High inflation, rising energy costs and supply chain woes are tough obstacles, but companies in the Evansville-Henderson region consistently show they can keep workers on the job, economic development officials said.
In fact, many local companies still need more employees, not fewer. Unemployment is just over 2% in Southwest Indiana and just over 3% in Henderson County, Kentucky, and jobs are posted in manufacturing, health and life sciences, and other sectors.
Officials said items made in the region are in constant demand — from baby formula produced at Reckitt in Evansville, to Toyota vehicles assembled in Princeton, Indiana, to truck wheels churned out by Accuride in Henderson.
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They cited continuous need for energy, which this region produces in abundance, as well as plastics products made here. They said a fast-growing line at SABIC’s Mount Vernon plant is plastics for the medical field.
‘We haven’t seen anything on the horizon that would negatively impact our overall regional economy because of what we do here,’ said Greg Wathen, soon to retire as president of the Evansville Regional Economic Partnership. “We’re still seeing companies like Berry Global, Astra Zeneca, Toyota, Alcoa, Kaiser doing well, and demand for their products is continuing.”
Even when some nationwide economic indicators are poor, “our highs and lows are never extreme,” added Tara Barney, CEO of E-REP. “They are going to stay more modest than other parts of the country.”
At many local factories, help wanted
Whitney Risley with Henderson Economic Development said employers in that community are in fine shape, too, but as in Southwest Indiana, hiring needs persist.
Henderson’s major local employers cooperated last week on a two-day job fair, hoping to attract people wanting to upgrade their employment status. The county’s factories and Deaconess Health System were among those participating.
“We’re targeting under-served or under-represented populations, those who are unemployed or never had a job, who want to upskill or change careers, and recent high school and college graduates,” Risley said.
Henderson employers have created a jobs portal at hendersonkyjobs.com, where openings can be posted and seen.
The region’s manufacturing profile will only strengthen as Henderson County adds Pratt Paper and Toyota Indiana continues its previously announced expansion, officials said.
Pratt paper executives have promised 325 new jobs in a newly build factory by 2026. Risley said the nationwide move toward buying goods online is a reason for the Pratt’s growth because of the corrugated shipping materials the company produces.
Toyota in Princeton in April 2021 announced 1,400 jobs would be added there as part of an $803 million investment in two new SUV models — one a Toyota and the other a Lexus.
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Retail job opportunities down ‘a bit’
Major retail chains such as Target and Walmart are reporting an oversupply of inventory as Americans spend more for vacations, nights out and dressier clothes — items they largely eschewed during the height of COVID.
Wathen said those factors have tamped town local retail job openings “a little bit,” but he also noted that area factories produce more intricate items than those commonly found in big box stores, and that’s why local factories continue to hire.
“Things we produce here are harder things that aren’t inclined to go out to Target and Walmart,” he said.
High inflation and other economic challenges are likely to persist for a few more months, Wathen said, but the Evansville-Henderson region is “well-positioned to weather that storm. We’ve done it before.”