With 117 lakes, Noble County (population 47,744) offers plenty of recreational opportunities, especially for those who enjoy water sports and outdoor activities.
But the county also needs jobs to support those people and families who want to live there.
Fortunately, most Noble County businesses large and small survived the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, although unemployment did go up to almost 30% last April but dropped quickly, said Gary Gatman, executive director of Noble County Economic Development.
“Manufacturers across the county are hiring in large numbers as many are experiencing significant increases in manufacturing activity and have sales projections that indicate continued growth going forward,” he said.
The WorkNoble portal (a job-search site for living-wage jobs in Noble County) as of last week listed more than 400 high-paying jobs.
Gatman said small businesses have done fairly well, too. “Of note, in Noble County, nearly eight out of every 10 businesses employ 10 or fewer workers — making the small business community a critical component of the Noble County economy.”
The community has strongly supported these businesses through a shop local campaign, small business survival grants and direct assistance when needed.
Asa result of the community’s efforts, unemployment is back down to 3.9%, which is close to the county’s pre-pandemic rate.
When asked about Noble County’s biggest asset, Gatman said without question, it’s the people. “People in Noble County work hard, enjoy the outdoors, take care of one another, and are always looking out for their community. The most recent example of this is the outpouring of support that Noble County residents offered to small businesses that were being impacted by the pandemic. Because Noble County residents stepped up and supported our small businesses, the county has seen very few small business closures.”
Noble County has much in common with its neighbors, such as Steuben County, with an abundance of lakes and small, charming communities. Gatman asked a Noble County businessman to comment on what sets Noble apart from other places.
Roy Williams, owner of Airframe Components, said, “Noble County is the perfect place to build and grow my business for many reasons. I enjoy the quality of life here, which offers a low cost of living and affordable housing. Our communities have terrific schools, hospitals, parks and trails and a great deal of Midwest common sense. County government is business-friendly and is constantly seeking to support and attract business rather than stifle it. Geographically, the county is centrally located in the U.S. and is only a short drive to Chicago, Detroit, and Indianapolis. And finally, Noble County is close to I-80/90 and I-69, providing easy access for exports that we ship worldwide. Overall, Noble County offers everything that we need to grow and be successful.”
Living in Noble County, residents have the choice of living in the country, living on a lake or living in one of the county’s small towns. Kendallville is the largest, with a population of 9,347, followed by Ligonier (4,654), Avilla (2,538) and Albion, the county seat (2,477).
Dexter Axle in Albion is the largest employer in Noble County. Other large manufacturers include Creative Liquid Coatings, Carlex Glass, Kraft-Heinz, TI Automotive, Tenneco, Bosch and Mobex Global.
Like its neighboring counties, Noble County does have several suppliers to the RV industry. “However, the manufacturing sector in Noble County is increasingly diverse with significant employment in manufacturing related to food processing, automotive, industrial equipment/machinery, and medical devices,” Gatman said.
Challenges for the county include ensuring industries have enough talent now and in the future. Employers will continue to need workers with more advanced skills, Gatman said.
“This is why the EDC and its partners are focused on the development of new and innovative training programs that will focus on 21st century skills such as robotics, automation and programming. The development and roll-out of talent development programs such as these will ensure that industry partners have the talent they need for decades to come.”
As for quality of life, Gatman refers to the lakes, with a variety of real estate ranging from small weekend cottages to year-around lake homes.
For those who have a boat but don’t have lake access, 35 public access sites ensure they can put their boat in the water and swim, fish or just enjoy being on the water.
Landlubbers can enjoy camping, hiking, biking and golf as well as adult/youth sports leagues and complexes.
In addition, Chain O’ Lakes State Park is in Noble County, as well as a unique establishment, the Black Pines Animal Sanctuary, open for guided tours by appointment. Not a roadside zoo, Black Pines is a sanctuary established in 2000 to provide refuge to displaced, captive-raised exotic animals and to educate people about responsible animal care and conservation. They do not buy, sell, breed, trade, or use animals for commercial purposes.