Ellis, Lawrance Bring Chamber Advocacy Team to Full Strength

lawrence ellisThe many programs and benefits of Indiana Chamber membership include the state’s deepest and most effective group of issue experts. That team welcomes two talented additions.

Mark Lawrance returns to the Chamber in the new position of vice president of engagement and innovation policy. That includes advocacy work in the areas of technology, economic development and infrastructure.

Greg Ellis begins his work May 31 as vice president of energy and environmental policy. His variety of public and private sector experiences, including serving as an administrative law judge for the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission since 2010, will prove valuable in his work on behalf of Chamber members.

Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar leads an experienced lobbying team that also includes: Caryl Auslander, education, workforce development and federal relations; Mike Ripley, health care policy and employment law; and Bill Waltz, taxation, public finance and local government reform.

“The hard work that takes place in the summer and fall – Chamber policy meetings, interim legislative panels, individual meetings with lawmakers and more – leads to effective General Assembly sessions,” Brinegar says. “Chamber members will be well represented by these issue experts and the support team we have around them.”

Township Bill a Small Step in Right Direction

It’s no surprise that local government reform, with a focus on townships, will be pushed for during the Indiana General Assembly session — with the Indiana Chamber leading the way. An unexpected entrant into the battle, however, is HB 1181 from Rep. Bill Crawford (D-Indianapolis). It will be heard in the House Government and Regulatory Reform Committee this morning.

Crawford’s bill calls for a township-by-township referendum on whether trustees and advisory boards should be retained. In other words, should townships continue to exist? Presumably if the voters would say yes, it’s inefficient business as usual. If they say no, township duties would be sent to the county level (which is what should take place throughout the state).

The problem with the Crawford approach is the likely result that a county would end up with an unworkable combination of some townships remaining and others having their duties carried out by the county. The best route would be for the legislators to stand up and eliminate all the trustees and advisory boards. 

The Chamber’s Mark Lawrance will testify today that the fact that local government reform is being heard in the committee is appreciated. The elimination of most township assessors in 2008 greatly improved that process; the same can be done to improve the effectiveness and reduce the administrative costs of delivering poor relief services. If legislators do decide to go the referendum route, the votes should at least be conducted on a county-by-county basis.

Legislation in the Senate, SB 240, would not include referendums. It would eliminate advisory boards, shift township legislative fiscal and legislative responsibilities to the county council and includes anti-nepotism language to help stop the rampant employment of relatives at the township level. That bill is expected to be heard on Wednesday.

The Indiana Prosperity Project web site allows you to learn more and contact your legislators directly to ask for their support in making better use of your tax dollars and moving township services to the county level.

Wise Comments About Workforce Report

When the Indiana Chamber Foundation released its Workforce Wise report last week, it invited Mac Parker and Martha Lamkin to the event to add some perspective. Neither disappointed. Their personal stories are symbolic of the entire study — taking advantage (both on the job and in the community) of the experiences and passions of the Baby Boomer generation.

A few of their insights and comments:

  • Parker, an attorney with Baker & Daniels for more than 50 years, brought with him nearly 20-year-old magazine clippings broaching this same subject — the consequences of an aging workforce. While the tendency then was to "push this back" and "talk about that tomorrow," Parker emphasized that "tomorrow is here now."
  • He noted the dramatic difference in 75 million Baby Boomers and 25 million members of Generation X.
  • Finally, Parker said he was glad to see attention to the subject of what communities can do for potential retirees, describing that group as "very desirable new residents."

Lamkin has enjoyed a long and successful career in education-related issues, philanthropy and community involvement. She sees tremendous value in not forgetting about older Hoosiers both in the workplace and in society.

"Employers need to value this mature, reliable element of the workforce. We want to keep those persons engaged in the workplace and in a mentoring role," she says. "I also encourage every person to be engaged in community life. For older adults, it’s personal fulfillment, an opportunity to own our community responsibilities."

Helping educate young people is one of those areas of responsibility. While sons and daughters may have already passed through the education system, older Hoosiers can still, Lamkin explains, "run for the school board, mentor students, be part of booster organizations," and in the big picture, simply be a "positive influence in students’ lives."

The Workforce Wise web site has the latest report, as well as other informative studies. Lamkin and Mark Lawrance, the Chamber VP who oversaw the study over the past year, will appear on Inside INdiana Business with Gerry Dick to discuss the latest. See when the show airs in your area (during Christmas week).

Riding the Government Reform Roller Coaster

The effort to introduce the concepts of efficiency and better service to citizens into Indiana’s local government structure has seen more ups and downs than your favorite ride at Holiday World or any amusement park of your choice.

Following seven-plus weeks of progress, retreat, debate and committee members offering support for the broken-beyond-repair status quo, the full Senate restored teeth to some of the legislation on Tuesday.

Eliminating township boards in 91 counties (why not Marion, we must ask?) would be a tremendous step. Doing away with rampant nepotism and unconsionable levels of budget reserves are also a move in the right direction. Some county, library and election reforms are also in play.

The attention turns to the House, with the ball resting with Speaker Pat Bauer. The nearly 40-year veteran of the Statehouse wars has promised all along to take a look at what comes over from the Senate — and he repeated that pledge to the Indiana Chamber’s executive committee last week. Not an overwhelming endorsement, but there is some optimism. This should not be a partisan issue; all can find a place on the bandwagon for better government.

MySmartgov.org makes the case for change. Indiana Chamber members can get the latest in a March 6 First Friday Conference Call featuring Chamber expert Mark Lawrance and government reform commission member Louis Mahern.

