Just a few decades ago, the income in Northeast Indiana was nearly even with the national average.
Now, workers in this 11-county area make only about 78 percent of the national average.
That’s a trend a new local campaign will focus on in hopes of getting it reversed, and it’s all about education.
“We can’t keep skating by the way we have in years past,” said September McConnell, director of the Whitley County Community Foundation.
In the next few days, an advertising blitz by the WCCF will appear throughout the county that tout “When ‘good enough’ is no longer good enough.”
The meaning behind that slogan and the main focus of the Whitley Forward initiative is that what worked a few decades ago doesn’t work today to be equally successful.
Whitley County and surrounding counties have the benefit of medical device manufacturers and the defense industry. The defense industry is bound to the United States, but isn’t required to be in any one state or region.
“The bad news is, they don’t have to stay in northeast Indiana,” McConnell said.
A high school diploma that used to secure a solid job for life at many of the manufacturing facilities in the region is now just the beginning of education for many people out there competing for jobs.
“For us, it’s how do we convince (people) … that we’ve got to try something new?” McConnell said.
When it comes to businesses locating in an area, many will look at the demographics.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 89 percent of Whitley County residents have a high school degree or higher, and only 17 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
With education in mind, the blitz of Whitley Forward from the WCCF will target students in pre-school through the senior year of high school.
At the pre-school level, talking about magnets and very simple explanations of some common concepts will be the focus. As recently as Thursday, a group of teachers underwent training for some of the programs at the pre-school level.
Project Lead the Way, a program in many local schools, focuses on engineering and science beyond the typical classroom material.
At Indian Springs Middle School, students in eighth grade work on robotics and how to program commands into that device.
Whitko Community Schools and Smith-Green Community Schools also have programs in place with a focus on engineering, math and science, with Whitko looking at a robotics program.
At the elementary level, a “mad scientist” will visit classes to offer a close-up look at chemistry in action.
“We’re going to bring him to all the elementaries,” said Margaret Malcolm, whose focus of Whitley Forward is the education side.
Amidst all the plans and programs, the community foundation will partner with Peabody Public Library to host a discussion on 21st Century education.
The main speaker will be David Dresslar, executive director of the Center for Excellence in Leadership of Learning.
So much of Whitley Forward focuses on students and young students because the community foundation wants to help schools do what they can to get career paths at the forefront.
Whether it means a student goes to a vocational school, a two-year associate’s degree, four-year bachelor’s, a master’s degree or doctorate, those behind Whitley Forward want to focus on how much education is needed in life.
“Nobody is silly enough to think that college is for everybody. What has to be for everybody is some form of post-secondary education,” McConnell said.