A little over a year ago, Indiana’s advanced manufacturing and logistics companies were preparing for another banner year. A key contributor in Indiana’s 10 straight years of record economic expansion, the sector was growing, but also critically assessing itself to ensure it would be positioned to fuel the state’s economy well into the future.
We know what happened next: As a result of the global pandemic, we all learned new definitions for the word “essential.”
In no time at all, Indiana’s makers and movers pulled together and put into action a pandemic response that not only made it possible for Hoosiers to get groceries, medicines and other necessities, but also demonstrated that, with the nation’s highest concentration of manufacturing, a strong tradition for moving products, and a knack for collaboration and public-private coordination, the sector was equipped to meet the considerable challenges that were to lie ahead.
As the pandemic progressed, we came to recognize that, while it might have looked like one big problem, for Indiana’s manufacturing and logistics firms, it played out as four distinct challenges.
First came the challenge of supplying workers, especially healthcare workers, with personal protective equipment (“PPE,” as we all now know). Conexus Indiana worked quickly with the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) to identify and engage companies that could supply products, source raw materials or manufacture what was needed. Ultimately, more than 75 million pieces of PPE were procured by the state.
Second, we had to move critical PPE, medical supplies, food and other essential goods throughout the state. To achieve this, a team of transportation companies generously volunteered equipment and services. For example, the logistics sector, led by Langham Logistics, was able to marshal products, help the IEDC develop an online marketplace and fulfill PPE bundles to more than 31,000 organizations.
Third, the sector led efforts to get essential workers back to the workplace safely. For this, 128 Indiana firms contributed the time and expertise of some of their top people to develop a guide to reopening the workplace. With leadership from Cummins and Cook Group, this consortium produced what became the state’s definitive Safe Return to Work Playbook.
The fourth challenge is one in which we’re still engaged: vaccine distribution. Indiana’s manufacturers and logistics firms have put considerable expertise and infrastructure into supporting the Indiana State Department of Health’s effort to expand vaccine distribution and availability.
Meanwhile, we continue to participate in the process of fully reopening workplaces as part of a 23-member task force created by the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership (CICP) to work with state, industry and philanthropic partners to prepare for the opportunities and challenges of a post-vaccination world.
Throughout this process, we’ve learned a lot about ourselves and the criticality of the advanced manufacturing and logistics industries. The pandemic has also served as a proof point for technology as manufacturers retooled to quickly answer the need for ventilators, face masks and other PPE.
Indiana’s future prosperity rests, in part, on how well our advanced manufacturing and logistics companies can continue to innovate and adopt new technologies such as cobots, artificial intelligence, additive manufacturing and big data.
We’ve known for some time that Indiana’s advanced manufacturing and logistics sector must invest in technology and speed up the adoption of digital tools and equipment. We must develop skilled talent ready to take on today’s challenges and adjust to new technologies as they are introduced. And we must provide equal access to all Hoosiers, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, where they live or any other factors that too often limit a person’s opportunities.
The good news is, we’ve got momentum. For example, Manufacturing Readiness Grants offer matching funds to companies willing to invest in modernization and technology, and Conexus Indiana provides forums through its Emerging Technology Showcases to expose companies to new technologies. Also, our talent development programs are preparing workers for the ongoing evolution to Industry 4.0.
The trials of the past year have taught us a lot, but the greatest lesson might be that it taught us what we’re capable of. Now, let’s apply that lesson, use it to grow and ensure that we emerge from this pandemic more resilient than ever.
J. Mark Howell is President and CEO of Conexus Indiana.