By Kevin Brinegar
Indiana is headed in the right direction on many fronts. The state’s business climate is among the very best in the country per various rankings, including CEO Magazine’s latest annual survey released just last month. It wasn’t all that long ago – not much more than a decade – we were barely in the Top 30. Today, we rank fifth overall and the highest in our region.
Indiana is viewed as the best place to start and grow a business in the Midwest, and particularly provides a lower cost, lower hassle location for technology companies than the East Coast or the West Coast. And there’s evidence that more and more companies are seeing that.
Job announcements and deals courtesy of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) continue to be on the rise, with last year seeing another record number. The IDEC also has data indicating that Indiana being a right-to-work (RTW) state is a big contributor to that; well over 100 companies have cited RTW as a key factor in their decision to locate in Indiana, just since 2012.
While we know our business climate is attractive – one of the key components of the Indiana Chamber’s statewide economic development plan, Indiana Vision 2025 (www.indianachamber.com/2025) – there are several critical areas where we either shouldn’t rest on our laurels or need to simply do better.
With the unemployment rate down, finding, developing and recruiting top talent is and will continue to be one of the top challenges that employers are facing. We hear it all over the state. In fact, the upcoming June release of our annual workforce survey will reveal more jobs left unfilled due to under-qualified applicants and more companies ranking talent needs as their biggest challenge.
That ties into how well our K-12 schools and universities are performing. Clearly, while there is obvious evidence of improvement (scores and graduation rates), we aren’t there yet. Both higher education and business community leaders keep saying there are still far too many students not prepared for college or a career. We simply have to keep improving student achievement until every child is ready for that next phase.
Separately, we need to stay vigilant in making sure that Indiana is perceived as and truly is a welcoming place for all. Failing to pass civil rights legislation in 2016 doesn’t put Indiana in the strong position it could have been, or arguably needs to be. All of our state leaders must find a way going forward to work together to craft a solution.
Another continuing debate will be infrastructure needs. We are pleased that the General Assembly focused as much time and energy on road funding this past session and came up with strong, short-term funding approach. But leadership has voiced a commitment to tackling the longer term funding needs next session, and we will be pushing hard for that. It’s something that needs to be done to address one of our most critical needs.
In the big picture, Indiana is doing well comparatively. We are positioning ourselves as a technology hub in the Midwest. What’s going to be key is to further develop talent to fill those and other available jobs now and in the future, and to continue to spark our economic growth.
Brinegar is the President and CEO of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.