Collaboration is key to greater prosperity for Muncie

Muncie is similar to many other cities and communities across this part of the Midwest. We have experienced a reduction of manufacturing jobs, and we are working proactively to turn around the resulting damage to our community.

The good news is that the trajectory is now going in a positive direction through long-term planning, community partnerships, and additional emphasis on educating our children.

Competition for new jobs and investment has never been so intense. We no longer compete with just East Central Indiana communities and the Great Lakes region. In this global economy, we compete with the world. We have become a player in a global market, and we must stay on the cutting edge to maintain and advance our status.

We are working now on initiatives that will give us a competitive advantage in 20 years. Perhaps the most important example of this work is the BY5 (birth to five) initiative. We realize the linkage between educational attainment and family income, as well as the linkage between long-term workforce readiness and economic development success.

That is why early childhood education is one of six goals in our community’s five-year Vision 2016 Economic Development plan. We know a robust economy for Muncie’s future is dependent on preparing our children to be successful in school and, ultimately, in the workforce.

The way this work is coming together is an example of Muncie at its best. We have businesses, educators, elected officials, funders, and nonprofits at the table as our whole community begins to tackle what will be required to have the majority of our children — instead of the current 51 percent — ready for kindergarten by 2020.

The synergy of this work, which began in the Muncie Action Plan under the leadership of Tom Kinghorn and Carrie Bale, is already beginning to make an impact after a relatively short period of time. With continued cooperation and hard work, the efforts to prepare our children for success in school could become a model to many communities across the country.

While we are making progress toward a better tomorrow, we must also address the issues of today. Our country has changed immensely since the concept of “the Great Society” was born more than 50 years ago when our government declared war on poverty. The pace of technology has made it difficult for many people to keep up, resulting in widespread poverty in our own community.

Poverty has a very real effect on economic development efforts. It can result in the absence of occupational skills needed to do the jobs we are trying to recruit. Occupational skills can be enhanced through training, but it is often much more challenging to teach soft skills such as the personality traits, social graces, communication, language, and personal habits that characterize relationships with other people.

This means that when an employer looks at our community or brings a business to our community, a portion of our potential workforce is not prepared with the appropriate skill sets to fill the needs of the employers.

Additionally, when people struggle to survive and face barriers such as lack of transportation or child care, it is more difficult for them to positively impact the employment environment. Regardless of the culture in which these individuals and families operate, the solution involves working collectively as a community.

We are fortunate to have so many assets working in our favor: one of the most cutting-edge entrepreneurial programs in the country with Ball State University’s Center for Entrepreneurship, a strong employment training program in Work One, Ivy Tech Community College, a low cost of living compared with other parts of our country, a bounty of private funders, and a philanthropic spirit that runs through the community as a whole.

The adage, “A rising tide lifts all boats” is associated with the idea that improvements in the general economy will benefit all participants in that economy. We need to continue doing what we’re doing to lift the boats of those who struggle.

In order to do that, we need to build on models of community improvement like BY5 that are working well. When we selflessly come together with ideas, passion, and energy to build a better community, it will surely produce more prosperity for all.

Jay Julian is the president and CEO of the Muncie-Delaware County Chamber of Commerce and Muncie-Delaware County Economic Development Alliance.