A report published by Ball State's Center for Business and Economic Research gives some insight into obstacles and opportunities for attracting jobs in manufacturing and logistics in the South.

After all, there's not a governor around the South (or anywhere else) who isn't interested in job creation.

The center's director, Michael Hicks, got married in Charleston and has lived in Savannah and worked at the research center at the University of Tennessee before landing at his current gig, so he's familiar with the South.

He's not too surprised by the scores our Southern states recorded in the human capital area of the 2013 Manufacturing and Logistics National Report. (See the study at postand courier.com.) Human capital measures education and skill level. It's a solid barometer that economists across the political spectrum say is a reliable indication of a region's growth potential, Hicks said.

Able to learn

Virginia and North Carolina got the best rankings of the bunch, and they each got a C. The rankings go downhill from there.

“The metrics that really hurt the South in general ... are all about educational attainment,” Hicks said.

In other words, we need an educated and trainable workforce.

“It's not just current levels of educational attainment, but future levels,” he explained by phone Thursday.

There are two forces at play that should put manufacturing on the radar in the region.

Typical turnover in the workforce is around 10 percent to 11 percent a year, Hicks said, but that's going to accelerate to 12 percent to 15 percent a year as the workforce retires.

“The actual demands for workers are going to increase even if the net number (of jobs) does not,” Hicks said.

Second, and what that Kentucky program works to emphasize, is that the information technology requirements for the manufacturing sector have been shifted from the factory office to the individual workstation, Hicks said.

“People who are canning tomatoes at the canning stations are going to have to understand statistical process control and use touch screens,” Hicks said. “As businesses are looking for employees to replace that turnover in manufacturing, they're going to use education as a signal that they're teachable people.”

New trades instruction

Ideally, Hicks said, a successful employee will have an associate degree in manufacturing technology, or a certificate, or at least several courses at the technical college level.

A good place to start is resurrecting vocational education programs to meet that need, he said. These are not the shop classes you remember from the 1970s; it's teaching shop floor statistics, math for construction trades. You might never start a machine, but you'd better be able to use a touch screen and apply some mathematical training.

And it also involves expanding the educational mindset to more fully encompass and embrace the students who are not in the college preparatory track, showing that a successful future can take many paths.

Reach Melanie Balog at 937-5565 or mbalog@postandcourier.com.