TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) – Bringing new jobs to Terre Haute has been at or near the top of Mayor Duke Bennett’s agenda.
In part one of a News 10 special report, ‘Terre Haute: Tomorrow’, Mayor Bennett and other Terre Haute community leaders say they’re still in the process of recovering from a jobs-related setback suffered four years ago.
A lot of people feel it’s not good to live in the past, but to definitely remember it.
And at least one community leader agrees that Pfizer closing its Terre Haute facility in 2010—a move that resulted in 800 employees losing their jobs—was, figuratively, a hard punch to the gut of Terre Haute’s economy.
“It was an incredible blow. The jobs were professional – the jobs paid an annual salary somewhere around 60, 65 thousand,” said Cliff Lambert, director of Redevelopment “You take that number of jobs out of the community—and it was a significant number of jobs that left the community—that not only impacts local grocery stores, etc., the entertainment venues—but housing.”
The quest to bring more jobs to Terre Haute should be a priority, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics.
Data shows that Indiana ranks 30th among the 50 states in unemployment rate at 6.9 percent, with Terre Haute’s unemployment rate slightly higher, at eight percent in November 2013.
But what’s encouraging to Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett is that Terre Haute’s unemployment rate has dropped more than two percentage points since the beginning of 2013, a sign that—according to Mayor Bennett—progress is being made in regards to jobs.
The mayor also adds that a cooperative economy would accelerate the progress.
“If the economy would just improve, I think we’d see some really great things happen. We’re going to see some good, very good things happen. But, you know, there’s a lot of opportunity out there,” Bennet said. “We’ve got to make sure that we’re right there at the front door of these businesses.”
State government is also on board with the priority to bring jobs to the Hoosier State.
At the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce’s annual Groundhog Day Economic Forecast breakfast in early February, Secretary of Commerce Victor Smith encouraged a combined effort of attracting jobs and keeping those employees that currently work in the state.
“It takes attracting national companies but, first and foremost, it really is thanking the folks that are currently here,” Smith said. “And really trying to look to see how we can, as a state, encourage additional capital formation right here in Indiana. Because 70 percent of the jobs are going to be created are from folks that are already here.”
And keeping college graduates in the communities in which they attended would be a valuable promotional tool, according to Bennett and Lambert.
According to the state’s Commission for Higher Education, three of five Indiana State University graduates remain in the state of Indiana after graduation.
“So we’ve got to keep our skilled labor force here. We’ve got to keep the brain drain from leaving Vigo County once they graduate from Rose Hulman, ISU, Saint Mary of the Woods College, Ivy Tech, etcetera,” Lambert explained. “And they’re not going to stay here if they don’t have any opportunities.”
Although the goal is a challenging one.
“It’s difficult. It really is. Not just Terre Haute, but I talk to other mayors around and they all face the same thing,” said Bennett. “The mayor of West Lafayette will tell you the same thing that the Purdue graduates leave. We all need to make sure that we’re working hard in Indiana. I mean, if you just look at that first, that there are opportunities for all these graduates.”
Tune in to News 10 tomorrow to hear Mayor Bennett and Cliff Lambert talk about two areas of land they hope are attractive enough to land new businesses and bring the jobs with them.