Shrinking Workforce Remains a Concern for Starke County

Starke County’s unemployment rate continues to drop, but concerns remain for economic development officials.

Ron Gifford with the Starke County Economic Development Foundation told the Hamlet Town Council last week that the unemployment rate went from 4.4 percent in July to 3.6 percent in September, but it’s still the fifth-highest in the state. “I want people to realize that we are not on an island,” Gifford said. “As you’ll see, five of the seven counties that make up Northwest Indiana are in the top 10. And then we’ve got a little pocket down on the Illinois line further south and a couple weird ones over on the other side. The top 10 lowest, they’re sort of two counties here and two counties there and two counties somewhere else.”

On top of that, Gifford said the number of people in Starke County’s labor force has gone down for four straight months. “We’ve lost 534 people from the labor force since January of this year,” he said. “And I try to track it with Northwest Indiana, as well . . . and they’ve lost 5,261 people since January.”

Gifford blamed the loss of manufacturing jobs for the bulk of Northwest Indiana’s unemployment issues, but he said there’s also another factor. “When Regional Cities came along, North Central Indiana got Regional Cities. The Fort Wayne area got Regional Cities,” Gifford explained. “And then when Stellar came along, nobody over here in this region other than North Liberty, which is close, and Culver, which is close, have ever been named a Stellar Community, as well, and that’s big dollars that go in to help you make your community better. And we’re not getting any of that.”

Constellation of Starke is trying to change that. It’s one of four finalist regions for this year’s Stellar designation. The winner will be announced in December.