Dubois and five other counties are working together to attract talent to the region, develop potential talent that is already here and connect that talent to jobs in the area.

Southern Indiana Gateway, comprised of Crawford, Dubois, Orange, Perry, Pike and Spencer counties, will pool the counties’ resources, skills and connections together to achieve those goals.

“It’s a collaboration effort that will take the community getting involved to be successful,” said Becky Hickman, executive director of the Dubois County Chamber of Commerce. “When we do that, we can move the needle and bring more people to Dubois County, bring more businesses.”

The Indiana Office of Career Connections and Talent selected Southern Indiana Gateway as the state’s 13th 21st Century Talent Region. The designation is awarded to Hoosier communities focused on working collaboratively to attract, develop and connect talent.

A kickoff celebration will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. ET Monday at Patoka Lake Winery Event Center, 2900 Dillard Road, Birdseye. State Rep. Steve Bartels, R-Eckerty, will confirm the designation during a short ceremony that will start at 2:15 p.m.

“Yes, we’re celebrating that we received the Indiana state designation,” Hickman said. “But now the work begins.”

The three categories Southern Indiana Gateway will tackle are talent attraction, talent development and talent connection. And there are specific goals under each.

Talent attraction means ”Leveraging the power of place to grow the population of the community and region.” Under this, the group’s goal is to increase the regional population 15% by the year 2026 through encouraging needed child care services as well as infrastructure in housing and broadband to build capacity.

Talent development means “Building a home-grown learning system to cultivate talent and increase educational attainment.” That includes increasing the certified skills of the population 20% through programs with regional workforce boards and by innovation with community colleges and universities. It also includes increasing the high school graduates with stackable credentials/certificates by 20% by year 2026 and increasing employer engagement with the education and workforce systems in high-demand industry sectors; that will be measured by increasing the number of internship or apprenticeship opportunities available to youth and adults by 10% each year.

Talent connection means, “Coordinating talent with equitable economic opportunities to raise household income and earnings.” This includes providing continual engagement of local partnerships with civic groups and elected leadership with events of opportunity and continuum of care. The goal is to raise the collective assessed value by 5% and 10 events by the year 2026, while also marketing this area’s talent region for population growth.

“We want to to grow as a community,” Hickman said. “If we don’t grow and become a focal point of where people want to live, work and go to school, we’re going to stand still.”

The 10-member committee includes Hickman, Brenda Brenda Stallings of Matrix Integration, Michael Thissen of the Crawford County Economic Development Corporation, Kristal Painter of the Orange County Economic Development Partnership, Wendi Rich of the Perry County Chamber of Commerce, Erin Emerson of the Perry County Development Corp., Ashley Willis of the Pike County Economic Development Corp., Jill Hyneman of the Pike County Chamber of Commerce, Kathy Reinke of Spencer County Regional Chamber of Commerce and Valerie Schmidt of the Lincolnland Economic Development Corp.

The effort started locally about two years ago. A group of businesses and local officials were looking to encourage more entrepreneurship and business building and to entice more people to come work in this area.

“We discovered that in order to create this entrepreneurship pipeline or this rich environment so our young people can think of new businesses and be innovators, there is an education component that is missing,” Hickman said. “When you start thinking about what our community needs, what our employers need, and what our environment needs, there are some things we’re not connecting for our young people.”

Those connections include educating students about the career and job opportunities available locally as well as how to obtain the needed credentials and skills for those opportunities.

After researching ideas, the group learned about 21st Century Talent Region program and found out that Spencer County was also looking at applying for the designation. Dubois and Spencer county representatives contacted other nearby counties and four others joined them to form Southern Indiana Gateway.

“There is data that says just as many people drive in and work in Dubois County from these five surrounding counties,” Hickman said. “People living or working in Dubois County drive to these five counties. So there’s a lot of connection with workforce and living.”

There are many opportunities for people in the public to help with the effort, including helping with a specific initiative or making a financial donation. Southern Indiana  Gateway will also pursue grant funding to help with the work.

“If they’re interested in getting involved and helping from any of those six counties, we’d love to hear from them,” Hickman said. “If they want to help us with a particular initiative or if they are really interested in a particular area, then let’s work together.”
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