EVANSVILLE — There's a critical need for nurses and other health care professionals in the region, and that's likely to continue into the future, officials said.

Manufacturing, however, remains the region's economic backbone, judging by the goods and services that Vanderburgh and its bordering, bistate counties produce.

In the pandemic-dominated year 2020, total gross domestic produced by the five counties came to about $20.6 billion, down about 3.3% from 2019. The biggest share of that, nearly $6.8 billion, came from the manufacturing sector.

Local factory opportunities will only grow in coming years, thanks to Toyota’s recent announcement of a 1,400-job expansion in Gibson County, and the anticipated 2026 arrival of a Pratt Paper facility in Henderson that will employ 320.

Toyota and Pratt Paper chose this region for those projects because they were confident the jobs could be filled here, officials said.

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Berry Global, a Fortune 500 company based in Evansville, is considering the Evansville area for its next expansion of plastics production, and a September decision is expected.

Amazon quietly opened a distribution center in 2020 in Vanderburgh Industrial Park. It's believed to employ about 150.

"Manufacturing is doing extraordinarily well here, and we don’t just have job opportunities, we have career opportunities," said Tara Barney, co-CEO of the Evansville Regional Economic Partnership.

Area companies, though, are having difficulty filling openings they currently have. Henderson County factories report a consistent need for help.

"They need everything from welders to machinists to production workers, just a wide variety," said Missy Vanderpool, executive director of Henderson Economic Development. "I met with one last week who said they could hire 30 people.”

Transportation, too, is an immense local need, with hundreds of openings for commercial vehicle drivers. It's hardly unique to this region. 

In 2019, a trucking industry association reported a need for 60,000 drivers across the country, and that was before the pandemic changed Americans' buying habits even more.

Truck driving "is becoming much more of a demand, and we’re not going to see that go away anytime soon," said Greg Wathen, co-CEO of E-REP. "COVID has really changed how we buy things, and technology also has allowed it to occur. I’m really interested to see if Amazon integrates any additional technology to our market."

Wathen said the region has bounced back rather well from pandemic economic malaise, thanks to its strength in manufacturing and health and life sciences.

Unemployment rates for July were 4.4% in Vanderburgh County, 3,3% in Warrick County, 3.2% in Posey County, 3.1% in Gibson County, 4.6% in Henderson County and 4.4% in Union County.

The region, however, has a continuous thirst for more human talent, officials on both sides of the Ohio River said.

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E-REP, which was formed this year in a merger of the Southwest Indiana Chamber of Commerce and two other organizations, has a mission to attract and retain talent to the region, which the 2020 Census showed has seen minuscule population growth.

Officials describe it as perhaps the biggest challenge the area faces.

"The reality is, you're looking at significant demand," Wathen said. 

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