By Heath Murray, Portfolio Director & Partner
Growing up in Greene County, Indiana (coal country, if you will) my childhood was soundtracked by the twanging guitars of Hank Williams Jr., Alan Jackson, and Keith Whitley, alongside rock legends like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. These artists, blasting from the speakers of my father’s Bronco II after summer evening baseball games shaped my very diverse music taste.
Music has always been a significant influence in my life, guiding both my personal interests (yes, I mean DnD) and professional endeavors (the Midwest Defense ecosystem) - even my LinkedIn tagline nods to ‘Minor Threat.’
A standout track that encapsulates the depth of rock ‘n roll's influence in my life and the seemingly unrelated workforce development in the Midwest Defense ecosystem, is Ronnie James Dio’s “Rainbow in the Dark.” (If you don’t know who Ronnie James Dio was, we’re probably not friends, but you can find more here).
‘Rainbow in the Dark’ was inspired by Dio himself. According to heavy metal folklore, Dio was fighting with self-doubt, isolation, and worry about not utilizing his talents to his fullest potential and being kept from what he should be - a literal ‘rainbow in the dark.’
The Midwest’s defense ecosystem thrives thanks to a small, yet rich talent pool of cybersecurity experts, microelectronics specialists and technicians, and engineers of numerous fields of study.
Drawing from my own experiences leading small businesses within NSWC Crane’s hemisphere, I know firsthand the massive challenges of hiring, training, and retaining - challenges that echo across the DoD nationwide like a Dio guitar solo.
Despite massive hurdles, significant investments from the state, nonprofits, and academic institutions are fueling progress and offering resources for workforce development.
Workforce development programs are booming everywhere across the nation and Indiana is no exception.
The nucleus of our defense ecosystem, NSWC Crane, is spearheading and transforming the Indiana Uplands region into a cutting-edge innovation hub.
Organizations like Regional Opportunity Initiatives (ROI) and Radius Indiana are offering attractive incentives like the “Defense Sector Talent Attraction Program” to draw DoD-contracted employees to the Uplands region.
For the Boilermakers in our state, Purdue’s $49 million dollar investment in its Birck Nanotechnology Center, in collaboration with Ivy Tech Community College, is creating a stream of skilled microelectronics professionals.
Not to be outdone (the rivalry carries beyond basketball), Indiana University is pouring a $111 million dollar investment, into semiconductor education and research, including adding 25 new faculty members and specialized degree programs.
This is fantastic news as these incentives and investments grow, but now small businesses must learn, shedding self-doubt, and focus on growing a trusted and well-paid workforce.
When Greg Sapp and I launched our recruitment initiative at Artisan Electronics a few years back (when we both still worked there) we had zero clue about what we were doing.
Regardless, we dove in headfirst to that ‘Midnight Sea.’
In 2017, we secured a significant subcontract with GDIT, ballooning our newly formed cyber division from two to twenty-five full-time employees in under two years, while keeping our turnover rate below 3%.
We couldn’t offer top salaries or benefits, but we excelled in listening and addressing our growing team’s needs.
We maximized our tuition reimbursement funds and secured workforce grants and awards to offset salary costs that allowed us to foster a summer intern program with nine budding professionals in engineering, electronics, and cybersecurity. This was possible through leveraging initiatives like the EARN Indiana program, Ivy Tech’s Cyber Academy located at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, and the Indiana Technical Assistance Program (INTAP).
We even won an award for Excellence in Career and Technical Education (CTE) from the Indiana Department of Education in partnership with Ivy Tech!
Pictured (from left to right): Jennie Vaughn (Chancellor, Ivy Tech), Chris Carroll (Cyber Chair), Greg Sapp (COO), Heath Murray (Cyber Manager) (Photo from 2020)
Our naivety led us to unconventional marketing and recruiting, like scribbling our contact info on sticky notes and slapping them on potential recruits (we forgot our business cards) or chasing potential candidates if they were so unlucky to make eye contact and not talk to us. We even salvaged discarded resumes from other employers at job fairs.
We even created our own propaganda (photo on left).
We didn’t always get it right, but we were relentless!
So, unlike “Rainbow in the Dark’s’ haunting chorus,
“There’s no sight of the morning coming,
You’ve been left on your own.”
We, as Hoosiers, in the defense ecosystem, actually can see the light of morning, and indeed, have not been left on our own, we just have to reach out for that rainbow and light up the dark ourselves.