County supports Ivy Tech robotics lab

Larry Garatoni, state trustee for Ivy Tech Community College, presents their $1.47 million request to the Elkhart County Redevelopment Commission Thursday.

GOSHEN — County redevelopment officials signaled support for helping Ivy Tech meet a nearly $1.5 million gap in its plan for an advanced manufacturing, automation and robotics lab.

The Elkhart County Redevelopment Commission voted to support the community college’s request for $1.47 million in Tax Increment Finance District funds. The request is part of a $3.68 million plan for a 10,400-square-foot facility at the Goshen Campus that’s expected to start hosting advanced manufacturing classes by 2021.

College leaders said the plan meets a need for workforce training in response to the automation potential seen in the Elkhart-Goshen area. A 2019 Brookings Institute study lists the area as third out of 381 metropolitan areas for automation potential, noted Larry Garatoni, state trustee for Ivy Tech.

“Indiana has the highest risk in the country from automation of any state in the union, because we’ve got the highest percentage of manufacturing of any state in the union. I think 35 percent of our workforce is engaged in manufacturing across the state,” he said. “There’s 71,000 people employed in Elkhart County in manufacturing, so obviously we’ve got a fair amount of risk.”

He said there’s a significant and immediate need for a building that can help with workforce training to respond to automation. They currently can improve the skills of only 5 percent of the workforce a year, which at 3,550 workers annually would take 20 years – not counting high school graduates and people changing jobs.

“The lab is an attempt to keep slightly ahead of the curve,” he said. “It’s a very significant undertaking and it doesn’t even scratch the surface.”

The building will include space for things like computer labs and computer-aided design labs, hydraulic fluid power dynamics and robotics equipment. It’s slated for a spot just east of the current building, and could be expanded in the future if it needs to be.

It’s part of a larger plan that includes collaboration with the Elkhart Area Career Center and local high schools, Horizon Education Alliance, Notre Dame and the Labs for Industry Futures and Transformation Network. Funding includes $1 million in grant money and another $1.2 million in Ivy Tech money, leaving the gap that they asked the RDC to help cover.

A TIF application team reviewed the request and recommended awarding the full amount. Redevelopment Program Coordinator Natasha Kauffmann remarked that it involves public funds being spent on public land for a public purpose.

RDC members expressed support and even excitement for the request, but had a few questions first. Commission member Jim Skillen said he wondered whether a 10,000-square-foot building would be big enough, but the collaborative nature of the project convinced him.

“I just told (campus Director Kyle Hannon) it wasn’t big enough. It probably needs to be 50,000 square feet. How are you going to make it work?” he said. “And that’s when I learned about the collaboration. The collaboration is what makes it work.”

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