WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) - Michigan and its "Motor City" may get most of the attention, but Indiana is making its case to be one of the big players in the automotive industry. A new state-wide council, called the Indiana Automotive Council, wants to assure a bright automotive future in the state.
Indiana's automotive industry is a $9 billion business that supports about 120,000 jobs. The state also has the second largest auto workforce and produces the second most cars, according to industry estimates.
The Indiana Automotive Council is made up of more than 27 companies as well as Conexus Indiana and the Indiana Economic Development Corporation.
The council includes Subaru of Indiana Automotive and Heartland Automotive as members and Greater Lafayette could feel the effects of the council's next moves.
"Indiana is pretty unique," said Tom Easterday, who is President of the I.A.C. and also Vice President of Subaru of Indiana Automotive. "It really is a collaboration between Conexus, the Indiana Economic Development Corporation and basically all of the major automakers in Indiana."
The I.A.C. is special in that it brings competitors to the table to talk about issues that confront the future success of each company. In addition to S.I.A., Honda Manfacturing of Indiana, Chrysler and General Motors are also part of the council.
The council's number one focus is to continue the education and training of Indiana's auto workers. It plans to set up three to five education and innovation centers around the state.
"The student will actually be in the classroom for a couple days in these workforce centers learning those types of problem solving skills, robotics skills that are necessary for automotive manufacturing today and at the same time they'll be able to go into the workforce," Easterday said.
It's this half-work, half-class kind of education that Easterday hopes will make Indiana's auto workforce stronger. S.I.A. already has a similar program set up on-site.
Thanks to a partnership between S.I.A. and Purdue, associates at the Lafayette plant can work toward their associates degree while still on the job.
"It really is a huge boost," Group Leader Bobby Cunningham said. "Every day I wake up, I'm proud to put my uniform on."
Cunningham, who works in the body shop, said he took classes at Ivy Tech before he started working for S.I.A., but he lacked the communications and managerial skills he needs in his job today.
He also said his continued education has gained him respect from his peers, although many are older than he is.
"It's a big confidence boost," Cunningham explained. "To even be accepted into the program was the biggest thing. I used to be the guy that wore the navy blue shirt instead of a white shirt."
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