Life sciences holds promise but not without hard work
April 11, 2010
Today’s Page 1 package on south-central Indiana’s life sciences industry paints a picture of real economic opportunity for this region.
It also enumerates daunting challenges. In the main story, Cook Group Chairman Steve Ferguson remembers the time four years ago when only one in five prospective employees at a job fair that attracted 1,000 actually qualified to be hired for the manufacturing positions the company had hoped to fill. There were just too few workers with the necessary skills, so the company had to rethink its growth plan.
At the other end of the labor market, there also aren’t enough professionals and scientists to generate the ideas to feed production lines with new products. Those products would guarantee continued employment for the line workers, had they been there to hire.
So what’s the problem? Not enough workers to man the lines and not enough science to supply those lines seems a nice balance, right?
Well, no, not if you’re counting on the life sciences to pump new life into an economy that has been shedding heavy manufacturing jobs for years.
A significant problem in such work-climate change is that skill sets and rates of pay do not easily transfer. Former Visteon and GM workers, or people who once worked at Otis’s big westside Bloomington plant, might have the incredible work habits and accountability that any industry would love. But they’d be unlikely to have the lab experience or knowledge base that would permit them to move from forging transmission casings to bio-tech test tubes.
They also might have the big home mortgages, boat payments and huge RVs that they could afford with hefty auto industry paychecks but can’t maintain on the smaller paychecks that are more typical in life sciences manufacturing.
Many couldn’t afford such jobs even if they qualified. It takes time and soul wrenching reassessment to recalculate one’s value in the marketplace. And then it takes more time — sometimes years — to retrain.
Ivy Tech, its growth almost explosive, is tailoring its curriculum to the needs of new science. Such training is now available, when before it was not.
Indiana University, a great research institution, isn’t Purdue, with its engineering, ag and animal science base. But it does have world-class chemistry, biology and psychology departments and scientists. Academic research, critical for the advancement of our world, doesn’t always translate to the practical. But IU’s new wet labs at its growing tech park at 10th and the Bypass have been purpose-built to do just that.
It is disappointing that state-promised research seed money has dried up. Its restoration is worth fighting for.
The city of Bloomington also must help in every way it can. The “quality of life” that the mayor says is so important — well, it is. We’re in a real struggle to catch up with some awfully sexy life sciences hubs on both coasts.
The arts and amenities such as the B-Line Trail and great parks, the clubs, restaurants, a beautiful campus — they all have to sell this city to a workforce the region needs more than ever.
Copyright: HeraldTimesOnline.com 2010