Working together: Columbus, nearby communities named 21st Century Talent Region

The Republic

A regional network of communities in southeastern Indiana including Columbus has been designated a 21st Century Talent Region.

The regional network, called the EcO Network of Southeast Indiana, includes Columbus, Seymour, Batesville, Greensburg, North Vernon and Rising Sun.

The Indiana governor’s office made the designation official during a ceremony Friday at Columbus City Hall.

About 85 business and education leaders, as well as public officials, from all six communities — including the mayors of Columbus, Seymour, North Vernon and Rising Sun — attended the event.

The 21st Century Talent Region initiative is an effort by the Indiana Office of Career Connections, Indiana Economic Development Corp. and Columbus-based CivicLab, which provides technical assistance, seeking to encourage communities in Indiana to work together and use a “systems approach” to build and implement a regional plan to increase the region’s population, educational attainment and household incomes, according to initiative’s website.

The EcO Network of Southeast Indiana is the second region to receive the talent designation. Northeast Indiana became the state’s first 21st Century Talent Region in June.

During Friday’s event, Blair Milo, the secretary of the Indiana Office of Career Connections and Talent, issued a proclamation on behalf of Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb that stated that the six communities agreed, among other things, to collaborate and set regional talent attraction and connection goals and identify shared talent attraction, development and connection strategies for the region by the end of 2019, the proclamation states.

No specific goals have been set at this time, said Kathy Oren, executive director of Community Education Coalition, which oversees the EcO Network.

“Ensuring a sustainable pipeline of talent to support our region’s industry sectors today and in the future requires a systems approach, a systems approach to cross-sector collaboration that links the learning system to economic opportunities in southeast Indiana,” Oren said during the event.

Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop said the designation was a recognition “of some of the work that has already gone on” in the six partner communities.

“What this allows us to do is to begin to measure some of the good work that happens, and from there, we can recognize and reward that which works out well, and then we can begin to repeat it,” Lienhoop said after the event. “I’m happy that the governor’s office has taken notice of what we’ve done down here, and it will give us a little bit of encouragement to continue it.”

Seymour Mayor Craig Luedeman said being part of a 21st Century Talent Region is “a huge designation.”

“I’m delighted to be here to help lift up the great work of our communities and region regarding our collective talent, work and strategies,” Luedeman said.

The EcO Network was launched in 2007 under the name Economic Opportunities through Education by 2015, or EcO15. An initiative of the Community Education Coalition, EcO’s purpose was to create a regional system of learning to provide economic opportunities through education for residents in its partner communities.

The 21st Century Talent Region initiative is part of Holcomb’s Next Level agenda, which, among other things, seeks to boost economic development, and to improve education and career training across the state.

“We really were inspired by a lot of the work that has come forward from this region thus far,” Milo said during the event. “…This idea of the 21st Century Talent Region came from how do we build upon this momentum where we’re seeing such great results of people working together across these different disciplines to be able to make a difference in how we’re growing our population, of how we’re raising education attainment levels … and how are we raising our median household incomes and ensuring that people are connecting up with these really dynamic jobs that are coming forward.”

The governor’s office expects to name 12 talent regions by the end of 2020. As of last week, 10 regions have applied for the designation and around three to four others are in the planning stages of applying, said Jack Hess, executive director of CivicLab.

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