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Chamber President and CEO Visits the South Bend Campus

Aug 18, 2014

Jeff Rea, the president and CEO of the St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce, spoke to the students, staff, and faculty on his visit to the South Bend Campus.  He said, “Attitude, work ethic, a want to do it, and great effort will lead to becoming a successful employee.”   Mr. Rea highlighted that as a college grad he had to start at the bottom in a pharmacy retail business doing custodian work in order to become a manager.  Later, he entered the political field as a volunteer in the city’s planning office and that led to his hiring as a city planner.  That position led to his being named the economic director for the city of Mishawaka.  In 2003, encouraged by his colleagues, he ran for mayor, won, had an operating budget of $125 million and 150,000 people who owned stock in the city.  After seven years as mayor, the local chamber of commerce chose him to lead a chamber with 1,100 business members. 

The chamber is the economic development arm for the county with a visitor’s bureau which has jobs that depend on people from outside the community coming in and spending money.  “Employers demand that employees be trained,” said Mr. Rea.  “It is an ‘Employers Market.’”  By 2019, 80% of the employees will need advanced degrees, currently 70% of the employers now ask for advanced education.  He used a local company as an example which had 1,000 applications for 30 jobs.  The job seekers were given a plant tour while the employer observed them on hidden cameras.  Sixty of the 1,000 who demonstrated enthusiasm, curiosity, and attentiveness were chosen to be interviewed.

“Our community needs good ambassadors to stress arts, culture, sports, and most of all education,” said Mr. Rea.  “Developing talent for the workforce means jobs are moving to people’s talent thus encouraging educational initiatives.”  A stress has been put on the chamber members’ internship programs with 75 businesses on board and a goal of 500 businesses participating.   Chamber programs include: the established Community Leadership Program, new Executive Program, Young Leaders Program, Young Professional Network, and an Emerging Leaders Network.  He encouraged the students to get involved with these groups and to network with local employers.

Jeff said healthcare and manufacturing are expected to have the largest growth of employment in the area.  Healthcare will grow within the two hospital systems and two new Medical Memory Practices, nine new senior facilities, and the Notre Dame Cancer Research facility.   Manufacturing will need professionals as product managers and IT employees to fill hiring needs.  Trends to come are in advanced manufacturing, warehouse distribution, life sciences and IT as the area has both affordable power sources and major fiber connectivity.   The challenge is being ready with the educated talent and that talent will come from American National University graduates.

Pictured left to right are: Mary Mathews, career center director of the South Bend Campus, Jeff Rea,  President  and CEO of the St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce, and Tina Bonne, campus director of the South Bend Campus.

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