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Nurture area’s talent, Pence told

Employers outline staffing trouble

Business leaders told Gov. Mike Pence they’d like to see northeast Indiana cultivate homegrown talent and not lose it to other states.

A cry also went out for an improved K-12 school system so that students would be more employer-ready.

Those were just a couple of the concerns raised during an economic development roundtable with the governor Wednesday at the Vera Bradley distribution center in Roanoke.

Representatives from 14 Allen County companies, including Fort Wayne Metals, Android Industries, General Motors Co. and BAE Systems, participated in the discussion.

Vera Bradley announced in September 2011 it planned to invest $22.2 million to add warehouse space, truck docks and retail store staffing areas. The company makes quilted cotton handbags, luggage, accessories and home décor items.

Pence said he is visiting various parts of the state and seeking input on “opportunities and challenges” facing businesses. He conducted a roundtable last month in Columbia City.

“What can we do?” Pence asked in opening the Roanoke meeting. The governor said Indiana is in a good position with about $2 billion in budget reserves – a position many governors would love to be in.

Officials from General Motors Co.’s truck assembly plant in Allen County said while they were able to snag some Navistar International Corp. engineers, there is still a talent gap in the region. About three years ago, Illinois-based Navistar decided to gradually move 1,400 truck and engine design jobs out of Fort Wayne to a Chicago suburb.

GM Plant Manager Mike Glinski said the factory needs workers “who can keep the equipment running.”

Dennis Donnay is plant manager at Android Industries, an auto supplier that can assemble most vehicle parts, including engine and transmission modules. He said finding talent in Fort Wayne isn’t the problem – it’s keeping it.

“It’s very competitive,” Donnay said. And even if a company lands a dream job candidate, that person may continue to seek positions in major cities.

“They’re always looking,” Donnay said.

Jill Perillo, public relations manager with NIPSCO, said marketing the area will help. She pointed to the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership’s website, It is meant to attract and retain talent by promoting the area’s offerings and quality of life.

Franklin Electric Chief Financial Officer John Haines said Allen County’s schools will need to fare better for the area to lure top talent.

“One of the first things executives ask is: ‘How is the secondary education there?’ ” he said. “We don’t have a very good reputation.”

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