Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division (NSWC Crane) and the 11 counties surrounding it are headed for a better educated workforce, an increased number of technical jobs and more attractive communities, thanks to $42 million dollars in grant money from Lilly Endowment Inc. Residents of Brown, Crawford, Daviess, Dubois, Greene, Lawrence, Martin, Monroe, Orange, Owen and Washington counties will benefit from initiatives focused on research and development, workforce education and quality of life.
NSWC Crane Director of Engagement Brian Blackwell is a board member of Regional Opportunity Initiatives, Inc. (ROI), a newly-formed nonprofit that supports regional development opportunities in the counties of southwest central Indiana. He served on the steering committee that formed a development plan for the region in cooperation with the Battelle Technology Partnership Practice. Blackwell said an analysis of the area found clusters of promising jobs for scientists, engineers and technicians at places such as NSWC Crane, Cook Group and Indiana University (IU), but also indicated that many high school and college graduates leave the region and do not return.
“Many of our kids don’t know that these kinds of job opportunities exist in the region,” Blackwell explained. “Our school systems and our employers aren’t as connected as they could be, so we may not be training and educating kids and young adults for the jobs that are in the region. There’s a mismatch here—all of these industries need more employees and yet some of our counties have some of the highest unemployment rates in the state.”
Thanks to Lilly Endowment Inc., a roughly $16 million workforce development and education grant will connect industry clusters with schools and universities to make sure there are better pathways between institutes of learning and local employers. The region’s defense sector expects to hire at least 3,000 new employees over the course of the next five to seven years and this initiative will help ensure local workers have a better set of skills with which to compete for jobs.
An additional grant of just over $16 million will fund applied research institute activities between NSWC Crane, IU and other research universities in the state to include Purdue University. The money will allow universities to hire personnel who will work with experts from NSWC Crane on applied research that will yield products for use by defense and industry, enabling the creation of more technology startup companies in the region.
The remaining grant money is designated for a regional opportunity fund to make communities in the 11-county area more attractive places for employees and their families. “If our communities are attractive it will help us attract and retain the workforce we need. NSWC Crane will be an indirect beneficiary of that, but our employees and their families will be the direct beneficiaries,” Blackwell said.
Each of the grants will last five years, and participants hope the three initiatives will continue indefinitely either through other sources of funding or by generating their own funding. NSWC Crane Commanding Officer Capt. Jeffrey Elder explained that around 70 percent of his organization’s employees are hired from within southern Indiana. “When we talk about increasing the quality of life here, we’re talking about more than just attracting and retaining employees—we are cultivating our future workforce with our investment in the southern Indiana region,” he said. “We are showing these younger generations they can pursue educations in technical fields and then come back here to make a good living and live in a nice community.”