At the Indy Chamber, we start every day thinking about how we can help local companies succeed and appeal to businesses beyond the region looking to relocate or expand. Attracting people is another priority – as potential workers (and customers) choose Indy, employers and investment follow.

This means we share common goals with our skilled construction industry: A region that’s growing is a region that’s building.

Economic development success leads to commercial and residential development – places for people to live and work, new housing, office towers, cutting-edge facilities for our high-tech industries.  It means new infrastructure to get commuters to work, keep companies connected and supply locally-made products to the world.

At the same time, a thriving construction sector creates its own opportunities, adding good-paying jobs and helping more of our neighbors share in our economic progress.

That’s why we want to help put National Apprenticeship Week (November 14-20) in the spotlight; Indiana’s union apprenticeship programs are training nearly 6,800 future tradeworkers (with 14 of the state’s 60 apprenticeship training centers in Central Indiana.  Labor and contractors have also partnered with Ivy Tech on its Building Construction Management and Construction Technology degrees.

More than 80% of construction apprentices are enrolled in union programs; along with relevant two-year degrees and other vocational programs, they are training tomorrow’s workforce and trying to keep up with today’s demands.  Nearly 190,000 Hoosiers are employed in construction.  As the state’s largest economy (accounting for 70% of its population growth), more than one of every three of these jobs is in metro Indianapolis.    

But 77% of construction contractors across the Midwest report difficulty finding enough skilled workers for existing projects, according to a recent survey by the Association of General Contractors.  It’s projected that Indiana will have over 60,000 open construction positions by 2018 – that’s nearly as many vacancies as Indy’s total existing construction workforce of 65,000!

In September, the Indy Chamber unveiled a new strategy, Accelerate Indy, that pulls together an ambitious economic agenda for the region.  As we try to move faster, we can’t afford delays in getting new projects off the “drawing board” and underway, or rising construction costs making the region less competitive… or investment leaving the region if local contractors can’t put qualified workers on the job.

Last week, Marion County voters overwhelmingly endorsed expanded mass transit, and we’re optimistic that the City-County Council will give the final ‘ok’ to a system that will require new infrastructure, starting with the federally-funded construction of the Red Line rapid transit route in 2017.  Rapid and high-frequency transit service will trigger a wave of development in neighborhoods across the city – in one high-profile example, Cleveland’s HealthLine bus route (similar to Phase I of the Red Line) has spurred north of $5 billion in new investment and construction along its 7-mile corridor.

Transit will also help maintain downtown’s construction momentum.  Nearly 100 mixed-use projects with a combined investment of three-quarters of a billion dollars are currently underway.

Experts see continued demand for live-work walkable neighborhoods, and initiatives like the Indy Chamber’s anchor strategy (in partnership with the Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership and others) aim to increase housing and investment around the city’s major institutional employers.

Finally, one of the Chamber’s top legislative issues in 2017 will be a long-term solution for sustained investment in our infrastructure – transportation priorities that maintain our position as the ‘Crossroads of America’ for our manufacturing and logistics industries.  But once lawmakers settle on a plan, we’ll ultimately call on operating engineers and other construction trades to build the roads, bridges and other projects that are necessary to keep Indy moving.

We’re optimistic about the Accelerate Indy blueprint for growth.  But these efforts need a healthy, productive construction industry as a partner in progress. 

We also can’t lose sight of the fact that higher wages and living standards are also economic development goals.  The shortage of qualified workers in construction is also an opportunity for upward mobility:  The largest group of adult workers in the Indianapolis region are the more than 300,000 high school graduates who stopped after 12th grade – they struggle in a job market where most positions require some post-secondary education.

Construction is part of Central Indiana’s ‘middle skill’ economy.  Along with more than half of our science, engineering and technology employment, most high-paying jobs in the building trades require more than a high school diploma but not a four-year degree.  Most of these industries deal with workforce deficits (80% of Indiana manufacturers reported a significant shortage of skilled production workers in a recent IU survey, for example).

Indiana’s construction apprenticeship programs are a great way to get the technical knowledge and hands-on expertise to join this sought-after middle-skill workforce, in fast-growing fields.

Visit www.BuiltToSucceed.org to learn more about apprenticeships in Indiana’s skilled trades.  If you want to boost your earning power and career opportunities, the construction industry wants you – and the team at the Indy Chamber will be working to keep you on the job, building our economy. 

Michael Huber is President & CEO of the Indy Chamber.

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