The 1si conference focuses on the impact of the epidemic on business | News

  The 1si conference focuses on the impact of the epidemic on business |  News

This is a new event from 1si that featured a day of speakers, panel discussions and networking focused on various aspects of business in Southern Indiana.

John Mittel, co-founder of the sparkling water company Phocus, was the keynote speaker for the event, and panels of local business leaders focused on small business collaboration and regional growth.

In the Louisville Metro area, Dufrene projects that job losses will be recovered by the end of the year or early next year, and he noted that labor shortages will present obstacles to growth.


Story Highlights

  • One Southern Indiana presented the OneForum Business Education Conference Wednesday at The Refinery in Jeffersonville.

  • Uric Dufrene, Sanders Chair in Business at Indiana University Southeast, provided an economic forecast for the Southern Indiana and Louisville area.

Labor shortages were one of the key focuses of Dufrene’s talk, and he noted that the situation may hasten investments in automation and technology as businesses struggle to find workers.

“How do we meet demand — how does a business meet demand with existing labor shortages?” Dufrene said. “Well, it’s capital versus labor. Maybe we can invest in equipment, maybe we can invest in machinery to meet the demand as opposed to expanding our labor force in some cases.”

One of the challenges moving forward will be matching skills supply with jobs demand, he said. “What I think will happen because of all of this is you’re going to see a greater polarization in skill versus unskilled,” he said. “This was a significant discussion prior to the pandemic, and I think this will only intensify after the pandemic. You can’t just invest in some expensive machinery without some skills to operate it.”

Dufrene said there has been a recording-breaking increase in average wages across Southern Indiana. He projects that the “competitive landscape” for small businesses will intensify following the pandemic due to higher wages. “When you increase your wages, you can’t come back two months from now and say, well now we’re going to decrease our wages — especially when you have a labor scarcity situation,” he said.

ADAPTING TO THE TIMES In his keynote speech, Mittel discussed both the origins of his sparkling water company and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the business.

The idea was to provide an healthy alternative to sugary sodas and energy drinks that could also keep people energized. The drinks are infused with tea-derived caffeine. Phocus launched in October 2017, and is distributed across the country. Mittel moved to New York City in May 2019 for the expansion of Phocus in the city and throughout the Northeast. As the company was continuing to grow and “build a really big success story,” the pandemic hit.

While Mittel was attending medical school at UofL, he partnered with co-founder Tom O’Grady to start Phocus, which offers caffeinated sparkling water. Mittel is from Louisville, and he graduated from the University of Louisville Speed School of Engineering with a degree in industrial engineering and worked at GE as a supply chain engineer.