New residents a plus for Whitley County

Every county in northeast Indiana should be jealous of Whitley County — it will be receiving a population boost of 45 families.

The latest unemployment report released this week shows that nearly all of northeast Indiana’s counties remain below a 3 percent unemployment rate.

LaGrange has the lowest rate in the state at only 2 percent.

Economists consider “full employment” to be around 6 percent. Our area sits in a dangerous position because, without more people, our local companies will not be able top grow. Growth is the backbone to a healthy economy.

City and county officials recognize this and have championed all sorts of programs to attract and retain talent to the region. Most notably, last fall, the Whitley County Economic Development Corp. and Columbia City teamed up to launch a talent attraction campaign.

Now, in the coming weeks, Whitley County will be welcoming 45 new families to the area. The families are moving to the area because workers are transferring from a medical device facility in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, which was damaged by Hurricane Maria, to a facility in Warsaw.

Granted, moving to Indiana may not have been the families’ choice. But they are moving here and Whitley County is benefiting.

While Whitley County, like so many rural counties in northeast Indiana, has limited market-rate housing, it turns out the county has more to offer than Kosciusko.

Columbia City Mayor Ryan Daniel called the news “a huge win” for Whitley County, which has an unemployment rate of 2.5 percent, according to the most recent state data.

“There are huge benefits for us,” Daniel said. “Not only population growth but from an economic development perspective.”

While at least one member in each family will have a job lined up when they arrive, other family members may need to work as well, and children will help populate the schools. This means potential growth for local companies, more tax dollars and more school funding from the state.

Yet, despite the positive economic impact these families will have for the entire county, especially given the low unemployment rate, some residents would prefer the families “find work” on the hurricane-ravaged, financially strained island that is Puerto Rico right now.

Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States and Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. They can travel, live and work in the country without needing a visa or passport. In some sense, welcoming Puerto Rican families into you town is like welcoming folks from Texas after Hurricane Harvey ransacked their homes and places of employment.

As a region, we should be glad to have strong businesses that are bringing employees here to keep our communities thriving. We are happy to see the majority of the Whitley community welcoming these families with open arms.

We encourage people with skills looking for a job and a Hoosier lifestyle to consider northeast Indiana. We need you!

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