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9/10/2018 5:00:00 PM
Vigo County successful in landing jobs, says Terre Haute economic development official

Howard Greninger, Tribune-Star

While manufacturing in Indiana accounts for far fewer jobs than nearly three decades ago, manufacturing jobs do remain in Vigo County.

Production jobs in the Terre Haute Metropolitan Statistical Area (Vigo, Clay, Sullivan and Vermillion counties) have an average hourly wage of $17.49 with an average annual salary of $36,390 in May 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“The wages for manufacturing jobs is proof why we covet those jobs so highly, as they are far and away the highest paid sector of our local workforce when you look at the workforce in general,” said Steve Witt, president of the Terre Haute Economic Development Corp. 

“Naturally, professionals will make a much higher wage, but when talking about the type of job one takes out of high school, or with a two- year degree or with specialized work skills ... manufacturing is a great way to make a living,” Witt said.

Witt said most manufacturing jobs offer good wages and benefits and normally have a clean work environment,  “often air conditioned and working indoors. Manufacturing is on fire in the entire country this year,” Witt said. “Hopefully that will continue.”

Nationwide, 37,000 new manufacturing jobs were added in July, the strongest gain since December, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, in a trend that has been firm for the past 1-1/2 years.

Over the past year, 327,000 new manufacturing jobs represent the best 12-month stretch in 23 years.

“When I drive around town and through the industrial parks, I am amazed at all the signs for companies and employers seeking workers,” Witt said. “I have told many people recently that it is unprecedented in my 32 years of work to see this type of environment.”

While Vigo County has seen new manufacturing growth, it has also seen its share of job reductions, with Sony DADC US Inc. announcing in January it would cut 375 workers, more than half of its 680 workers in Terre Haute.

And last year, Kellogg’s Snacks closed its plant in Seelyville, with 150 jobs eliminated.

However, 2017 also brought three major economic developments in 2017 with Pyrolyx USA ($19 an hour), Select Genetics in the Vigo County Industrial Park ($16.45 an hour) and a major expansion at GATX Corp. 

Those three projects represent $90 million in investment and 200 new jobs, Witt said. Many of those jobs, Witt said, will be realized in 2019 and may take one to two years to reach full employment. 

In January, the fiber cement siding maker Allura announced it reopened its 438,000-square-foot plant in Vigo County. The company signed a national agreement with KB Home to serve as the home builder’s exclusive supplier of exterior fiber cement siding products. The plant employs 60 people and is located on 95 acres in the Vigo County Industrial Park.

Tredgar Film Products this year also announced it is expanding its plant on Fort Harrison Road in Terre Haute with a 55,800-square-foot addition to house two new elastic lamination lines, adding six new jobs ($27 an hour). Additionally, Saturn Petcare this year acquired the former Pfizer Exubera facility for a new pet food production facility to add 200 jobs ($18.60 an hour).

“Vigo County has a very strong and diverse economy, I believe, and there are all types of jobs from the retail sector to the service sector and certainly in the manufacturing sector,” Witt said. 

Jobs in manufacturing do require more skills than in decades past, including math and reading skills as well as higher skilled jobs for machinists, welders and operators of specialized equipment, Witt added.

Witt said historically there has been a larger supply of workers than a demand for employment. “But that is not the case right now,” he said, adding that over time, the need for more workers could lead to higher wages in the manufacturing sector in Vigo County and statewide.

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