Letters to Our Leaders: Get Along or Get Out

OK, maybe the headline is a little harsh. But the meaning cannot be downplayed.

The final installment in the Chamber’s Letters to Our Leaders campaign calls for bipartisanship. That’s a big, 14-letter word for a) work together; b) leave the politics at the door; and c) Hoosiers are tired of political games getting in the way of substantial progress.

Indiana ‘s economy is performing strongly compared to its Midwest neighbors and many others around the country. It’s almost as if that is taking place in spite of some of our government efforts. Too many potential education, workforce training and other policy improvements go by the wayside because one party doesn’t want the other taking credit.

The Chamber letter and video summary says Hoosiers have had enough. Once the election is over, put aside the party labels, do what you were "hired" to do by the voters and everyone will benefit.




Letters to Our Leaders: Focus on Wellness and Health Care Access

There are a lot of very smart people around the country trying to figure out solutions to a health care system that simply doesn’t work as well as it should. Unfortunately, they’re not having a lot of success — or maybe the challenge is just so big that we must be patient (no pun intended).

Who pays what to which provider depends on too many outside circumstances. The lack of health insurance for millions negatively impacts the entire system. Too much time and money is spent treating symptoms, not preventing the health problems in the first place. With the federal government financing nearly 70% of the country’s spending on health care, many decisions are out of the state’s control.

What can be done is focus on wellness. In Indiana, we eat too much, smoke too much and don’t exercise enough. Yes, part of the solution is individual responsibility. But businesses can play a critical role through wellness programs, health risk assessments and more. What can also be done is increase access to insurance and the preventative care that goes along with it. Reducing emergency room trips for common procedures will help bring some sanity to the financial side of the equation.

The Healthy Indiana Plan has proven to be a good start on both fronts. Let’s build on that, doing what we can at the state (and business) level. If not, health care expenditures will overwhelm our economy and our lives.

The latest Letters to Our Leaders installment offers the details. Read the letter (and others in the series); watch the one-minute video below; offer your comments.


Letters to Our Leaders: Today’s Workers Need Your Help

My father, not unlike many Hoosiers, toiled for 33 years on the assembly line of a General Motors auto plant. No one I know worked harder — both on the job and in the small town community efforts that he supported.

While he retired many years ago (and is still going strong at age 85), the skills he succesfully used would require some serious updating if he was still in the workforce today. That’s the challenge facing many of the state’s current workers.

The numbers can’t be repeated enough: nearly one million Hoosiers require some form of skills remediation or further education to remain competitive in today’s job market. Approximately 25,000 people are currently served through existing programs. The gap in numbers, and the dollars needed to help find a solution, are the focus in the Indiana Chamber’s Letter to Our Leaders on workforce development.

The proposal: lease the state lottery, utilize the up to $2 billion up-front payment and the annual proceeds to make this major investment in Indiana’s workers. They deserve it.

View the letter (and others in the series); watch the one-minute video below; offer your comments.



Letters to Our Leaders: Laboring for a Solution

Automotive production in the United States is moving south. Yes, Indiana has been successful recently in attracting Honda and incorporating a Toyota expansion into the existing Subaru facility in Lafayette, but those have been exceptions rather than the rule.

Since Nissan chose Smyrna, Tennessee for a plant location in 1983, the Volunteer state and neighbors in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina have become attractive locations for BMW, Kia, Honda and others. Good transportation and a strong workforce are two of the reasons. The biggest, according to some, is that these are right-to-work (RTW) states that allow the automakers (and other major employers) to avoid union concerns.

The 22 states with RTW laws have seen dramatic increases in economic development and personal incomes compared to those lacking the RTW measures. It’s not the lone reason, of course, but one that deserves full consideration.

One of the keys to progress for any state is standing out from the others. RTW would do that for Indiana in the Midwest and on a national level.

This week’s Letter to Our Leaders has the details.


Education Numbers You Need to Know

Let’s get right to it:

  • After years of working toward an accurate graduation rate (legislation resulted, in part, from this 2006 report), nearly all will agree that more than a quarter of Indiana’s students are leaving high school without a diploma. It’s not our state’s problem alone, but hopefully most will concede that these young people and our state suffer the long-term consequences of this fact
  • Approximately a million working Hoosiers lack the skills needed to compete in today’s economy. That’s part of the focus of an upcoming Letters to Our Leaders’ missive on the workforce, but it also belongs in this discussion
  • No public college or university in the state graduates as many as half its students within four years — and the statistics don’t improve dramatically for some given a six-year period. We’ve got to do better

A more coordinated K-12, higher education and workforce development system is called for in the Chamber’s latest letter to the general public and the candidates for governor. Greater administrative efficiency, adjustments in teacher compensation and qualifications, and more are included. Read the letter; view the one-minute video commentary below; share your thoughts in this space.


Next Up on Letters’ Agenda: Education

Tuesdays is Letters to Our Leaders day, and this week is no exception. You will have to come back tomorrow for this week’s release and the details, but when the topic is education you can be sure there will be plenty to say.

In fact, an early draft of this letter was critiqued by several for having everything in it but the proverbial kitchen sink. Not a good sign if all those contributing to the process came up with such a long list of improvements needed in our education input and outcomes.

There are positives to Indiana’s education efforts at all levels and many good people working for improvement. Like challenges in several other areas, it’s the system that is slowing the dramatic progress needed.

