opportunities for outdoor fun, from ice fishing to hiking.
Noble County’s natural assets create opportunities that all ages can enjoy – and local programs make sure that everyone has a chance to take part in the fun. For example, Camp Lutherhaven has programs designed for children and youth as well as adults. Located on the shores of Lake Muncie and surrounded by beautiful hardwood forests of oak and hickory, the ministry center delivers plenty of outdoor fun in addition to personal growth opportunities and a community building.
Golfers can play on one of Noble County’s four golf courses, while history buffs enjoy the community’s six museums and the celebrated Gene Stratton-Porter State Historical site. Indiana’s most widely read female author, Gene Stratton-Porter wrote best-selling novels and nature studies nearly a century ago. Her cabin at Wildflower Woods has been lovingly restored, creating a popular destination for out-of-towners and locals alike. In addition to touring the home and strolling the grounds, visitors can participate in a variety of events, from guided wildflower walks to afternoon tea.
Along with providing plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities, Noble County delivers the standard must-have amenities, from a library in every incorporated community to a state of the art hospital. Residents also enjoy easy access to top-notch educational opportunities. Northeast Indiana is home to more than a dozen colleges and universities, enrolling over 40,000 students. The city of Kendallville is home to the Impact Institute, “a coalition of schools that support and foster career and technical education for students in multiple counties,” states impactinstitute.net. This unique organization “will partner with students, schools, staff, parents, and business leaders to embrace career readiness and empower post-secondary success.”
Noble County is in the midst of exciting growth – local leaders continue to push for greater expansion and opportunities, both in business and quality of life. For example, “we are working hard to develop trails throughout Noble County and throughout northeastern Indiana as a whole,” Mr. Sherck remarks. The Fishing Line Trail will someday connect Noble County with Fort Wayne and LaGrange County. Construction will also begin soon on the Strawberry Trail in Ligonier.
From a business standpoint, the community’s strategy is to concentrate on retaining and supporting existing companies in order to encourage ongoing growth and maintain a healthy business environment. “Our primary focus is working with the current industries to provide the services that they need to grow. We have had many expansions in the last three to five years. Our philosophy is that, if we can develop a systematic approach to taking care of the industries and businesses that currently call Noble County home, that will bode well for attraction of new industries to our area.”