After the latest economic recession, small communities in Elkhart County have learned many lessons. A few of the most prominent lessons include the diversification of industrial bases and making sure there is an educated, ready work force.
Smaller communities, including Syracuse and Nappanee, were hit hard by the recession.
Syracuse, a town of 2,800 people, had about 1,400 manufacturing jobs prior to 2007. Now, it has about half that.
“It was fairly devastating to our area here,” Syracuse Town Manager Henry DeJulia said.
But that was then and both towns are starting to see a rebound.
Several companies are hiring now in Syracuse and in Nappanee.
“From my standpoint, our companies locally have already taken steps without any public assistance,” said Nappanee Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jeff Kitson. “They are becoming smarter and leaner in their manufacturing processes. Although they are expanding, they are doing it smart.”
Local employers are making sure their people are educated.
“Other communities are spending thousands in training grants,” Kitson said. “Our companies are funding it themselves to further expand their employees’ work skills and advance their careers.”
They do work with WorkOne and advance education, he said.
“(Nappanee industries) are growing and their employee base is growing,” Kitson explained, “but also the strength of their employees is growing.”
Employees are staying for 10 or 15 years, helping to produce the best quality materials they can, he said.
“When you have employers who are locally based and they are tied to the community, their employees see that,” Kitson said. “A lot of our employers are very generous to the community ... and their employees see that, which makes them want to live here and raise a family.”
That type of sustainability bolsters the community when times are tough.
“We feel much better to handle an economic downtown than four or five years ago,” Kitson said. “I think the future of Nappanee looks very bright. The buildings are pretty full — not a lot are for sale or rent. We are kind of the diamond in southwest Elkhart County — us and Wakarusa. We are really starting to shine and glow. People are attracted here because of our community and what we have to offer them.”