Elkhart County desperately needs more workers

 Elkhart County manufacturers are now offering incentives to encourage job hunters to apply.
Elkhart County manufacturers are now offering incentives to encourage job hunters to apply. (WNDU)
Published: Jun. 14, 2017 at 6:27 PM EDT
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Elkhart companies are struggling to hire good workers.

And experts with an eye on the job market say the problem is only expected to get worse.

They predict the manufacturing sector will need to fill nearly 25,000 jobs in the next few years. That number alone is nearly half the population of Elkhart.

Drive down any county road in town, and you won't just see rushing commuters, you'll see a classified page.

“Extremely competitive,” Vista Manufacturing production manager Chris Graham said.

“I think it's absolutely an indication of how tight the labor market is,” Thor Industries vice president of human resources Ken Julian said.

So competitive, many companies are sweetening the deal to get men and women to apply.

“Our May 2017 unemployment rate was 1.9 percent, lowest in the region and one of the lowest in the state of Indiana,” Mark Dobson said. Dobson is president and CEO of Elkhart County’s economic development corporation.

Vista Manufacturing has found a niche in the LED light business, and in four years since building a new plant, they've welcomed several new neighbors.

“We see new construction going up and we wonder, what's that going to be? Who's moving in?” Graham said.

For the big fish in the county, including Jayco, the order of the day is expansion, now nearly 40 buildings on 600 acres in Middlebury.

“There's so much growth, there's so much opportunity, that individuals can really be choosy, people can actually decide which job fits their skillset,” Julian said.

Dobson anticipates Elkhart County's manufacturing workforce will surpass 25,000 within a few years.

But with a limited pool of labor to draw from, both county and city leaders are eager to attract new workers to the region, and that means new housing is in demand.

“It's apartments, it's townhomes, it's condos. We really need to leverage as much of that as possible to meet the need as well,” Dobson said.

Thor is seeing growth in all eight of its subsidiaries.

They'll soon finish building a new laminating plant in Wakarusa, which could be done in the next few months.