An employee moves material with a forklift at Belt Tech. The company is one of many in the community struggling to keep its employee roster full. Mike Grant | Times Herald
An employee moves material with a forklift at Belt Tech. The company is one of many in the community struggling to keep its employee roster full. Mike Grant | Times Herald
Businesses throughout Indiana and in Daviess County are saying there is a real shortage of workers.

“It is really difficult to fill positions,” said Jordan Russell, manager at Belt Tech in Washington. “We aren’t unique in that. It seems to be a problem across the board. I travel a lot and hear the same thing across the country. We are always trying to hire people. When they do come in, they don’t go to orientation and if they go to orientation then they don’t show up for work.”

“I have two positions that I have tried to fill four times,” said Lyndsey Harner at Reid’s Deli. “Either we can’t get any applicants or when we do try to hire them, they don’t bother to show up.”

Daviess County and Washington have decided to take a different approach to economic development. In addition to working on projects to bring in business, they are going into a regional approach to develop projects to bring more people into the county.

“We are working with Radius Indiana and applying for a READI (Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative) grant from the state,” said Bryant Niehoff, executive director for the Daviess County Economic Development Corp. “The state is making $500 million in grants available to improve quality of place workforce development, talent attraction, and entrepreneurship.”

Unlike most of rural Indiana, Daviess County has not been seeing the population declines that many counties have experienced. Daviess and other counties in the region have been searching for the answers to bring people to the area.

“We have been working for two months to put together a plan to attract people and encourage population growth and economic prosperity,” said Radius Indiana Executive Director Jeff Quyle. “We held listening sessions in 11 counties and found a lot of common themes.”

One of the biggest one throughout the region was a lack of all types of housing.

“It seems there is a need for all types of housing,” said Quyle. “There is a need for people starting out, new housing for those moving up. Just housing all across the board.”

“I can see what they are talking about with the problem with housing,” said Russell. “We tried to hire a guy from Oregon for a highly skilled job. The only acceptable housing he could find was in Bloomington or Mitchell. He became so frustrated that he decided to not take the job.”

Housing isn’t the only thing communities in the area are talking about. There is downtown redevelopment, recreation and tourism opportunities, even improvements in mental health and drug addiction treatment.

“These are all the kinds of things that can draw people to our communities and get them to live here,” said Quyle. “Now the challenge is to put this together in the form of a grant that can not only produce the physical things we need, but result in building our population and our economies.”

“We are looking beyond the traditional sense of economic development,” said Niehoff. “But these are the exact things that site selectors and companies that are looking to expand want. It is an investment in the community to improve the quality of place and make us more attractive to people who are looking for somewhere to settle and grow.”

For Daviess and the 10 other counties in the READI proposal group, there is a long road ahead.

“This is just the beginning,” said Quyle.

“I hope it works because everybody is struggling to hire people,” added Russell.
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