“Competent Men, Diversified Industry”

The opening of the new high school complex on Western Hill in the fall of 1969 confirmed deep connections between education and the community in Connersville. If not for the connections between businesses and education, the new curriculum would not have been shaped in the way that it was — in favor of business courses and instructional models that taught students for a specific trade. The fact that the school corporation secured a $2,000,000 federal grant for the construction of the vocational program demonstrates the commitment to the growing labor force.

Everything about the new high school was geared towards students moving on — whether it was vocational courses pushing them toward a specific trade or the layout of the complex (being a number of different buildings that students have to walk between) that introduced students to what it would be like walking and going between classes on a college campus. The new complex had students thinking about their future and what they would do beyond high school, but not necessarily beyond Connersville. Graduates of the new curriculum were prepared for jobs like no other class before, and specifically, for jobs that were available in Connersville.

The students and school were not the only ones promoting for their careers after graduation. The Connersville Chamber of Commerce and the Connersville News-Examiner released a number of publications and job advertisements after the opening of the vocational school that addressed the increased trained labor force. Whether in the form of advertisements for jobs or attempts to attract new business and industry to Connersville, these publications were advocating for the labor force throughout the community. By looking at both advertisements – those looking for labor and those looking to bring business – we can see a fuller picture of what the community found attractive about the new education system for both labor and owners.

The Chamber of Commerce produced multiple publications, the first of which came in 1971, that lauded the new education buildings and their unique educational approach. A 1975 brochure remarked that the “Connersville area has a unique educational system that equals or surpasses most urban area systems in programs, facilities, and effectiveness.”[1] In addition, they argued that every “industry or commercial concern that does business in Connersville… finds that it can draw from an excellent labor pool. Some of the industries have trade-union affiliation, and all find that there are plenty of skilled and semiskilled workers available. There are sufficient unskilled but trainable workers, too.”[2]

Again in 1975, they insisted that “Connersville industries draw from a dependable labor pool. Skilled and semiskilled workers are available for a wide range of industrial specialties, and others can be trained in desired fields through the facilities of the Connersville Vocational School.”[3] These publications, created in order to attract new businesses and industry to the community, obviously spoke well of the community and the education system – that was their purpose. However, there must be some truth to their claims given the success of job retention in Connersville, the increasing number of people employed in the city, and the continuing growth of vocational education at the high school.

The vocational school was emphasized whenever the community discussed education. Though still a part of the high school, since it did not have its own extracurricular activities, teams, or mascots, the vocational school was largely considered a separate entity by businesses. In comparison to discussions of the high school curriculum, the language of the vocational education program emphasized its marketability and its students, even emphasizing the money, saying that the Indiana Vocational Technical College is open to all persons 16 years or older and was created to provide quality training opportunities at the lowest possible cost. Part of the attraction of the vocational school to businesses was the cost – if they would not have to train their employees once they joined the labor force, it would save them money. Training was cheaper in schools, instead of training on the job.

These publications treat education as though it was a business. The Chamber calls the School Board “progressive” and argues that “its schools are pacesetters in education and that cultural and recreational opportunities abound throughout the region.”[4] The publications also discuss the new school as though it were an industry: “Physical-plant improvement is a constant goal, resulting recently in an ultramodern, college-like high school complex; a broad-ranging, sophisticated vocational school; and additional regular and special-purpose classrooms for the 10 elementary schools.”[5]  Business practices in both language and form have continually shaped American schools throughout the twentieth century, and Connersville is no exception.

In fact, the comments of the Chamber of Commerce are supported by outside evaluation. In May of 1969, Huff-Neidigh and Associates of South Bend, Indiana, published a Comprehensive Area Plan for Fayette County that “sets forth the inventory and analysis of population, economy, use of land, traffic, and community facilities and utilities.”[6] The document established a current evaluation of Connersville and Fayette County, and articulated a six-year and twenty-year city and county plan for continuing prosperity. The important thing here is the document’s analysis of industry attraction and retention:

Industry is attracted to readily accessible land, adequate expansion potential, transportation facilities, water supply, moderate taxes, and, to a lesser extent, labor force availability in the regional area. Industries are increasingly seeking new plant locations removed from the problems of the nation’s larger urban centers. Comparatively recent industrial growth in Connersville supports this trend. Public attitude or policy toward future industrial growth is an important consideration…The policy inherent in establishing vocational training at the new Fayette County High School and the industrial attraction activities of the Connersville Chamber of Commerce reflect a positive labor retention policy.[7]

In a community analysis, written before the opening of the new vocational school, an outside firm determined that the vocational training reflected a positive labor retention policy, arguing that the vocational program was a benefit to both the industries – that would have a labor force – and the community – that would attract business.

However, as industries have slowly left Connersville for greener pastures since 1980, the community has shifted as population has slowly declined to around 13,000 in the city itself. Deindustrialization has hit Connersville in similar ways to other cities throughout the Rust Belt since the 1970s as industry has relocated itself to other areas of the United States or simply out of the United States all together.

[1] Connersville Chamber of Commerce, Connersville, Indiana, “A Unique Educational Approach,” 1975, 15.

[2] Connersville Chamber of Commerce, Connersville, Indiana, “The Cornfield That Grew An Industrial Idea,” 1971, 20.

[3] Connersville Chamber of Commerce, Connersville, Indiana, “A Healthy Diversity,” 1975, 20.

[4] Connersville Chamber of Commerce, Connersville, Indiana, “Come, Grow With Us,” 1971.

[5] “A Unique Educational Approach,” 1975, 15.

[6] Huff-Neidigh and Associates, Comprehensive Plan for Fayette County, Indiana (South Bend, Indiana: Huff-Neidigh and Associates, 1969).

[7] Comprehensive Plan for Fayette County, 149-150.