Brinegar Speaks on Indiana Budget, Speedway Upgrades

Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar sat down with Inside INdiana Business recently to discuss the most pressing topics in the state legislature as the end of session nears. See the video on IIB:

A bill that would create a tax district to fund upgrades at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway continues to make its way through the legislature. Some lawmakers want to add guarantees that would protect state funds if the facility would be sold. In this week's INside the Statehouse segment, Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar says he's "cautiously optimistic" the legislation will pass.

Our partners at Network Indiana/WIBC report a proposed amendment to the bill calls for the speedway to receive a portion of the money the horse racing industry now receives as a loan, rather than forming a tax district. The chance would also give an additional $5 million to the Indiana Economic Development Corp. for other motorsports industry efforts.

Brinegar says the Indiana House and Senate are not too far apart on a two-year state budget. He believes the final product will look closest to the Senate's proposal, which passed through committee last week. That plan includes a smaller individual income tax cut than the 10 percent proposed by Governor Mike Pence and an increase in K-12 funding by more than $330 million. Pence has called the proposal "a good start."

Differences also remain on education issues. The Senate has passed a bill that would halt the implementation of Common Core standards. House Education Committee Chairman Bob Behning (R-91) has refused to hear the bill because he believes the standards should move forward.

Good News Continues for Indiana Brewers

Earlier this year, I was fortunate to get to work on a BizVoice story about brewing in Indiana. As Indiana’s breweries continue to battle the "big guys" for market share, it appears the "drink local" movement has the momentum. Inside INdiana Business’ Gerry Dick spoke with Brewers of Indiana Guild President Ted Miller about the state of the industry, pointing about that the breweries are growing all over the state now. Watch the interview:

Indiana’s emerging craft beer industry is showing no signs of slowing down. The Brewers of Indiana Guild says there are 49 breweries in the state with another 12 on tap, boosted by an increasing trend among consumers to buy local. The state has been behind other areas of the country in jumping into the craft beer craze, but the guild says it now ranks 25th in breweries per capita. Guild President Ted Miller discusses the state of the industry during an appearance on Inside INdiana Business Television.

Indiana Unemployment High, Yet Qualified Workers Still Hard to Find

It seems counterintuitive that with so many Hoosiers out of work, employers are having a difficult time finding qualified applicants. But our friends at Inside INdiana Business issued a release today that some might find surprising:

At this week’s conference, Wabash National Corp. Chief Executive Officer Dick Giromini, Brightpoint America President Mark Howell and Paragon Medical CEO Toby Buck all said they are having trouble finding workers with the technical skills needed to fill their openings.

David Floyd, who will become the chief executive officer of Warsaw-based OrthoWorx next month, says finding well-trained employees to staff Indiana’s growing orthopedics sector is going to be one of his biggest challenges in the job.

Anderson-based Xtreme Alternative Defense Systems President Pete Bitar echoed those concerns. He is a member of the newly-formed Indiana Aerospace and Defense Council.

Wabash National Corp. Chief Executive Officer Dick Giromini will be a guest on Inside INdiana Business Television this weekend to discuss the issue.

According to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, the state’s economy has added 3,800 net private sector jobs this year, buoyed by 5,500 manufacturing jobs.

On the topic of training and re-entering the workforce, you might also check out my article in the new BizVoice about some steps being taken to educate the state’s older workers.

Teamin’ Up to Keep Hoosier Children Safe

Here’s some great news, courtesy of our partners at Inside INdiana Business:

Bright House Networks and Net Literacy have partnered to launch a new Internet Safety Awareness Campaign, featuring six new Public Service Announcements (PSAs) focusing on Internet Safety in Everyday Life. This newest round of PSAs that will air across Central Indiana on Bright House Networks is part of a seven year partnership between Bright House Networks and Net Literacy with a mission to increase computer access across Central Indiana and educate youth on the importance of Internet Safety.

