In October 2007, Vigo County’s workforce took a big hit when Pfizer halted production at its local plant that produced Exubera, an inhaled insulin.
By January 2008, the company had let go 660 workers, and it would later cut another 140 positions when it completely shuttered its Vigo facility in mid 2008.
Fast forward to 2023. That same property in the Vigo County Industrial Park II off U.S. 41 south of Terre Haute is to become the site of a $1.5 billion manufacturing facility for Entek, an Oregon-based company, established in 1984. Entek produces ceramic coated lithium-ion battery separators used in electric vehicles.
The new facility is the first phase of Entek’s planned expansion to produce about 1.4 billion square meters of ceramic coated lithium separators across its operations, enough for 1.4 to 1.6 million electric vehicles annually by 2027.
Phase 2 of the project will add up to an additional 1.8 billion square meters of battery separator produced annually for a total of 3.2 billion square meters, providing enough separators for about 3.5 million electric vehicles.
Entek plans to break ground on the campus as soon as engineering and permitting is completed. Entek seeks to have its first production lines open in 2025 with the facility fully functional by 2027.
When Entek announced its plan for Vigo County in late March, it was heralded as a significant development for the local and state economy.
“This is a great day for Terre Haute and for the state of Indiana,” Gov. Eric Holcomb said. “Entek’s decision to locate a new, $1.5 billion battery component manufacturing facility here will have a transformational impact on the West Central Indiana community and the Hoosier Economy for generations to come.”
Area government and economic development officials say they are ready do their part to get Entek up and running, but they acknowledge there are challenges to be met.
Enough workers locally?
The first phase of Entek’s project will require 642 new workers.
Yet it’s not the only manufacturer that will seek new workers within the next year.
Steel Dynamics is to complete its hiring of 84 workers for its $231 million expansion by the end of this year and Great Dane Trailers plans to add 125 workers by 2024 as part of a $50 million expansion.
Saturn Petcare will add 50 workers by 2024, also under a $50 million expansion.
And while not manufacturing, the Churchill Down’s Terre Haute Casino Resort will be adding 500 full- and part-time jobs by its scheduled opening of March 2024.
So are there enough workers for Entek and other companies?
Economic development officials say there are sufficient workers throughout the Wabash Valley to fill the manufacturing vacancies, and they are working to gain more potential employees.
“We will not need 642 jobs all at once, but that will start in 2024 and go through 2027” for Entek, said Steve Witt, president of the Terre Haute Economic Development Corp.
“And we are talking about manufacturing jobs, so while there could be some crossovers among manufacturers, the casino would not be in that mix,” of employment, Witt said.
Lisa Lee, executive director of Western Indiana Workforce Development Board, Inc., said using labor market data and analysis through Boston, Massachusetts-based Lightcast, the Wabash Valley is a hot spot for manufacturing talent. The region includes Vigo, Clay, Parke, Sullivan and Vermillion counties in Indiana, as well as Clark and Edgar counties in Illinois.
The Wabash Valley is actually fairly well off when it comes to the number of manufacturing jobs, Lee said. The national average for an area of this size would be about 7,560, whereas there are about 15,530 jobs here now.
“And competition from online job postings is low. The national average for online job postings for an area our size is 158 job postings per month, but we have 127 per month here,” Lee said.
That means there are more manufacturing jobs available and employers are finding workers, as employers have less online job postings per month, Lee said.
The Terre Haute Metropolitan Statistical Area shows a labor force of 72,547 as of February, according to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. Included are 9,400 manufacturing workers. The MSA covers Vigo, Vermillion, Sullivan, Putnam, Parke and Clay counties.
In August 2022, STATS Indiana released a study of workers coming into and going out of Vigo County for work, based on 2020 Indiana tax returns.
STATS Indiana is a statistical data utility for the state of Indiana, developed and maintained since 1985 by the Indiana Business Research Center at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business.
The county had 10,475 people from outside the county coming to work in Vigo County. While another 3,899 people living in Vigo County commuted to work outside the county.
About 11.2% of Vigo County’s workforce — 7,902 workers — were from five surrounding areas. Clay County had 2,221 people who work in Vigo County; Illinois counties sent 1,781 workers; Sullivan County 1,585 workers; Vermillion County 1,451 workers; and Parke County 864.
Additionally, about 4% of the county’s workforce — 2,568 workers — commuted outside of the county, going to work in neighboring counties in Illinois as well as Clay, Vermillion and Marion counties in Indiana and to areas outside of the state, such as Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan, according to the STATS Indiana study.
Witt said he thinks higher wages will attract some of that 4% outgoing workforce back to Vigo County. Entek’s average wage will be $71,000 for salaried workers, with hourly workers earning about $30 an hour, Witt said.
“It is hard to wrap my brain around the current situation,” Witt said of the workforce. “When I was a student at Indiana State University in the early- to mid-1980s, I saw double-digit unemployment, near double-digit interest rates and we had a large supply of workers with high unemployment,” Witt said.
“Who would have dreamed that 30 years later, we have a 3.5% unemployment rate,” Witt said.
“We have a lot of work yet with Entek just getting started, but communities all over the country have the challenges that we have,” Witt said.
Getting people trained
Workforce was among reasons Entek selected Vigo County.
“Like most everywhere in the U.S., the labor market is very tight,” said Larry Keith, CEO of Entek. “However, not every state offers an education system that is focused on manufacturing. Entek was very impressed with all the focus that Indiana has to help educate and place their workforce into companies. Indiana has done an excellent job focusing the education system around industries needs which was a big attraction for Entek.”
Keith said Entek, if needed, can “expand our outreach to nearby adjoining counties and will then continue to reach out farther as needed” to help fill its workforce needs.
Lea Anne Crooks, Ivy Tech Terre Haute chancellor, said the community college is well suited to train a workforce and will work with Entek.
