Eleven years ago, Johnson County had one business that employed hundreds of local residents.
When automotive parts supplier ArvinMeritor closed its doors in Franklin in 2004, more than 800 people lost their jobs, and communities were devastated.
Now, the makeup of the county’s workforce has changed. The county’s top employer is Center Grove schools, which employs more than 900 people.
Right behind Center Grove with 800 jobs is KYB Americas, an automotive manufacturer, and Johnson Memorial Hospital, which employs about 760 people.
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The county still has thousands of manufacturing jobs among its largest companies, including KYB, NSK Precision America, Endress+Hauser, Mitsubishi and Caterpillar.
But in 2014, the top employment sector was retailing due to the growth in Johnson County over the past 10 years. About 20,000 people moved to the county since 2003, and boutiques, grocery stores and restaurants followed them, creating thousands of part-time and full-time jobs in retail and food service.
Food service, which includes servers, bartenders and caterers, also was a top industry, making up more than 13 percent of local jobs last year.
“(Retail) is going to come here,” said Cheryl Morphew, president and chief executive officer of the Johnson County Development Corp.
“We would like to think it’s because we are working with our communities to help create an environment that is conducive to creating jobs. Why? Jobs bring people who need services and housing — all of which drives retail.”
After retail, jobs in health care, manufacturing and education make up the top sectors of employment in Johnson County, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Manufacturing used to be the main sector for employment, but Johnson County has diversified in terms of area employers, local officials said. In 2001, manufacturing made up nearly 19 percent of all jobs in Johnson County; but by last year, that percentage had dropped to 11.3.
Jobs in health care have significantly grown in Johnson County throughout the past 15 years, with more than 2,500 jobs at nearly 100 new workplaces added.
“Primary care facilities, like Johnson Memorial Hospital and Community South Hospital, want to be near high population centers,” Morphew said. “As a result, support services like MRI centers, specialists, etc., want to be near to primary care facilities. A primary reason our health care sector has grown.”
With a variety of employers in the area, the county will not take a huge hit if one industry struggles, as the automotive industry did years ago, Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness said.
Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers said he would like to see more pharmaceutical or research and development companies open in the city.
He said he would like Emerson Avenue to be a destination for businesses to set up shop, and bringing pharmaceutical companies into Greenwood would help the existing health care market.
Myers also would like to see more upscale niche stores, such as Trader Joe’s, open in the area. Recently, Costco announced plans to open a store on the Indianapolis side of County Line Road.
“We’re really lacking that high-end food market,” Myers said.
In recent years, local officials have worked to bring new types of companies to the area and encourage local businesses to expand.
In 2014, Greenwood offered an extended tax break to ULTA Beauty so it would build a distribution center in the area. In Franklin, where multiple automotive manufacturers are located, Interstate Warehousing, a cold storage facility, and Sargent Aerospace, a company that makes parts for planes and helicopters, recently expanded.
But not every venture is a success.
Nearly three years ago, Franklin was not selected to get Abbott Nutrition, which makes nutritional products including Similac, PediaSure, Gain, Ensure and Glucerna, after putting in a bid. And Elona Biotechnologies, a pharmaceutical firm Greenwood helped back, failed after not getting federal approval for the low-cost insulin it was developing.
Despite working to lure other industries into the area, manufacturing will remain a focus here because of the county’s location and workforce, officials said.
“From a skill set strength, the manufacturing section is clearly a strong suit for Johnson County,” Morphew said. “When (European business people) talk to area employers or staffing services, they know firsthand that we have a lot of high-skilled talent that can make things.”
That’s why recently companies such as KYB, NSK, Mitsubishi and HETSCO have chosen to grow here, Morphew said.
“We’ve been identified as an area (that excels) in advanced manufacturing,” McGuinness said. “We in Johnson County, we make stuff, and we do a great job at that.”
“We in Johnson County, we make stuff, and we do a great job at that.”
Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness