When asked to explain what nonprofit organization Conexus Indiana does in layman’s terms, Chief Talent Programs Officer Brad Rhorer puts it quite simply.
“We’re the driving force to make Indiana a global leader in advanced manufacturing and logistics,” Rhorer says.
Founded in 2007, Conexus Indiana accomplishes its mission by connecting manufacturers, logistics companies, academic partners and the public sector, to drive digital innovation, develop new talent and implement ideas that make us all stronger. The work of Conexus Indiana is important considering the scope of Indiana’s advanced manufacturing and logistics industry. As a matter of fact, manufacturing represents 30% of the state’s gross domestic product, employing one in five Hoosiers (more than 500,000 people, and more than 600,000 if you factor in logistics).
Having been with Conexus Indiana for four years now, Rhorer explains that the organization has adjusted all that it does since its start in 2007, in order to meet the industry’s needs.
“We were primarily focused on talent and other council initiatives to grow advanced manufacturing and logistics for the state, and raise the awareness of how important it is to our economy overall,” Rhorer says. “That has continued to evolve over the last decade and a half. In 2019 we switched to have an advanced manufacturing council, instead of it just being automotive, to incorporate everything manufactured in Indiana, which includes medical, food, and all sorts of industries with Cummins, Caterpillar, the RV industry and so forth.”
As one might expect, there was a lot that went into this shift in Conexus Indiana’s focus, Rhorer explains.
“Primarily, our focus pivoted due to a lot of different reports coming out of Brookings and the state on digital adoption and transformation, and then also the number of vacancies we had when it came to advanced manufacturing.” Rhorer says. “That evolution [in our organization] has taken place over the last three years, and we’ve continued to grow that focus in digital adoption and transformation and skills alignment.”
In addition to the number of advanced manufacturing and logistics jobs in Indiana, Rhorer points out that more than $650 billion in goods move through Indiana annually. This is made possible thanks to the state’s crossroads locale.
“We have the interstate system, we have rail, we have the airport, and we actually have three seaports,” Rhorer says. “A lot of people don’t realize that Indiana is truly positioned very well to serve all these logistical and supply-chain needs for our advanced manufacturers.”
From jet engines, aerospace and defense to automobiles and electric vehicles, the expanse of advanced manufacturing and logistics companies based in Indiana is truly vast.
“Eight-five percent of the world’s RVs are made in Indiana,” Rhorer says. “We have four automotive [original equipment manufacturers] in Indiana. Cummins is headquartered here. We’ve got Rolls-Royce. We serve a multitude of very large manufacturers that are the hub of the world when it comes to transportation, medical, safety, and just about everything you could think of that you deal with in your daily life.”
In order to ensure the advanced manufacturing and logistics industry continues to thrive in Indiana for years to come, Conexus Indiana has also strategically developed relationships with Indiana’s education leaders, to ensure the state’s workforce of the future is adequately prepared to meet industry needs.
“We spend a lot of time with the Commissioner for Higher Education Chris Lowery, and the Department of Education Secretary Dr. Jenner, to help inform what’s needed when it comes to education,” Rhorer says. “As we’re adopting technology, what’s needed from a student level is going to be a little bit different as we grow.”
Conexus Indiana also has nearly 140 companies that are members of the organization’s industry councils in some way, in order to keep their finger on the pulse of the advanced manufacturing and logistics industry.
“Are they having workforce issues?” Rhorer says. “Are they having supply-chain issues? Are they having technology adoption issues? We really try to understand what may be impeding them from growth and economic stability.”
To continue building upon the advanced manufacturing and logistics industry in the state, Conexus Indiana recognizes how crucial it is to keep its eyes on the future, ultimately ensuring Hoosiers reap the benefits of their hard work.
“To steal a line from Chris Lowery, the higher the educational attainment rate, the higher the participation rate and the higher the income earning,” Rhorer says. “We’re trying to ensure those pathways are clear for people to have better success in our fields. The average salary is over $79,000 a year in our industry, which is way better than the state and national average, so there’s a lot of opportunity there for growth.”
Conexus Indiana is currently based out of the 16 Tech district in downtown Indianapolis. To learn more about the organization, be sure to visit conexusindiana.com.