U.S. Sen. Todd Young (L), Republican, and Paragon Medical Inc. Chairman, President, CEO and co-founder Tobias “Toby” Buck discuss healthcare, the labor force and over-regulation Wednesday at Paragon in Pierceton. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
U.S. Sen. Todd Young (L), Republican, and Paragon Medical Inc. Chairman, President, CEO and co-founder Tobias “Toby” Buck discuss healthcare, the labor force and over-regulation Wednesday at Paragon in Pierceton. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
PIERCETON – Paragon Medical CEO, president and co-founder Toby Buck recommended that U.S. Sen. Todd Young read two books when Young stopped by Buck’s Pierceton office Wednesday.

The first one – “Reasons to Vote for Democrats: A Comprehensive Guide” – is 266 pages of blank pages. The second one – “Unraveled: Obamacare, Religious Liberty and Executive Power” is, according to amazon.com, “the definitive account of the battle to stop Obamacare from being woven into the fabric of America.”

Buck let Young borrow that one.

The books foreshadowed some of the topics covered at a 45-minute roundtable discussion at Paragon.

Young, a Republican, stopped at Paragon after a visit to DePuy-Synthes and before going to Wabash, learning as much as he could about the orthopedic industry. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in the 2016 election.

The first question Buck posed to Young was how he thought things were going overall. “You boys still got a lot of work to do,” Buck said.

Young replied, “Hoosiers are focused in the main on jobs and the economy. They care a lot about national security, too, but on both of those fronts, we’ve got plenty of work to do.”

Buck added tax, tort, health care and regulatory reform to that list.

“Maybe somewhere down the road, after we get those things tackled, and an infrastructure package – but right now we’re pretty intently focused on health care reform,” Young said.

“You think it’s going to get done or not?” Buck asked.

“It’s going to be close. I think it’s going to be close, which I know sounds like a hedge,” Young said.

Young said people may define success in different ways, but “we all want our economy to grow. We want, at the most base level, for us to stay safe and secure. There’s actually more common agreement, even on health care, than you might expect. I’ve got around and asked Democrats, ‘What would you do, is your preference to fix Obamacare or turn the page and move to something entirely different?’ And some of the ideas they put forward – let’s pay for value as opposed to volume – there’s some common ground. We can agree at least on these concepts. So I wish we could, as opposed to just having a strictly Republican package, I wish we could have a little buy-in because I have some concerns we’re just going to continue this civil war.”

Young said he believes Americans are beyond the anger of last year’s election and now are just demanding results, and that’s what he wants now that he’s in office.

On the alleged Russian collusion with the Trump campaign during last year’s election, Buck said the public wasn’t getting properly vetted information and asked, “This whole thing with Russia, are we chasing Casper the Ghost or is there some substance there?” He said all the “pissing and moaning” wasn’t helping the nation.

Young answered, “We’ve got our intelligence committees on the beat. We need to let them do their work. We’ve got (special investigator) Robert Mueller now assigned. There’s not a person in Washington that I’m aware of that doesn’t think he’s imminently qualified. So let’s focus on doing the people’s work and not get distracted. Easier said than done, but that’s what our goal should be.”

He said part of his mission statement as a senator was to do whatever he could “to make sure every Hoosier can participate in a growing economy.”

Buck said that was a broken record. “We enjoy a good economy here, especially in this county. We can’t find people who are qualified to work.”

Young said an underlying part of his mission statement was workforce development, whether that’s apprenticeship programs or unique ways to finance higher education.  “That’s making sure that people who require a safety net, social supports, have them, but these programs are designed in such a way that people can get back integrated into the workforce and lead the sort of dignified lives that everyone wants or should want.”

After Daniel Owens, Paragon Medical vice president of Global Advanced Manufacturing Group, showed Young some Paragon products, Buck talked about the economic impact orthopedic companies have on Indiana and the Kosciusko County area.

“You asked us what our greatest problem is here: labor. Qualified labor,” Buck said.

Young said he asked a lot of questions about that during his stop at DePuy. “It sounds like there’s regional efforts being made to connect Ivy Tech and local high schools and work with universities. If your problems are labor, they reflect the problems I see in every region around the state,” Young said.

Buck reiterated the problem was qualified labor. “And then you’ve got folks that think they want to work, don’t. And we’ve got too damn many people on legislative entitlement,”?he said.

“Yeah, well, that’s our challenge. That’s our problem,” Young responded, “because I think every American wants to make sure that there’s some emergency net there, but we don’t want ... perverse disincentives to work to trap people in the safety nets that it becomes a cage.”

He said that was something he was working on in the Senate, and asked Buck how he was dealing with his labor challenges. From several Paragon officers, Young heard about the company’s active apprenticeship programs, breaking down labor into various skill sets, and moving people in and out faster. He heard Paragon is pulling in people that don’t necessarily want to work and it’s trying to adjust its work practices to what the labor market bears.

“We’re almost down to the unemployables,” Buck said.

Owens told Young more about Paragon’s apprenticeship program, but it was difficult to find people for it.

“If you’re not from the area, there’s not a big draw. You don’t have family here, there’s not a big draw to attract talent. That’s just the facts,” Owens said.

Everyone present agreed the area was a “great place to raise a family,” but it had no entertainment draw or other “quality of place.”

Kathy Heuer, Indiana Medical Device Manufacturers Council, said it was the young guys within three or four years of finishing school that were difficult to attract to the area.

That’s the professional level, Owens said. Then there’s the hourly worker, which Paragon is desperately in need of but can’t find and keep. Where the industry has failed America is getting rid of the apprenticeship programs, Owens said, and while Paragon has one, there’s only so much he can do. Big companies like Zimmer Biomet and DePuy-Synthes don’t have apprenticeship programs.

“It’s a skilled trade. It’s not 12 weeks of training. It takes four years to properly train a machinist to be a really valuable employee,” he said.