In the closest we’ll get to a sneak preview, look for these words and more — dropouts, parental options, cooperation, accountability, and teacher compensation and qualifications.

I’m confident education will be high on the next governor’s agenda. Tuesday’s letter from the Indiana Chamber board of directors will make an excellent starting point.


Letters to Our Leaders: Don’t Run Out of Water, Power

Talk about a good news, bad news scenario. That’s the situation with the second of the Chamber’s Letters to Our Leaders — the relationship between economic development and issues regarding energy and the environment.

The history: Indiana’s low-cost, reliable energy supplies have been a major benefit in attracting business investment. Whether at work or at home, we simply expect the water to flow when we turn on the tap and the electricity to come on when we flip the switch.

The future: as our state continues to grow (which we all want and need), the pressure on those supplies is increased. Are the resources going to be in short supply tomorrow, next month or next year? Probably not. The bad news terminology is probably an exaggeration; it’s more of a warning that we better have a long-term plan in place to take full advantage of future opportunities.

Mixing new energy resources with clean coal technology, conservation and more are part of the mix. Our message: Let’s start that planning now, so we don’t pay (in the form of shortages and usage limitations) later.

Read the letter; view the one-minute video summary below. Share your opinions.


Economic Rankings on the Way Up

There’s no questioning that the creation of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) has provided a major lift to Indiana’s business attraction and expansion efforts. Now the public-private organization is able to utilize some extra talking points with others taking notice of the state’s improved business climate and performance.

News of the CNBC survey (Indiana making the largest improvement nationwide from 26th to 13th overall with top 10 rankings in business friendliness, transportation and cost of doing business) traveled fast last week. Low business costs (especially compared to Midwest neighbors) were also cited in Forbes and Milken Institute reports. The IEDC has more in its Why Indiana section.
The state, and all those who made it possible, deserves credit for the improved performance. Fortunately, we know no one is going to be satisfied until we’re topping the various polls, lists and surveys. Indiana improved in eight of 10 categories in the CNBC tally, but moving from 48th to 37th in economy (I’d place us a little higher than that seeing the struggles elsewhere) certainly leaves room for more.
Other states, of course, aren’t standing still. We’ve got to continue to meet the education and workforce challenges, among others, to keep up and maintain the progress. That’s the impetus behind the Chamber’s Letters to Our Leaders and continuing to work with all involved for the benefit of our state’s employers and their employees.

The Intern Chronicles: College Campus Road Trip; Am I Working?

Coming fresh off an extended Fourth of July weekend at Valparaiso University, it was perhaps fitting that I trekked around to some of Indiana’s other higher education destinations the following week.

First up was a trip to West Lafayette with Chamber President Kevin Brinegar. I guess he stays a little busier around here than I do, so to allow for some extra work to be done, I drove.
I don’t know what the Chamber was thinking not having seen me operate a vehicle, especially considering that I’m a young male who has disheveled hair and an extensive criminal record (just kidding, my hair is straight). But come Monday morning I was in the driver’s seat next to Kevin, who had declined my offer to take my rusted ’94 Accord in lieu of his own car, which he described as “fun.”  It was.
In Boilermaker land, Kevin had a business lunch with Purdue President France Cordova, who I had the opportunity to meet. After meetings with Caterpillar and Wabash National, Chamber Membership Director Tim Brewer and I kept the college theme going by being roomies for a night at the local Holiday Inn. A Breakfast with Brinegar event for area Chamber members was held in the hotel the next morning. Then it was back to Indianapolis with yours truly at the wheel.
Within five minutes of returning to the office, I left with Senior VP Mark Lawrance for Terre Haute, where he was doing a press conference as part of the now ongoing “Letters to Our Leaders” campaign. We had an outstanding Lebanese lunch by Indiana State’s campus and then met with the Terre Haute Chamber staff and Gary Morris, president of Clabber Girl and a Chamber board member who was taking part in the press conference with Mark.
After I had passed out media packets to the newspaper and TV crews that had assembled for the conference, Mark suggested we take the more scenic route back to Indy via U.S. 40. The historic road took us all the way back to Washington Street and ended my whirlwind of a tour. I’m pleased to report I fulfilled my chauffer duties without incident.
Now to decide between Muncie and Bloomington for my Frequent Driver Miles trip.


Government Inefficiency: Wall Remains in Place

Two excerpts of Wednesday stories that taken together simply leave your head shaking.

First, from an Indiana Chamber release the day after its Letters to Our Leaders project debuted with an initial focus on local government efficiency:

Last winter, the first responders on the scene of a van in a Hamilton County retention pond weren’t a critically needed dive team. Instead, it reportedly took three 911 calls for that emergency crew to arrive. Tragically, four people lost their lives when public safety improvements might have made all the difference.

The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette was one of many media outlets covering the campaign to place a focus on important public policy issues. A separate story in the same newspaper about opposition to a plan to merge city, county and the nearby New Haven emergency call centers included the following:

The issue of merged 911 centers has been an ongoing discussion for years between Fort Wayne and Allen County, as the two call centers are housed in the same room of the City-County Building basement separated by a glass wall. Councilman Tim Pape, D-5th, said the issue has been the most frustrating topic for him. … He said even if there were no cost savings, having a unified dispatch center makes sense because it improves safety.

The Chamber’s local government efficiency letter and below is the video; the story from Fort Wayne.