Northwest Indiana expected to add jobs, economic output next year

Indiana University Northwest Assistant Professor of Economics Micah Pollak gives his forecast at the 2017 Business & Economic Outlook. 

Northwest Indiana is expected to add a net total of 1,800 jobs next year and increase its gross metropolitan product by about $345 million.

Indiana University Northwest assistant professor of economics Micah Pollak forecasted moderate growth at the 2017 Northwest Indiana Business Roundtable's and Construction Advancement Foundation's Business & Economic Outlook at Ivy Tech on Friday in Valparaiso. He predicts the Northwest Indiana Coincident Index, a metric measuring the local economy, will increase by 1.1 percent next year, down from 1.4 percent this year.

Northwest Indiana's economy has been growing by an average rate of 1.6 percent a year since the Great Recession, but income has remained relatively flat, Pollak said.

Since 2012, Northwest Indiana has lost about 6,000 goods-making jobs in manufacturing and construction that paid an average of $80,000 a year. The Region has gained 6,000 new jobs in the service industry over the same period, but they pay only $39,000 a year on average.

Northwest Indiana residents are making an average of $40,696 a year, about 20 percent lower than the statewide rate of $51,000 a year and 29 percent lower than the national average of $57,351, Pollak said.

The state government is trying to improve income by getting more adults a college education, Ivy Tech Community College President Sue Ellspermann said. There's a push to have 60 percent of the population with at least two-year college degrees by 2020. 

"Massachusetts has 60 percent. South Korea is greater than 60 percent," she said. "In order to have the economy we want to grow, to fill these workplace needs, to address with unemployment and underemployment, we must be committed to the degrees or certifications that are the gateway to the middle class."

Currently about 38 percent of Porter County residents have college degrees, compared to around 31.5 percent in Lake County and 27 percent in LaPorte County.

"We need to focus on training for the right jobs," Ellspermann said. "If we're not looking at increasing wages, shame on us."

Former LaPorte Mayor Blair Milo, who's now Indiana's Secretary of Career Connections and Talent, said Indiana was trying to ensure it had an adequate workforce to meet the needs of employers, such as by offering grants for working adults to pursue degrees or certificates in high-demand, high-wage fields. More than 285,000 people have visited the state's new Next Level Jobs website, nextleveljobs.org, to learn about opportunities.

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Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.