Dubois Strong highlighted the group’s efforts at the annual meeting held recently in the Thyen-Clark Cultural Center atrium in Jasper, Indiana.
In a follow-up interview with Executive Director Ed Cole, he expounded on the group’s efforts on multiple fronts to support Dubois County’s economic strength.
He pointed to the Dubois County Relocation Impact Grant as a successful initiative that continues to show promise. Through the program, Dubois Strong, in partnership with The Dubois County Community Foundation and Radius Indiana, awards $5,000 grants to out-of-state workers choosing to move to Dubois County. In return, recipients must commit to staying for at least two years.
A total of 11 grants are funded through the partnership in Dubois County. Eight awards have been announced so far and it is evenly split between people or families with no connections to the area and those with family ties here.
Cole said they expect to announce the ninth award soon.
“We get hundreds of applications,” Cole explained.
Since this is a regional effort, those applications are narrowed down by where the applicants are seeking to move and then the specific guidelines those communities have put in place for successful applications.
If an applicant is seeking to move to Dubois County, Cole said they send out a package that includes information on housing, entertainment options, and other important packages of information to help the applicant make a decision.
Cole points to research out of IU that supports the relocation grants. According to IU Public Policy Senior Policy Analyst Drew Klacik, over five years an individual making $100,000 annually will have a $209,000 economic impact in the area in which they live. An individual making $35,000 annually will have a $71,000 economic impact over the same time.
“Now the numbers aren’t going to quite match up because we are doing two years,” Cole said referring to the minimum an applicant must agree to live in Dubois County. “But there’s a lot of research that says that if you come and stay in a community for two years, you are more likely to stay three, four or five.”
Enterprise Loan Fund
One of Dubois Strong’s economic assistance mechanisms is the Enterprise Loan Fund (ELF). Essentially, ELF provides businesses with funding that fills any gaps left by traditional loan programs through local financial institutes. It also helps fund startups that may not qualify with a traditional financial institute.
“We have very good bankers that are good at mentoring,” Cole said.
This leads to moments when an entrepreneur who may be seeking a certain sum of money to support their new business is given advice on how to move forward with less debt and quicker cash flow.
Dubois Strong has been a proponent of the Mid-States Corridor. They have commissioned economic studies that show the long-range impact the road will have on the area. The kickback against these economic studies from those against the north-south connection centers on the seemingly arbitrary nature of the forecasted numbers.
According to Cole, these numbers are based on case studies of other cities and regions that have had a bypass or improved highway constructed. “It comes from cities that have 30 years of data,” he explained.
“The county council and county commissioners deserve a lot of credit for committing those ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act),” he said.
The money is expected to speed up the broadband expansion — estimates from the broadband providers knock the process down to two years compared to five without the support. Cole pointed to the economic impact this will have on programs developed for agriculture as well as the work-from-home movement that was propagated by the pandemic.
He pointed out how one of the new families taking advantage of the relocation grant was able to do so because of the high-speed internet that would be available to them.
“You can imagine not everyone wants to live in town,” Cole said. “We had a lady move from California to live in Birdseye. She likes it there. She wants that, and that’s where broadband will make a huge difference in her life.”
In 2022, Dubois Strong is part of a coalition of several organizations in the region taking a deep dive into identifying and addressing issues in childcare.
Seven counties in Southern Indiana are working together to better understand the supply and demand of child care within the region. Southern Indiana Gateway (SIG), a 21st Century Talent Region, is comprised of six counties: Crawford, Dubois, Orange, Perry, Pike, and Spencer (Knox County has also partnered with these counties).
Childcare is an important factor in a healthy workforce and through the coalition, a study is being conducted to determine the availability and the need. Once that is done, the counties are expected to take the data down to a local level to begin to explore ways to address any identified issues.
“It really comes down to accessibility and affordability,” Cole said.
Tour of Opportunity
Another part of workforce development is ensuring our homegrown talent knows about opportunities that are available for them right in their backyards. So, on Thursday, May 12, more than 580 freshmen from all four school corporations will be exposed to local businesses and employers through the Tour of Opportunity held on the VUJ campus.
During the daylong event, students from four Dubois County school corporations learn about local career choices in information technology, agriculture, advanced manufacturing, law enforcement, and building trades.
Dubois Strong has partnered with Vincennes University Jasper, Patoka Valley CTE, Hub 19, the four Dubois County school corporations, and the local businesses to bring this together annually since 2019. It is an important effort as students begin to seriously consider their career paths during their freshman year.
“The Tour of Opportunity is a biggie for us,” Cole said. “That’s one we’re very proud of because of the collaboration.”‘
And it also feeds into the continued economic strength of the region as it addresses one of the multiple fronts — workforce development, workforce attraction, talent growth, startup and new business support, industry attraction and more — that Dubois Strong is positioned to address.