“Bright House Networks is committed to educating our customers about the importance of Internet Safety,” said Don Williams, Vice President General Manager for Bright House Networks. “Our partnership with Net Literacy allows us to work closely with student volunteers, who are closest to these issues surrounding Internet Safety, and develop a strong Internet Safety message relatable to internet users of any age.”

The new six-spot PSA campaign is part of an ongoing commitment between Bright House Networks and Net Literacy. Since 2004, a total of nineteen Internet Safety Awareness PSAs have been created and aired on Bright House Networks. Each PSA is scripted by and stars Net Literacy High School Student volunteers, and discuss issues such as cyber bullying, sexting and social networks.

The Internet can be a great tool, but children should be taught how to use it safely. Too many students have fallen prey to online predators and cyber bullies, and even something as simple as posting an inappropriate picture on a social network can come back around to hurt and embarrass the student.

I spoke with Net Literacy Chairman Don Kent when he was named an afterschool ambassador by the Afterschool Alliance for our March/April 2011 edition of BizVoice®. You can read that story here, which gives a little background on what Net Literacy does for the community – from serving as an afterschool program for students (keeping the students safe and involved in the community) to working to reduce the “digital divide” by increasing computer access and digital literacy throughout the state.

Hopefully students and parents take heed of these PSAs and use the information to protect themselves in the digital age.

Counterpoint: Auditor Berry Lauds Surplus

Earlier today, we posted Rep. Pat Bauer’s remarks on the state surplus. Here is State Auditor Tim Berry’s much more favorable view:

State Auditor Tim Berry today announced Indiana’s state government remains in the black despite a continuing poor national economy and reduced receipts to the state.

For the FY2010-11 biennium, the State received 5.0% less revenue ($1.34 billion) and spent 5.5% ($1.52 billion) less than was anticipated in the budget that was passed in June 2009. Thanks to spending restraints, the State ended the FY2011 fiscal year with a reserve balance of $1.18 billion (9.1% of FY11 expenditures).

"Without raising taxes and by carefully watching spending, Indiana state government has continued to live within its means," said Auditor Berry. "For those who believe that raising taxes is the only way out of a fiscal crisis, I say take a look at the Hoosier State."

Guided by the leadership of Governor Mitch Daniels, state government agencies reverted $1.06 billion of their total budgets.

The latest budget numbers only reinforce Indiana’s position as one of the most fiscally-responsible states in the country. While other states have implemented massive tax increases or are spending money they don’t have, Indiana continues to keep taxes low and outlays under control.

Perhaps even more impressive—given the condition of the national economy—is the fact that Indiana’s reserve balance is nearly 1.2 billion dollars (a level that wasn’t predicted to be reached until 2013).

"Governor Daniels has made fiscal accountability one of the hallmarks of his time as governor and the results speak for themselves," continued Berry. "The real heroes of this budget year, however, are the state agencies and their employees who combined to return hundreds of millions of taxpayer money to the treasury."

You can also hear Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute President John Ketzenberger’s take here.

Education: Can We Learn from Finland?

Film maker and entrepreneur Bob Compton recently spoke to our friend Gerry Dick at Inside INdiana Business about his new film, "The Finland Phenomenon." The film analyzes the differences in our cultures, and how academic achievement is rewarded in the country. It also examines how Finland seems to take a more practical approach to education, where many students don’t embark on "a forced march" to attend college, but become well-educated to fill valuable roles in the country’s workforce.

Compton’s previous film on education, "2 Million Minutes," earned much notoriety — and criticism — for his comparisons of Indiana’s educational system to that of India and China.

Why Stock Markets Rise While Economy Struggles

Like me, many of you may wonder how the stock market can rise while an economy continues to slump. And, also like me, some of you may wonder if NBC thinks you’re a fool — switching the actresses playing the mom on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" with hardly a satisfactory explanation.

Well, Steven Dolvin, associate finance professor at Butler University, at least tackles the first question in a recent column for Inside INdiana Business.

