Dr. John Crawford is a member of Fort Wayne City Council and a candidate for the Republican nomination for mayor in 2019.
One often hears the phrase, “Demographics are destiny.” Higher educational attainment of citizens results in higher average wages for a city or state. The average bachelor's degree graduate's salary is $60,000, versus $45,000 for someone with a high school degree.
The average wage in northeast Indiana was 103 percent of the U.S. wage in 1980 when manufacturing jobs were the highest-paying. That average wage dropped to as low as 81 percent in 2000 and has only recently risen a bit to 83 percent.
Higher-paying jobs, in today's marketplace, usually require more education. While 33 percent of the U.S. adult population has earned a college degree, only 26.3 percent of our citizens held a bachelor's degree or higher in 2017. College degrees create a virtuous cycle of more jobs of the future and higher wages. But how do we promote this? How can we improve our demographics to improve our destiny?
There is a huge talent gap that is a drag on economic development. Strategies to address this include increasing and retaining college graduates and adding more training programs for open, high-paying, skilled trades jobs. We have been improving our quality of place to attract more young professionals and companies.
“Brain drain” results when graduates of Indiana colleges and universities leave our state to work elsewhere. More than 44,000 students attend our regional institutions of higher learning, and we need to retain more here. Several years ago, to fight this, I designed a program we called “BrainGain.” City Council members, along with others such as the Allen County Commissioners, directed CEDIT revenue into this fund. College graduates with specific degrees our local area needed could apply. If selected, for each year they worked in northeast Indiana, $2,500 of their student loans were repaid up to maximum of $10,000. We knew once they had worked here for four years they often made a home here permanently.
The Fort Wayne Educational Foundation began a similar program in which it loaned money to students to go to college and forgave the loans if they then were employed here. City Council combined our funds into that program to more efficiently run it as one combined larger fund. Fort Wayne Educational Foundation later changed its name to Questa.
This program now receives Legacy Fund grants to augment the number of students it can help. I have always believed strongly that this is one of the most important things we can do to move Fort Wayne forward and have donated my entire City Council salary for the past 20 years to this program to help more students.
Recent statistics from Questa show a large percentage of its scholars are getting degrees and staying in our area, contributing to our economic growth. Questa now has 500 graduates. More than two-thirds are living and working within our region after completing their education. Questa is a great example of how we can grow our talent pool. By helping many students with lesser financial resources, it also increases the diversity of our educated workforce, which is another critical need here.
There is also a shortage in skilled trades with many high-paying jobs open within these fields. Workforce development is a high priority here and in the entire state.
Our local skilled trades unions and the Urban League recognized the shortage and opportunity for young people early on and took action. The BUILD program created in 2015 is a collaboration of the Urban League, trade unions, building trade organizations and the Indiana Plan Jobs Training Program. The goal is to train the next generation of skilled trades workers and also increase cultural diversity. The program recently graduated its seventh class of eight, and 95 percent of graduates go on to get a job or apprenticeship.
The Next Level Jobs state program includes an employer training grant to provide funding to companies to set up training programs to increase our pool of skilled workers. Some of our local employers are taking the initiative to set up their own training programs.
Deister Machine, under the leadership of Mark Deister, has set up its own welding training program. The company recently selected 10 of its employees to up-skill their education, and nine of 10 earned their welding certificates, increasing their earning power. Deister hopes to collaborate with Grace College to explore ways for these employees to enhance their opportunities. This program helps all local companies by increasing our local pool of welders, who are needed here, and the jobs pay well. A true win-win! City officials need to provide leadership in promoting and augmenting these programs.
Higher educational attainment promoted by these programs results in higher average wages. When wages go up, the same tax rates produce higher revenue. So tax rates could be reduced to provide the same level of services, or the increased money could be used to better our quality of place. This leads to greater economic growth and a better life for all our citizens.