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Elkhart County redevelopment officials signaled support for helping Ivy Tech meet a nearly $1.5 million gap in its plan for an advanced manufacturing, automation and robotics lab.

The Elkhart County Redevelopment Commission voted to support the community college’s request for $1.47 million in Tax Increment Finance (TIF) District funds. The request is part of a $3.68 million plan for a 10,400-square-foot facility at the Goshen Campus that’s expected to start hosting advanced manufacturing classes by 2021.

College leaders said the plan meets a need for workforce training in response to the automation potential seen in the Elkhart-Goshen area. A 2019 Brookings Institute study lists the area as third out of 381 metropolitan areas for automation potential, noted Larry Garatoni, state trustee for Ivy Tech.

“Indiana has the highest risk in the country from automation of any state in the union, because we’ve got the highest percentage of manufacturing of any state in the union. I think 35% of our workforce is engaged in manufacturing across the state,” he said. “There’s 71,000 people employed in Elkhart County in manufacturing, so obviously we’ve got a fair amount of risk.”

He said there’s a significant and immediate need for a building that can help with workforce training to respond to automation. They currently can improve the skills of only 5% of the workforce a year, which at 3,550 workers annually would take 20 years – not counting high school graduates and people changing jobs.

“The lab is an attempt to keep slightly ahead of the curve,” he said. “It’s a very significant undertaking and it doesn’t even scratch the surface.”