Officials from the Japan Consulate visited Purdue University Wednesday for a forum connecting the business, education and government sectors. The visit was one of many stops for members of the consulate who are making the rounds of Indiana to understand how Japanese investment is impacting local communities.
Japanese officials share Hoosier leaders’ concerns about the future of the state’s workforce. Japan Consul-General Naoki Ito used one of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s buzz phrases – “next level” – to point out that growing investment in Indiana means Japanese companies need to see qualified workers ready to work.
“Japan and Indiana needs to go to the NextLevel too, but one of the issues, one of the challenges we need to deal with is workforce development,” Ito says.
Japan is Indiana’s largest international investor with about 300 of its companies investing in the state and supporting more than 58,000 jobs according the Indiana Economic Corporation.
In his opening remarks, Purdue President Mitch Daniels says Indiana is number one in the U.S. in per capita investment by Japanese companies. Several others noted Indiana is the only state in the country that’s home to three Japanese automotive manufacturing companies: Subaru, Toyota and Honda.
Ito says Indiana stands out from the rest when it comes to its business climate.
“It has sound fiscal policies, a central location, an excellent transportation network, and a low-cost business environment," Ito says. "Hoosiers share then same strong work ethic and commitment to quality that we see in Japan.”
But Ito says just as Hoosier business leaders are concerned they can’t find enough skilled workers, Japanese companies are worried about what that might mean for future investment in the state.
Indiana Economic Development Corporation President Elaine Bedel agrees pointing to Indiana's low unemployment levels.
“We’re the lowest in the Midwest, lower than the national average, but that brings with us the other issues and the questions of where do we get our worker pipeline?" Bedel says. "Not only from a skill level, but just sheer numbers of employees.”
Indiana Secretary of Career Connections and Talent Blair Milo previously served as mayor of La Porte.
She says while mayor, her city shared the state’s troubles.
“As some of the skill sets needed are changing and the connection points may changing, and as we’re seeing the economy come forward and that tightening of the labor market overall,” Milo says.
She says the state’s “Next Level Jobs” plan – which connects employers and potential employees – will be expanding.