In this part of the midwest, the problem isn’t china. it’s too many jobs. – the washington post o goshi judo


Cummins, a global engine builder based in Columbus, recently opted to open its new distribution center an hour north in Indianapolis, where the labor market is much larger. (Columbus is the seat of Bartholomew County, which also has a 2 percent unemployment rate.)

Companies in Warsaw probably would not move manufacturing jobs abroad, said Hicks, who follows the region. Firms are more likely to transition to Indianapolis or Chicago, he said, since quality control is crucial for medical implants, and businesses want to protect their designs from foreign competitors.

Warsaw’s orthopedic device industry, a $17 billion cluster, started here in 1895, sprouting from a fiber splint company. Zimmer followed in 1927, bringing aluminum splints to the market (and merging with Biomet, another skeletal-part manufacturer, in 2015). Other firms flourished, peddling hip implants, artificial femurs and bone plates for children.

Over the past 18 months, Zimmer Biomet has updated its plant technology to further boost efficiency. The neatly manicured campus has one-legged robots that swoop up and down like yellow flamingos, as well as an employee gym, a cadaver lab and a coffee bar serving Starbucks.

The orthopedic sales market is expected to grow about 4 percent each year through 2020, analysts predict, and Zimmer Biomet also strives to hit that target. That’s thanks to the aging population, plus the fact that older people today live longer and are more active. Keeping up with consumer need, however, is already difficult.

The company has asked machinists to log more overtime hours, he said. It has brought in 30 workers from Puerto Rico and a few more from New Jersey, paying for their apartments and cars. It has donated $50,000 to the local school system’s STEM programs and $2 million for a nearby college’s science center. It has underwritten another $2 million for the city’s YMCA.

By contrast, Warsaw has seen its population increase, ticking up to 14,289 from 12,689 in 2000. County data shows that surgical appliance manufacturing employment in the area — which covers orthopedic device production — swelled to 6,803 jobs in 2015 from 5,003 in 2005.

Paul Osterman, a professor of human resources at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, said large firms tend to expand where the population is denser. That way, if a talent need emerges, they can simply beef up compensation and more easily attract workers.

Manufacturing vacancies at Warsaw’s orthopedic companies reached about 300 last year, not including open positions at local suppliers, said Brad Bishop, executive director at Orthoworx, a nonprofit organization that supports Warsaw businesses.

The industry’s bind is also tightened by a common misconception that factory work is dirty or inferior to career paths a four-year degree will open, he said. But machinists certified in high school or local technical programs can step into jobs that pay about $50,000 annually — roughly the state’s median wage.

Tom Till, director of Ivy Tech Community College’s Orthopedic and Advanced Manufacturing Training Center, said Zimmer Biomet and other local firms offered to pay the tuition of his first group of high school manufacturing trainees, who graduated last month with a machining certification.

Middle school students drive ­remote-controlled cars they built in a robotics course, slamming them together in a makeshift demolition pen. Juniors and seniors operate machinery that the local orthopedic companies helped fund, shaping titanium rods into polished discs.