Seizing Opportunities in the Downturn

Grim. Glum. But golden. The economic downturn and its plummeting jobs and revenues are hitting the world hard. But that’s not stopping or slowing down some economic development and manufacturing leaders.

Following Rapunzel’s lead, three voices from commerce and government share how they are spinning positives and why their response to the question, “Do economic downtimes offer a window of golden opportunity?” is a vibrant “Yes!”

The close of the first decade of the 21st century is upon us. This decade was unprecedented—the rise of the global economy, the advent of global terrorism, a dynamic economic boom and now an economic and financial crisis of a magnitude few have previously experienced. There is little doubt these are challenging times.

But out of great challenges come great opportunities, and Indiana must be prepared to capitalize on opportunity today. The right course: Look a decade ahead to see the Indiana we desire, and take intentional measureable steps to move in that direction. Science and engineering must be at the core of the Indiana of 2020, and we must push Indiana in that direction today if we are to succeed.

An educated workforce must be the cornerstone of Indiana 2020. Given the fierce state competition for job creation, and the rise of Thomas Friedman’s “flat, hot and crowded” world economy, we cannot afford to rank 44th in the nation in the percentage of adults with bachelor’s degrees, or stand by while one-quarter of Hoosier students leave high school without a diploma. In some inner city schools, the dropout rate reaches a staggering 70 percent. Together, we must encourage a demanding education experience for all Hoosiers, give families of every means the ability to participate, and expect students to achieve.

On the jobs front, while traditional manufacturing struggles, Indiana’s life sciences, agroscience, logistics, alternative energy, and advanced manufacturing sectors continue to move aggressively forward. While Indiana ranked dead last in economic momentum in 2002, through state policy initiatives and the strength of these industries and others, leading national rankings now place Indiana in the top 10 in the nation in economic environment ratings, and most place us first in the Midwest. We must continue to enhance employment and education opportunity in these key sectors, reaching from the elementary classroom through our doctoral programs, labs, and offices for Indiana 2020 to be a success.

We must also leverage one of our state’s strongest resources—our higher education system—especially our flagship research institutions. Key collaborative efforts, like IU and Purdue’s Indiana Innovation Alliance, which seeks to combine the strengths of both institutions in the areas of life sciences, bioenergy, and medical research, can lead the way to a revitalized and strengthened economic future for Hoosier workers. Each of our public and private higher education institutions, from Ivy Tech to Notre Dame, must focus its efforts not only on educating, but integrating into the economy of a new high-tech Indiana 2020.

The challenges of 2020 are clear, but so are the opportunities. With vision and leadership we can make our Indiana the place we know she can be.

New business, new markets in a downturn? You bet. For Fairfield Manufacturing, we’re finding just that, by making gears for the wind energy industry so those giant turbines can turn and create energy in wind farms around the world.

We’ve already landed a major contract and begun shipments to a Midwestern turbine manufacturer. Next up, expanding to an international market.

That’s only part of our growing focus on energy sources. We’re set to capitalize on offshore drilling for natural gas and oil. Even though international oil prices have dropped, forecasts predict higher levels, and more exploration will be required. We see opportunity for greater demand for our gearboxes on offshore drilling platforms.

Not much moves without a gear, so even though our traditional markets have slowed, there’s always demand. And we’re leveraging our 90-year history and reputation to pick up business from former competitors who haven’t weathered the economic storm so well.

Yet one more opportunity during these challenging times is self-improvement. We’re dedicating a number of employees to projects that will make us more efficient and competitive when the cycle turns for the better. It’s something we don’t always have time for when orders are flowing, and it will make us a stronger, better company for the coming upturn.

The Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) is the State of Indiana’s lead economic development agency. The IEDC was officially established in February 2005 to replace the former Department of Commerce.

First and foremost to developing Indiana’s economy is creating a pro-business environment so companies will come here, invest here, and stay here. Many have done that. As businesses face global fiscal challenges, we’ve identified a tremendous opportunity in consolidation expansions.

As some companies plan to reduce their operation locations, we’re reaching out to them and helping them to keep Indiana on their “open” list. Not only does it save Indiana jobs, it often brings new ones to our state.

When United States Steel Corp. consolidated 10 facilities into three, the Gary, Indiana, operations survived and the state benefited from $500 million in new investment.

Therma-Tru Doors in Butler kept its doors open, too, spending $5 million on its facility to make room for another 150 workers. Another is BAE Systems in Fort Wayne, which added 200 employees to its workforce of more than 700 and invested $13.7 million in equipment and facility improvements.

We’re aggressively pursuing these consolidations. In 2009’s first quarter alone, we kept some 1,900 jobs threatened by location closings and gained more than 1,000 when jobs were added in Indiana. That’s the payoff for maintaining an environment conducive to business growth and success.