Consider: Unemployment is still high (9.1 percent in May 2011). The depressed housing market is the most undervalued it’s been in 35 years (according to Capital Economics), with foreclosures expected to jump 20 percent from 2010. According to Gallup poll data, average daily consumer spending has declined 39 percent since May 2008.

Meanwhile, since March 2009, the stock market has basically doubled from its lows. Is this a disconnect with reality?

Not necessarily. Studying data from the 2011 Indiana CEO Survey indicates three reasons why the stock market has risen while the economy continues to struggle:

Companies serve global markets. The survey shows what business issues are important to the Indiana CEOs. While several, such as health care costs, employee retention and recruitment, and consistent execution of business strategy have remained flat in terms of importance, “growing the business internationally” has grown in importance. After slipping in 2008 and 2010 as CEOs focused on keeping their businesses afloat, this issue has increased in importance to its 2007 level.

The larger the company, the greater its international focus. For businesses in the S&P 500 Index, more than half their revenue typically comes from outside the United States. Some receive 80 to 90 percent of their revenue from outside our borders. While this international focus keeps their bottom line strong and their shareholders happy, it doesn’t necessarily translate into money spent in the U.S., helping our economy.

Job growth is a lagging metric. The Indiana CEOs were asked if they were going to reduce or add jobs. The survey indicates what you’d expect in a tough economy and recovery: After the recession hit, the likelihood of reducing jobs rose from 2007 to 2009 before beginning to decline. Meanwhile, the likelihood of adding jobs declined steeply from 2007 to 2009, before beginning to increase.

While the likelihood of more hiring has increased, actual hiring hasn’t yet. Actual job growth lags behind the stock market, which tends to be a forward-looking metric. People make investments based on what they think will happen, rather than what’s happening now. That’s why, in terms of job creation as a component of business performance, the stock market anticipates a rosier picture than current reality.

Trickle down takes time. In the survey, the Indiana CEOs said they believe there is more public and private funding available for business success, compared to last year. They say the amount of funding has increased on both the equity and debt sides since the recession. As funding increases, companies can leverage their positions more. This translates to better returns, which leads to happier shareholders. On this idea of more money = more profits, the stock market rises.

Skip My Mistake; Focus on E-gineering’s Excellence

I absolutely hate making mistakes. Most people do, but when you’re in the communication business the errors are out there for all to read … or see … or in this case hear.

I won’t relive some of the past black marks. At least there haven’t been too many — compared to the amount of newspaper, magazine (and even a little radio and TV) work over the past 20-plus years. I started when I was really young!

Anyway, E-gineering earned the No. 1 ranking on the small/medium list at the recent Best Places to Work in Indiana awards celebration. But while I’m interviewing Nick Taylor, one of the company owners, on an Inside INdiana Business TV segment, I refer to the company as E-Engineering (you know, with the extra "e").

Yes, the name was spelled right on the bottom of the screen. Yes, I got it right in the pronunciation at the end of the segment. And despite Taylor being gracious after viewing the segment on the air and assuring me that the name is commonly mispronounced, I’ll still deservedly beat up on myself for a while.

But for your pleasure, please watch the video (looking past my screw-up) and read the BizVoice story. You will see what a great job the company has done in creating a true family atmosphere in the workplace.

And for a mistake-free video, check out the work of the Chamber’s Tony Spataro in putting together a quick recap of the Best Places dinner. It captured the excitement of the sixth annual event.

Gary Airport Getting New Look

Our friends at Inside INdiana Business recently spoke with Gary Mayor Rudy Clay about the status of the Gary/Chicago Airport, which is undertaking some improvements. Here is audio of the conversation, in which Clay explains the positive working relationship the city has with Chicago officials.

Clay says the goal of the rennovation at Gary/Chicago International Airport is not to compete with Chicago’s two airports, but to work along side of them. Clay says those airports have heavy traffic and need more gates to handle the load. The $153 million project includes a major runway expansion and new railroad bridges, routes and demolition lines. Groundbreaking comes this afternoon.