Labor shortage could stunt NE Indiana’s economic recovery

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – As the economy continues to recover from the pandemic, companies around northeast Indiana are once again hiring.

Store Manager Scott Woosley held a walk-in hiring event to fill nearly 20 positions at the North Coliseum Boulevard Lowe’s on Thursday. He noted that he’s seen a couple dozen people walk in for an interview throughout the day.

“There’s a lot of competition out there, there’s a lot of jobs available to people.” Woosley said. “It’s always tough to attract talented people”

These hiring events have been quite frequent over the last several weeks. The only problem is there may not be enough people to fill these open positions.

According to Indiana’s Department of Workforce Development, Indiana Economic Growth Region 3, which represents most northeastern Indiana counties, reported an unemployment rate of 4.2% for February. That rate is under the “full” employment threshold of five percent, but the jobs report does not include those who have left the labor force.

According to Northeast Indiana Works Director of Communications Rick Farrant, the area was in a similar situation not too long ago.

“The northeast Indiana labor force has declined by about 10,000 people, which is about two percent,” Farrant said. “That doesn’t sound like a lot, but we were in a situation before the pandemic where we didn’t have enough people to fill open positions. So here we go again.”

It’s too early to know the exact reason why these workers have not returned to the labor force. Farrant speculates that some workers near retirement age decided to call it a career when the pandemic began. Other workers may have left their job to take care of their children, who were forced to learn from home a year ago.

One potential boost to the local labor force could come from soon-to-be high school and college graduates. With the school year ending in May and June, thousands of graduates will be looking for work. Farrant hopes these graduates will find work in northeast Indiana, but recent history says otherwise.

“We are losing high school graduates and we are losing college graduates to other areas of the state, particularly Indianapolis,” he admitted.

Regardless of these factors, Farrant says having a full labor force will be paramount to getting northeast Indiana’s economy back to full speed.

“It’s essential to our region that as many people as possible are available and willing to work,” Farrant said. “Companies have ramped up hiring in a big way in the last month or two, and recruiting success is going to be vital to the region’s economic rebound.”

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