Good problem? Elkhart County's labor pool getting stretched further as new jobs come

Pictured is Mark Dobson, Elkhart County Economic Development Corp. president, speaking to community leaders Wednesday.

ELKHART — The leaders of the Elkhart County Economic Development Corp. warned elected officials Wednesday against letting a shortage of quality workers creep up on them.

President Mark Dobson spoke to current and newly elected officials from the county and from cities including Elkhart, Nappanee, Middlebury and Bristol about how the EDC could help them attract and retain businesses in their communities.

One of the biggest concerns now among both existing employers and potential new ones is lack of workforce, said Dobson and Chris Stager, vice president of retention and expansion.

“When you look at site selection factors, the availability of skilled labor is more important than real estate now,” Dobson said. “Without a labor pool, they write off communities... I’ve heard them say we have a hyper-crazy workforce, they’re dedicated, we just don’t have enough of them. They’re impressed with the quality, but quantity is an issue.”

He said they should take it as a warning sign when an Elkhart business creates jobs in another county, as when Lippert Components announced 125 new jobs in New Haven in 2015 with its acquisition of Signature Seating. The town had just seen 400 jobs lost with the closures of Vera Bradley and Parker Hannifin.

Dobson compared the trend to a pot of frogs on slow boil, and remarked, “I feel like there are about to be some delicious frog legs in Elkhart County.”

Elkhart Mayor Tim Neese said he’s heard the same thing from company representatives.

“I spoke this week with a potential employer, and I told him if they need anything from City Hall to let me know,” Neese said. “He said, ‘I need employees.’”

“And we need places for them to live,” observed Mike Yoder, Elkhart County commissioner.

Besides addressing the need for housing, the group also discussed ways to attract potential workers with quality of place initiatives and investments in telecom infrastructure. Dobson said the EDC has even put up billboards in other states announcing “We have jobs.”

He also said when evaluating places to move to, companies like to see that communities have a plan to train the future workforce while also addressing the needs of the current one.

Dobson and Stager addressed some ways the EDC has focused on worker education in recent years, from sponsoring Manufacturing Week in the county last year which introduced 635 eighth-graders to area manufacturers, to bringing the Leadership Training Series in 2015 delivered by the Purdue Technical Assistance Program. The series looked at challenges that both new and experienced company leaders encounter.

Dobson also encouraged the group to make an appeal to young residents to stay in or return to the communities they grew up in, since there’s more opportunity there than they realize.

“Every time you’re around the youth, remind them that we want them back,” he said. “Be like the Amish, go on a rumspringa, see the world – but come back.”

(30) comments


IF ,the labor pool is getting " STRETCHED " why do we see so many homeless out on the streets ? why do we see so many young people using EBT cards at the stores ? WHY are there still so many collected unemployment ? WHY are so many working age people still at the foo pantries instead of working for their own meals ?


Because they don't want to work. Some people are legitimate. But when I see a young couple dressed in North Face coats and expensive footwear with a young baby also VERY well dressed using an EBT card with many articles that they could do without, in the check out lane, tends to raise an eye. Topping it off they go to the parking lot and get in a new $30,000 SUV.


It is not the availability of workforce that is the problem. It is their attitude. The few ones who are willing to work lack basics, we have issues with tardiness, carelessness and theft. So we put them back out there to be available to work. Not for us, we demand punctuality, a proper work attitude and honesty.


I hear this all the time. It's a problem created in our educational system where kids are not made to understand the need for punctality, performance and the showing of respect. We have raised an entitled generation.

Average Joe

Censored earlier, I guess???
Paid agency $13/hr.

Average Joe

I'll second that. I had a temporary need for a one month project so I used a temporary agency. They sent over 6 Mexicans. They were darn good workers....when they showed up. None of them showed up every day. Each missed at least one day a week, some more than that. Excuses ranged from car troubles, had to bail the boyfriend out of jail, to relative was shot in a drive by and was at the hospital all night. Some called in, some didn't. Some were citizens, some I'm not sure. The temp agency was responsible for that.


Average Joe, Starting wage please ? All of these horror stories are never backed up with as what used to be called, "the rest of the story."

Average Joe

This was a true accounting, btw. We paid the agency $13/ hr.


Kingpin, please at least give the starting wage. C'mon here.


Start by having all the people who are able to work that are on welfare get a job. There are lots and lots of people who live in the "projects" who could be working and not living on my tax dollars.


Actually there is a work requirement on the books. If you are able-bodied, under 50 with no kids at home, you MUST work.


There are almost 110 million people on welfare in the US. 35% of the population. Who is going or how would anyone enforce the work stipulation? Indiana has that stipulation for it's food assistance program.


