Bold Strategy for a Big Problem

Bold Strategy for a Big Problem

The talent situation in Indiana has been a hot topic for most industries over the last few years and it’s shown no sign of immediately slowing down. Companies need more skilled workers and the ramifications of the issue have brought together entire regions to form new collaborative efforts to build talent. This has led to some interesting team-ups blending industry, community, academia, and development leaders.

One of the larger multifaceted initiatives that launched this year is the new Labs for Industry Futures and Transformation (LIFT) Network that’s now getting down to work in South Bend and Elkhart. A whole range of stakeholders are involved in the new LIFT Network, including the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership, the University of Notre Dame, and other key participants.

The network’s intent is to advance the region as an economic leader in next-generation manufacturing, entrepreneurship, applied analytics, and technology. Officials have said that LIFT will act as a link between workforce development programs, industry expertise, and innovation-based facilities and will also be working to enhance these participants.

Lilly Endowment Inc. provided a $42.4 million grant to get the LIFT Network formed. Officials plan to leverage this investment to continue momentum and eventually build the combined investment to a planned $170 million. To help, Lilly Endowment created a $4 million matching condition to help the region raise additional resources.

“All of us share a common, hopeful vision for our region’s future. We who live and work in the region know that a quiet transformation is underway, and that the Lilly Endowment grant is a powerful catalyst for a brighter, more resilient future,” Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.


Fits into the Region’s Big Picture

The new network blends very well with the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership’s Ensuring Prosperity Plan, which brought together communities from across the region under a shared vision to advance the area, and the funding the area received a few years ago from the Indiana Regional Cities Initiative. Under both of those programs, South Bend and Elkhart have been upgrading and adding new community amenities in yet another approach to retaining talent. Regional Cities and the Ensuring Prosperity Plan both seek to draw and retain skilled workers boosting quality-of-place features.


Significant Existing Assets

The new LIFT Network isn’t the first time Lilly Endowment has launched a large community and economic development program. There are five others the organization has helped developed going back to around 2007. Each program that Lilly Endowment has supported has incorporated strengths unique to the region, and in the case of LIFT the involvement of the University of Notre Dame and the area’s numerous advanced manufacturing companies cannot be understated.

“The South Bend – Elkhart region has important core strengths, including Notre Dame’s extraordinary educational and research capabilities; a strong industrial base, especially the companies and talented employees in the area’s exceptional mobility cluster; and compelling opportunities in diversified sectors such as IT and data analytics,” said Rob Smith, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for community development. “The LIFT Network will connect and strengthen these assets in ways that will help enhance the quality of life for the people in the region.”


How LIFT Will Begin

In utilizing the $42.4 million that Lilly Endowment provided, the LIFT Network plans to:

  • Launch the new iNDustry Labs in Notre Dame’s Innovation Park. This will be a hub of interdisciplinary teaching, applied research, and industry advancement services. The labs will essentially serve as the “front door” to the university for industry partners and others in the LIFT Network.
  • Enhance and scaling-up innovation-based research and training facilities at the following sites: Ivy Tech Community College South Bend/Elkhart, Elkhart Area Career Center, Community Education Center in South Bend, Renaissance District Tech Training and Demonstration Center in South Bend, and the South Bend – Elkhart Technology Resource Center in Ignition Park. Additional sites will likely be added later.
  • Develop applied learning programs in advanced industry areas. Workers and students will be provided with real-world experiences through capstone projects, internships, fellowships, apprenticeships, and other career-enhancing programs, along with entrepreneurial training and development.
  • Launch the new LIFT Catalyst Fund, a collaboration between Notre Dame and the Regional Partnership that will award grants to regional nonprofits and educators to fund projects that spur applied innovation.


A Bold Beginning

The network’s launch at $42 million – what could eventually be $170 million – might seem like an overly bold beginning to a regional workforce development initiative but the South Bend – Elkhart area has a uniquely precarious need for a big change. During announcements about the new initiative, officials noted a 2019 Brookings report found “the South Bend – Elkhart region is the third-most vulnerable workforce in the nation for job disruptions caused by digital automation and artificial intelligence.” Hence, a big response is needed and it’s needed now. LIFT is going to be an important step to address the challenge.