Much of economic development today is focused on the young, millennial generation – how to attract those skilled, educated workers to a community.
But Chris Griffin, the CEO of Knauf Insulation, suggests re-evaluating that notion.
“I think our target market is not 23-year-olds,” he told a group of elected officials and business leaders Friday afternoon.
Griffin was one of about 20 people gathered for an “industrial roundtable” organized by the Shelby County Development Corp., the county’s economic development group.
The working luncheon, held at Riverfront Taproom, 530 N. Harrison St., was billed as an exchange of ideas.
“We’re all here to listen and to learn,” said Shelbyville City Councilman Brian Asher (R – At Large), executive director of the SCDC.
City and county elected officials, along with representatives from local education and training programs spoke about current initiatives underway.
Among those efforts is Advantage Shelby County, a 2-year scholarship program to help high school graduates in the county get a degree from Ivy Tech Community College, or credits to transfer to a 4-year university.
In addition, the city has partnered with Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in an education program.
Business leaders talked about the difficulty of attracting workers to the community.
One thing missing, they said, was appropriate housing. Griffin, the Knauf CEO, noted that of the top 11 executives at his company, he was the only one to live here.
Short-term housing is also needed, the group agreed.
Mayor Tom DeBaun noted that on a recent economic development mission to Germany and Japan, he spoke with executives at Nippon Stee lCorp which is building a new manufacturing facility on North Michigan Road in partnership with Sumikin Materials USA.
Nippon leaders told him something the American group hadn’t anticipated, DeBaun said.
“They’re looking for furnished apartments,” the mayor said.
The city will reach out to other businesses to see if there is additional demand, DeBaun said, and possibly target the downtown area for development of those apartments.
Griffin said recruiting workers is a pressing concern as Knauf is entering a transition; older workers there are retiring after many years with the company.
Asked by attorney Peter DePrez why so many were leaving at once, Griffin replied the jobs pay well, plus the recent prolonged recession meant comparable jobs were scarce.
Stability is one reason he would prefer more mature workers over millennials, Griffin said.
“I want the 28 and 29 year olds who are starting a family,” he said.
The luncheon meeting Friday was the first in what officials hope will be a continuing series of quarterly industrial roundtable meetings.