Fire, Welfare programs are operated by the state, and in Indiana, each county has it's own office. Each state operates it's own program within the guidelines of the FDA, in the case of SNAP and TANF. Indiana id one of a handful of states that requires work for SNAP. They have required work for TANF benefits for several years.


And you actually believe that occurs?


Exactly. I don't mind paying taxes to keep criminals in jail, but all the lazy ones just sitting at home? Well, the Government supports them, so what is wrong? Government.


By the way, Tired, I find a bit of racism in your post as well. FDA stats from 2015 indicate that 42% of Food Stamp and TANF benefits are WHITE, while only 21% are black. Hispanics make up only 11% of the SNAP and TANF benefits. Blow your mind yet?


I fear the chamber and local businesses will use this "problem" to fight against increases in our border controls. At the risk of sounding like a traitor, just when do we have enough businesses? By creating more jobs we invite more people into the area but taxes never seem to go down. In fact, they go up because the pols tell us they need more money to take care of the icreased people. Our jails fill up, our schools fill up and retired people have to pay for this thru increased property taxes and sales taxes.

Average Joe

The "Chamber" is not always our friend. Indeed, they are the ones that own the Republican establishment that is giving Trump such a hard time from within.


What Chamber? I see no mention of any Chamber in this article. As for the tax statement in another post about this article, property tax rate percentage can not be raised by state law. This now is in the State's Constitution. 1%on the value of a home. Your value of your home rises and falls. Right now values are going up. One reason is supply and demand. When the recession hit, the values plummeted. The only way to get more tax revenue is to build more structures or user taxes. So if you didn't vote on the referendum in 2010 (?), you missed your chance to control your property taxation.

Average Joe

Not mentioned but you don't think that the CoC isn't involved? Especially when it comes to enticing the Mexicans to come here?


I know, let's spend millions in upscale housing and hope those with brains come back. What say Mike, sound like a good idea ?


This is a combination of two things. First, RV companies treat their line labor like disposable commodities when things slow down, vacation time that can only be taken when it is good for the RV company, bad 401K programs, and bad health insurance, and low wages to non-bonus employees. Secondly they offer little advancement unless you are related to someone higher up. Nepotism is rampant in the industry.

common sense

Ever notice one large RV manufacturer never has random drug screening when business is booming but when things slow down they perform "random" sweeps and thin the ranks. Don't have to lay people off or pay unemployment. They then make a public statement about how the safety of their employees is important, blah, blah, blah. But it wasn't important when they were busy? This is how the industry operates.

Tim Stewart

Very good point, David. Unfortunate, but spot on.


[tongue_smile] The problem is getting qualified employees. Many can't pass a drug test and the ones that can want government assistant so bad that if you offer them $13 and hour they decline the job to stay on benefits!!!

Average Joe


Louise Baker

There are a number of reasonably priced houses for sale in Greenleaf Manor right now!

Just Facts

The labor drain is because of the brain drain. With the limited amount of high honor roll students in the area as they go away colleges and universities...they then stay away for their careers.

That leaves the apples that didn't fall from the tree in this one horse industry of a county. In addition, established skill set workers refuse to come here not just because lack of good housing...but they don't want to work in manufacturing.

Mr. Dobson and the EDC are in the same boat his predecessor was. The powers that be think that putting a new person in the position every few years will change things. It won't! She had the same problems and then left or was asked to leave. Elkhart County is not a destination for anything! Work or play! You can give out all the tax credits you want to set up shop here...but it's a moot point. Weak leadership falls into the hands of the one horse industry and always has.
They use the fear tactic to say they'll pull out if things don't change. Well you know what you get what you pay for!

As far as billboards in other states stating "we have jobs" ...that's great but the only one that's working is the one in Texas just over the boarder from Mexico! That's the first thing they see. Corporations and companies like Pharma, R&D, Technology, Business and Finance, etc...will never come here because of the brain drain. Until the culture and mentality changes nothing ever will. It's the chicken before it lays the eggs....Elkhart County must be a destination for work and play before people will want to stay and live here.


Elkhart county is just a terrible place to live! Median family income is just 87 cents per hour higher than the national average. On a scale of 100 (national average) in the Sperling cost of living index, Elkhart rates 17 points under the national average. Hmmmm... terrible correct? Oh and that population thingy. 2010-2015... an 11% increase. Oh well that chicken and egg thing will never settled!

Just Facts

Here's your eggs for ya! Least educated states...coming in at one of the dumbest and number 42.

Wait for it! Scroll down to total County population....that 12 % increase you're talking about in regards to population increase is all hispanics. The highest now in the state. You don't even know what your talking about.

Indiana is one of the poorest states when in comes to annual income welfare and poverty.

And lastley yet number 1 and to be the most proud of.

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