Entek’s facility will be highly automated, which will fit into Ivy Tech programs such as advanced automation and robotics technology as well as industrial technology, electrical and mechanical maintenance programs.
“We are still in the early stages of our partnership. As Entek works to solidify their local leadership team, we are starting to review our current programs and how they align with the expected jobs the company will bring to the area,” Crooks said.
“We are prepared to close any gaps that we discover. We are meeting with Entek’s president in June and will know more after that. Ivy Tech will continue to be the workforce driver in our region and state,” Crooks said.
Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett said a group last fall comprised of college and university presidents, the Terre Haute Economic Development Corp., elected officials, the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce, and the Indiana Department of Workforce Development met “to strategize.”
“We had a couple of meetings with our manufacturers. We focused with them first because they have one of the biggest needs right now,” Bennett said. “Coming up in May, we are going to have a half-day seminar, a workshop for local manufacturers. Then we will expand that to other groups after that, but our goal is to assist them in a variety of capacities.”
Local officials need to engage manufacturers with “state dollars that are available to help them train, recruit employees and continue that, not just as a one-time hit, to get them exposed to this money,” Bennett said. “There is also some federal money coming, so we want to help these businesses to be able to connect with that money for internships and apprenticeships.”
Then efforts can be widened, the mayor said. “We know that health care is also an area that needs people, retail needs people, so we are going to branch beyond manufacturing.
“For manufacturing, they need access to training grants, which can allow them to bring in someone with no skills whatsoever, and get all of that training paid, with some going to Ivy Tech (Community College) or Vincennes University. They have great programs; it is just connecting these people with these programs,” Bennett said.
Lee said Indiana has an Employer Training Grant, which reimburses employers who train, hire and retain new or incumbent workers to fill in-demand positions within recognized job fields.
The Employer Training Grant reimburses employers up to $5,000 per employee who is trained, hired and retained for six months, up to $50,000 per employer.
“A lot of businesses don’t know how to access this, so we will walk with them, help them to set up programs in their business and do much more than we have in the past,” Bennett said.
“I think we can get the workforce because I think the people are out there,” Bennett said. “There are over 10,000 people here who have not graduated from our high schools, who are living here in their 20s, who don’t have a GED or a diploma.
“We are going to target that group. We know they are out there from Census data and other data,” the mayor said.
The mayor said many people can be targeted for the Goodwill Excel Center, which is a tuition-free adult charter high school that awards industry recognized certifications and high school diplomas, not GEDs, to adult learners. There are 23 Goodwill Excel Centers in Indiana. The Indiana General Assembly approved the establishment of 300 seats for Terre Haute and to expand the overall Excel program in the state.
“We have to do multiple things. There is no one answer for any of this,” Bennett said.
Housing and daycare
Additionally, officials are looking at issues of increased housing and daycare, which also impacts a workforce.
City and county officials are working on a housing building incentive, Bennett said. The package would use $5 million from the city and $5 million from Vigo County, paid from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, along with $1.8 million in state READI grant funds to “make a large investment for additional housing” needed to attract more people, as well as 24-hour child care. The city and county are working with Indiana State University and Ivy Tech Community College, he said.
“We are defining a (home building) program and hope to roll that out in August,” the mayor said of housing. “It will be a mix of building and developer projects.” He added that Thrive West Central has prepared a housing inventory study and is working on an application process to get funds distributed.
Bennett said the city has “plenty of lots” that can be provided for housing development.
“The economic impact of Entek will be phenomenal and this is just phase 1 for the company,” Bennett said, adding it helps bring the county into the high-tech sector that can lead other supporting industries to locate here.
Bennett said getting a larger workforce “is challenging, but I think we can do it. When you get some big wins like Entek, hopefully that will bring in people who want to work there, but you have other businesses that need people too.
“There is a big need and there are a lot of openings and the pay is much better than it used to be and benefits are better and hours are more flexible, but we still need more housing and child care, which are other pieces to make this work,” the mayor said.
“… I think we need to tackle some of these and make it easier to take those barriers down — whatever we can do locally. But it is also (a) state and federal (issue) because we need their help, too,” Bennett said.
When it comes to jobs, there is still much work left with Entek to bring the company into production, Witt said.
The company will next seek a 100% tax abatement for 10 years from the Vigo County Council. That is the same tax abatement awarded to Steel Dynamics Heartland LLC for a $231 million expansion that is to add 84 new jobs.
As part of an incentive, the Vigo Redevelopment Commission, based on the investment size and number of new jobs, is providing 388.64 acres in the industrial park at $1 per acre to Entek.
The land was appraised at $5,333,500. The property is bounded by Carlisle Road to the east and Harlan Road to the south. The property is south of Saturn Petcare’s manufacturing facility.
The company’s proposal includes a claw-back provision, which would rescind incentives such as a tax abatement, if Entek has not met a $1.5 billion investment within 48 months of closing on the county property, said Jeff Lind, attorney for the redevelopment commission.
The Indiana Economic Development Corp. will commit an investment in Entek of up to $8 million in the form of incentive-based tax credits and up to $300,000 in training grants, based on the company’s job creation plans.
The IEDC also committed an investment of up to $200,000 in innovation grants; up to $200,000 in Manufacturing Readiness Grants, which help companies invest in smart manufacturing and new technologies; and up to $5 million in conditional structured performance payments. These investments are performance-based, meaning the company is eligible to claim incentives once Hoosiers are hired.
Duke Energy also offered additional incentives to offset a portion of the energy costs.
Additionally, Entek was awarded a $200 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and has applied for a $900 million loan through the DOE, with the company fronting the remaining capital for the startup of the project. The federal funding is part of a measure to increase domestic production of lithium batteries.
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