It was simple number-crunching in southeast Indiana that convinced local education and government leaders that something had to change. In a regional survey, 90 percent of the manufacturers in and around Lawrenceburg say they plan to grow in the next few years, yet anticipate about 50 percent of their skilled technicians will retire in the next five to seven years. That incongruity confirmed the need on paper: the region must ramp up the number of manufacturing workers, and that’s the main goal of the new Ivy Tech Advanced Manufacturing and Technology Center in Lawrenceburg.

The school’s Lakefront building will get a makeover and expansion as part of the $6 million project. The 40,000 square-foot building will grow by about 30 percent to house labs and classrooms dedicated to advanced manufacturing and industrial technology training. Another 5,000 square feet will be converted to manufacturing-focused classrooms.

Dearborn County Economic Development says the area is a significant pocket of manufacturing activity in the state; comprised of mostly small operations that gross about $15 million per year, the sector employs about 1,300 people. With growth a top priority, the manufacturers say they’ll need at least 100 new employees in the next one-to-five years.

“Unfortunately, we see many job applicants with limited to no basic manufacturing skills,” says Batesville Products, Inc. President Len Weber. “I would say our recent experience in finding qualified candidates who meet our expectations has been less than adequate. We’re in a similar position as other employers in southeast Indiana—challenged to fill factory positions.”

The new center will focus on training in welding, Computer Numeric Controls (CNC), machining and robotics—all areas where Weber believes the need is most glaring. Ivy Tech says the southeast region—which includes its Lawrenceburg, Batesville and Madison campuses—graduates 20 to 25 manufacturing students annually. Fueled by the expansion, school leaders expect that number to grow by about 50 percent.

“[Our Chancellor] likes to use the phrase, ‘We’re going to start driving the car while we’re building it,’” says Ivy Tech Lawrenceburg and Batesville campus President Mark Graver. “We’re trying to meet that [work force] need starting now, because it’s generally a two-to-three-year pipeline for an associate’s degree.” 

To help grow the number of students enrolled in the program, Graver says Ivy Tech is recruiting juniors and seniors at local high schools. Currently, seven high school students are earning Ivy Tech credits by taking afternoon classes at the Lawrenceburg campus, giving them a jump on their associate’s degrees and more efficient paths to employment.

“In addition to our high school students, our local power plant recently closed, so we have a lot of non-traditional students with the opportunity to come back to the community college to retrain, upgrade their skills and re-enter the work force with new skillsets that local manufacturers need,” says Graver. “It’s exciting we’ll be able to hit high school students, but also people who need retraining.”

The City of Lawrenceburg is providing $2.3 million for the project, with Ivy Tech footing the remainder of the bill. Graver says an entire network of regional partners has helped drive the project forward, including surrounding city leaders, redevelopment officials and local manufacturers.  

“It shows that when a community works together, it can meet a need,” says Graver. “And this is truly a need moving forward for southeast Indiana.”

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Graver says the new center will provide a more robust curriculum and be able to house more students.

Graver says the three southeast campuses hope to grow the number of manufacturing graduates by about 50 percent.