Pals Take Precedence Over Good Policy; Taxpayers are Punished

Colleague Mark Lawrance, the Chamber’s point person on local government reform efforts over the past half-dozen years, started off his description of the ambush of reform efforts in the Indiana Senate this week with an homage to Buffalo Springfield: "There’s Something Happening Here and It Is Exactly Clear."

Lawrance offers a synopsis. First, the opposition to these recommendations is highly focused and mobilized. Second, those special interest groups strongly prefer to keep the status quo and not embrace any of the changes with our fragmented local government system. And third, many of the local people who are involved with townships, county government, libraries and the school systems are also part of the local political system that elects the legislators.
What that means is some members of the Senate are playing political games. They’re ignoring the facts (read Kevin Brinegar’s committee testimony a week earlier or watch the latest MySmartgov.org video) to protect their cronies. They’re doing so at the expense of your money and your right to an efficient and effective local government system.
Don’t stand for it. Let your legislators know business as usual simply isn’t good enough.

Howey Highlights Township Assessor Issue in Governor’s Race

Hoosier scribe/pundit Brian Howey recently penned a thoughtful article on township government and the gubernatorial race. The piece is worth a read, and our own Mark Lawrance is quoted:

Mark Lawrence [sic], senior vice president for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, is part of a consortium that includes the Indiana Association of Realtors and the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership that is pushing a “yes” vote on the referendum.  He said the coalition would have limited resources, though he expects some direct mail campaigns in the coming weeks.  He called the assessor referendum “a bump on the road on the way to Kernan-Shepard.”

The fact that the referendums come in each township, as opposed to countywide, means the “deck is stacked against us,” Lawrence said. The problem is that poor assessing in one township can impact property taxes for the entire county.

“We hope there will be enough interest in having fair assessments,” Lawrence said. “You want to make sure your house is assessed fairly as well as the neighbor’s down the street,” noting what he called the current “fragmented system.”

“If people understand it under those terms, they’ll see it impacts their pocketbooks,” Lawrence said.

An influencing factor may be the recent Washington and Warren township fire mergers with Indianapolis. “That went very smoothly,” Lawrence said. “It is saving millions of dollars. There has been no decrease in services.”

Workforce Education: Chamber Leading Way in Indiana, but D.C. Still Lags

Nationally-read Workforce Management has just posted an article explaining the trials America faces regarding workforce education. As the Indiana Chamber is a leader in this area, the writer interviewed our senior vice president, Mark Lawrance, about our workforce studies and Ready Indiana programs.

An excerpt:

While Washington drags its feet, states are trying to tackle workforce challenges on their own. In Indiana, 931,000 working adults have an educational deficiency that limits their employability, according to a study by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. They lack some kind of required credential—a high school, associate’s or bachelor’s degree—for jobs in demand.

The article also claims that 88 million of the 150 million people in the American workforce have at least one educational or language barrier that limits their job prospects (18 million lack a high school education). Additionally, National Commission on Adult Literacy chair David Perdue says the U.S. is simply getting "left behind" in relation to other nations like India.

Chamber VP Supports Literacy Report

A new literacy report from the National Commission on Adult Literacy is being lauded by Indiana Chamber VP Mark Lawrance.

Lawrance explains:

“The comprehensive Reaching Higher, America report is a significant research project with bold recommendations to better prepare our country’s workforce for the 21st century. It urges overhauling and expanding adult education and workforce skills training. That is what the Indiana Chamber has been advocating for in Indiana, as highlighted in our two recent reports on this area (including this year’s Indiana’s Adult Education and Workforce Skills Performance Report)."

Read Lawrance’s full statement here.

Mid-Market Companies Make Major Impact

A small number of businesses are making a large impact on Indiana’s economic landscape. The numbers are in a new Indiana Chamber Foundation study titled Accelerating Growth in Indiana’s Mid-Market Companies.

Digest these digits: mid-market firms (those with annual sales between $5 million and $100 million) account for 3% of all the state’s for-profit organizations, yet provide 30% of the jobs and more than 40% of the sales for that same group. Additional data, an online survey and one-on-one interviews with mid-market company leaders indicate there may be a tremendous opportunity to enhance the state’s economy.

The further purpose of the project is to find ways to help these already successful Indiana companies grow even more. The details are outlined in a press release, 12-page study summary and audio commentary from foundation leader Mark Lawrance.

Take a look, review the numbers and let us know what you think.

Preparing Adults for a Brighter Future

The title of this post also served as the subtitle of an Indiana Chamber study released earlier this year titled Indiana’s Adult Education and Workforce Skills Performance Report.

There are many Hoosiers with a vested interest in overcoming the challenges — such as 651,000 workers with no college education and earning less than a living wage.

Two names at the top of that list of interested parties are Thomas Snyder, president of Ivy Tech Community College, and Teresa Voors, commissioner of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. Snyder and Voors, along with Mark Lawrance (a Chamber senior vice president who oversaw the study in his role as head of the Chamber Foundation) are taking the message around the state. Audiences in Bloomington, Evansville, Fort Wayne and South Bend have heard about the needs, what the state is already doing well and how public and private sector leaders are working together to craft additional solutions.

The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette and the South Bend Tribune report on the recent visits to their communities. Gary and Indianapolis are among the upcoming stops.

Contact Lawrance to learn about the study and what many are saying is the No. 1 long-term challenge facing our state.