Anytime a company announces a closure, the first reaction is to ask what the community could have done differently to change the outcome; and, last week’s news that Alcoa will shutter its Warrick smelter is no exception to the rule. The reality is that Alcoa’s announcement is a direct reflection of the current economic stress within the global aluminum market and had nothing to do with either the community or the quality of the region’s workforce, which is exceptional.
This week, the National Association of Counties released a study stating that only 214 counties out of more than 3,000 nationwide had recovered to pre-recession levels on four key economic indicators: total employment, unemployment rate, size of the economy and home values. Of the 214 “recovered” counties, two are Gibson County and Vanderburgh County located in Southwest Indiana. The Indiana Public Policy Institute as part of their Thriving Communities, Thriving State initiative recently released their community vitality report which stated that "Central Indiana (Indianapolis area) and Evansville anchor areas of strength for Indiana’s economy; supporting these regions to compete nationally will continue to be important for Indiana’s economic well-being."
Regardless of what the studies and analyses might say, it doesn’t necessarily feel as if the regional economy is over the hump.
It is true that Alcoa will be shutting down its smelting operation; but, the company will retain the rolling mill – a bright spot that will allow a major regional employer to be retained and become part of a new growth company. There is no doubt that our market will be able to absorb the number of employees who will be laid-off. The more important issues will be how transferable are the skills and whether or not wage scales are comparable. It is also very possible that companies with which you are associated will be able to tap into this talented and soon to be available workforce.
The key takeaway is that the remaining operation in Warrick County will employ more than 1,100 and can be positioned for future growth. Southwest Indiana has weathered similar economic storms in the past and has been able to adapt; we anticipate the same results this time. Our region and economy are in a transition with changes occurring almost on a daily basis. It is imperative that the community’s response be both strategic and measured.
As we begin a new year, we ask you to think about employment opportunities that might exist within your organization as well as other organizations you are familiar with and share that information with local and state workforce officials. These hopeful prospects can go a long way to ease the uncertainty facing the soon to be furloughed workers in our market.
Greg Wathen is chief executive officer of the Economic Development Corporation of Southwest Indiana.