Economic Opportunities through Education (EcO)

Economic Opportunities through Education (EcO)

Creating a Collaborative Regional System of Lifelong Learning by Aligning Educational & Training Offerings with Economic Opportunity

by Stephanie Weber, Marketing & Outreach Director, Ec015 //

Southeast Indiana Regional Demographics

  • Ten counties
  • Mainly rural
  • 300,000 population
  • Population growth rate is relatively flat and will be in the future
  • Nearly one in three people work in advanced manufacturing. Manufacturing is the top employment sector in seven of the ten counties
  • Average wages for advanced manufacturing jobs in Southeast Indiana is $44,000, which is 25% higher than the next largest employment sector
  • Healthcare represents 10% of the workforce

For this very rural region in Southeast Indiana, focusing on talent and educational initiatives has proven to be the most effective way of insuring that a higher percentage of our population will be successful in achieving postsecondary attainment and increases the base of highly skilled workers Southeast Indiana has to offer to employers.


Dream It. Do It. Southeast Indiana
Dream It. Do It. Champions and Student Ambassadors











It is becoming more and more necessary for students to achieve some level of post-secondary education – skills certification, Associate Degree, or Bachelor’s degree – in order to have hope of economic well-being.

Sixty-six percent of all STEM jobs (and growing) in Southeast Indiana require at least a certification and/or an Associate Degree. Yet only 27.9% of adults in Southeast Indiana (24 years & older) have a certification, 2 year, or 4 year degree.

According to the Department of Workforce Development, Southeast Indiana needs to fill 500-800 advanced manufacturing & STEM jobs every year through 2018 and this trend remains steady through 2020.

Ec015 Overview Infographic


To address these two inter-related challenges, the EcO15 regional stakeholder network of school districts, secondary school career centers, local colleges and universities, employers, economic development, Chambers, community foundations, and workforce development organizations are pursuing strategies to develop future employees in technical careers by eliminating the divide between high school and college. The network is recruiting students at the high school level and guiding them “seamlessly” into postsecondary education, leading to certificates, associates degrees, and baccalaureate degrees in technical fields through Seamless Educational and Career Pathways. Sample projects underway:

  • Bartholomew County Works: A United Way pilot program that supports people in poverty through a process of becoming self-sufficient. Bartholomew County Works is halfway through a three-year pilot. Seventy percent of the members in the program have been employed for at least six months.
  • iGRAD: School-to-career program focused on keeping 8th-12th grade students in school through graduation and provide work-based learning experiences that will lead to career advancement opportunities, and or enrollment in a postsecondary institution leading to a rewarding career. Graduation rates are at 95% during iGrad’s first three years.
  • Dream It. Do It. (DIDI) Southeast Indiana Campaign: Focused on increasing awareness of Advanced Manufacturing/STEM related careers opportunities in Southeast Indiana. To achieve this goal, EcO15 and 29 DIDI Champions (high school educators/counselors) recruit 56 Student Ambassadors annually, assisting in expansion of the initiative and helping with marketing. Local DIDI Student Ambassadors help recruit middle school students into the high school Pre-Engineering and Career & Technical Education programs. Enrollments, awareness, and work-based learning have increased every year since 2007 when this campaign was launched.
  • Development of a network of sixty-seven advanced manufacturing integrated technology labs and associated programs located throughout the ten county region. The integrated technology labs & programs provide students with the opportunity to pursue education built around a curriculum of manufacturing/STEM.
  • Networks of Excellence in Healthcare: A regional network of stationary and mobile clinical simulation labs has been developed to ensure accreditation and advanced degree certifications for the regional health care industry. The ultimate goal of the group is to address regional shortages of nursing faculty, registered nurses, and other healthcare occupations. The network also focuses on improving patient care in the region.
  • Maverick Challenge: Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, Regional manufacturers, EcO15 County Coordinators, and DIDI Champions have partnered in the Maverick Challenge, a high school business planning challenge for students in Southern Indiana. This Challenge is a great opportunity to help students learn about viable career opportunities through entrepreneurship, and to network with and be mentored by community leaders.
  • Institute for Coalition Building: The Institute for Coalition Building’s stakeholder engagement model, developed by the Community Education Coalition, has been the used for continuous improvement of the networks, partnerships and projects. This process model has been used as a project management tool, bringing stakeholders together to resolve a specific project-based question. And the model has been used on broad community coalition building initiatives to define and work on a common agenda in the region, Indiana, and across the country.

Stephanie Weber 

As the Communications Director for a ten-county regional economic development initiative known as Economic Opportunities through Education (EcO15), Weber works with area EcO15 County Coordinators, Dream It. Do It. High School Champions and student ambassadors, industry leaders, and educational institutions (both secondary and post secondary) in the ten-county region that makes up Indiana Region 9: Bartholomew, Dearborn, Decatur, Franklin, Jackson, Jefferson, Jennings, Ohio, Ripley, and Switzerland Counties. The overarching goal of the initiative is to help each person move up at least one level or more in their education, training, or job placement within the region’s strongest economic clusters.

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