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Elkhart Area Susceptible to Automation, Study Says

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The Elkhart-Goshen metro area is the third most likely in the country to be affected by automation, according to a new report from the Brookings Institution.

This story by Rasmus S. Jorgensen originally appeared in The Elkhart Truth.

Only Dalton, Ga., and Kokomo, Ind., have a higher automation potential, the report said. Automation potential refers to the share of tasks in an occupation that could be automated with current technologies, and for the Elkhart-Goshen area, that applies to 54.6 percent. Indiana, at 48.7 percent average automation potential, is highest among states, while New York is lowest at 42.4 percent.

“Elkhart has been advantaged by being heavily reliant on manufacturing, and specifically recreational vehicles,” said Rachel E. Blakeman, community research institute director at Purdue University Fort Wayne.

“And RVs have been one of the most labor-intensive vehicles, because it’s not automated in the same way as, say, assembly of pickup trucks here in Fort Wayne is. But those days may not last forever and are likely not to,” she said.

Automation is likely to mean a loss of some manufacturing jobs, observers said.

“Here in Fort Wayne, our share of people working in manufacturing has gone down, and our share of manufacturing GDP has gone up, so we’re actually producing more goods with fewer people,” she said.

The hope would be that people who are laid off could go into new or growing industries.

Indiana’s and Elkhart County’s mostly flat population growth may work to their advantage given the possibility of a surplus of people who may be looking for employment, Blakeman said.

“As much as we would like to have more people move to Indiana, the reality is it’s not happening on a broad scale in the same way that it’s happening in Texas or the Carolinas,” she said.

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