Kokomo ready to explode with growth
Mayor says suppliers looking to locate here; also, KPD searching for missing girl
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(Editor’s note: This story originally ran on March 17, but was removed for revision.)
The arrival of a new automotive battery plant and 1,400 new jobs sounds exciting. But there will be challenges to go with it. Kokomo is entering an era of economic and literal growth that hasn’t be seen in more than 30 years. According to Mayor Tyler Moore, additional investment may be on the horizon.
But with rapid growth comes rapid demands for the infrastructure to support it. Kokomo needs land. It needs to expand transportation and public safety services. It needs education, and it needs citizens to understand what is going on and how it will affect them.
This is just the beginning.
“We have Interested corporations that are vying for a location here,” said Moore. “I know we're not going to get them all, right? A lot of them may just see the exciting stuff going on and want to know the possibilities. They may not land here in Kokomo, but being somewhere else in the region can still work.”
With more than 1,400 new jobs coming from the Stellantis/Samsung SDI battery plant and electrolyte supplier SoulBrain, one must wonder where the companies will find the workers. As of December, Kokomo boasted an unemployment rate of just 4.7 percent. Approximately, 1,500 people in the community are unemployed.
Historically, Kokomo rarely drops below the four-percent threshold; it’s lowest unemployment rate was 2.2 percent in 1999. It is safe to presume that not every unemployed worker will be able to fill the jobs already announced.
“Fortunately, seven or eight years ago when we formed the North Central Indiana regional partnership, that started kind of a professional relationship, if you will, with our neighboring counties,” said Moore. “There's been more of a regional discussion, more of a regional approach to projects and such.
“We’ll pull the workforce from other areas throughout the region as needed, while recognizing that there's going to be a handful who will commute in, which is great. Eventually, some of them are going to come here and stay.”
Moore sees another benefit to the new technology jobs on the horizon. Young people entering the job market may choose to stay in Kokomo rather than seek employment in other parts of the country.
“The jobs that are coming are going to be similar to what the pay is now, if not more,” said Moore. “There's going to be a need for higher skilled labor. And so hopefully that will help curb some of the brain drain.”
Kokomo is ready to train people for the high-tech jobs. With four higher education institutions in the community, there are plenty of opportunities for people, young and old, to prepare themselves for employment with the companies setting up shop here.
“Ivy Tech (Community College) has been hugely instrumental in helping land the developments,” said Moore. “Stellantis and Samsung SDI knew Ivy Tech was already investing in its Industry 4.0 lab and they already had programs that they were working on with Stellantis for robotic technology and such.
“Chancellor Ethan Heicher and his staff have been meeting with the company officials to start looking at programs they can help craft to train the workforce. They love that Ivy Tech's out there. Everything fell into place so well for this.”
Having the jobs available isn’t enough to move Kokomo forward, however. There will be infrastructure to construct, public safety concerns to address, new housing needs. Growth doesn’t happen without an environment to accommodate it. Moore believes these components can be brought online in time to meet the need.
“There are developers looking at land for not just single-family residences or housing, but also housing complexes that include grocery stores and retail and commercial developments,” said Moore.
And there will be an influx of Korean nationals locating to the community. This is a cultural hurdle Moore knows Kokomo will need to clear. A presentation took place last week at Indiana University Kokomo in an attempt to begin acclimating local residents to Korean culture. It drew a capacity crowd of those interested in welcoming the Korean nationals to the community. But there are rumors circulating in some corners, feeding fears that all this investment will benefit Korea, not Kokomo.
“I don't know that even those of us who have been part of this project actually realize how much of an influx there will be of Koreans,” said Moore. “I know there are some who say all these 1,400 jobs in the battery plant are going to be Korean nationals. And it's not.
“I mean, there may be Korean nationals here, coming just to install the equipment because it's Korean-patented in nature. But it's not to the extent folks think. Some of the suppliers will have some Korean nationals as well, but they're still relying on the local workforce.”
Moore said that transportation and public safety also must be addressed to accommodate the growth ahead. A plan isn’t in place yet, but the city is preparing to develop one, he explained.
“The Korean nationals may need a little more extensive transit system,” said Moore. “They're not encouraged to own property, but to rent and hopefully live somewhat close by. They may have more of a reliance on shuttle services or even our trolley. We're going to start looking at the routes and how those may change.
“We'll also need to continue to work on public safety. So, we’ll continue to work on adding police officers and firefighters, but also getting that information to show that we're trending in the right direction.”
KPD searching for missing girl
UPDATE: Kelsie Thompson has been located, safe and unharmed, in Ohio.
On March 16, 2023, at about 9:14 a.m., officers of the Kokomo Police Department were dispatched to the 800 block of Rainbow Circle in reference to a report of a missing person. Officers were told that Kelsie Thompson, 25 years old of Kokomo, had not been seen or heard from since February 17, 2023, around 11:00 a.m. Officers followed up investigative leads; however, Kelsie Thompson has not been located.
Kelsie is described as a white female, 5'1" tall, 115 lbs., short dark hair, and tattoos on both the left and right arm. Kelsie is also described as having a tattoo of a red heart on her right thigh. Kelsie may be in need of medical assistance. Investigators are asking anyone with information on her whereabouts to contact local law enforcement immediately.
This case remains active for investigation. Anyone with additional information is asked to contact Detective Cameron Cunningham at (765) 456-7136 or the Kokomo Police Department Hotline at (765) 456-7017. You may also qualify for a cash reward by calling Central Indiana Crime Stoppers at 1-800-262-TIPS with your anonymous tip. Tips can also be submitted by utilizing the Tip411 app, or you can always report tips anonymously by downloading the "Kokomo PD" mobile app from the iOS or Google Play stores. You can also text a tip to us by texting "TIPKPD", then a space, then your tip, and send it to 847411.
Remember, all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
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