By Kevin Brinegar

Indiana has employed a strong focus throughout most, if not all, of the current century on putting the tools in place to enhance its business climate. That coincides with the release of the Indiana Chamber’s first economic development plan – Economic Vision 2010.

The result has been strong performance in the policy areas that comprise the Attractive Business Climate driver of the current Indiana Vision 2025. In other words, Indiana fares well when compared to other states in the following:

  • Tax climate (although that business personal property tax is still an impediment)
  • Regulatory environment (the state has consistently achieved its top overall rankings here; the problem has been federal, not state, regulations)
  • Legal climate (Indiana is far from one of the “judicial hellhole” states annually identified in national reports

The biggest exception to the strong performance comes in health care. In three Indiana Vision 2025 goals – cost containment, as well as smoking and obesity rates – Indiana’s rankings are abysmal (see below). It’s been a longstanding challenge. Some common-sense policy efforts regarding smoking (raising the cigarette tax and increasing the legal smoking age from 18 to 21) have been thwarted.

Then there is the opioid epidemic, which had not come into play when the Indiana Vision 2025 plan was formulated in 2010-2011. Earlier this year, the Indiana Chamber and the Wellness Council of Indiana formed the Indiana Workforce Recovery initiative to partner with the Holcomb administration on the effort to combat opioids in the workplace.

Those numbers we mentioned earlier. Here are just a few:

  • 38: Overall health ranking of Indiana citizens among the 50 states
  • 40: Number of obese people
  • 41: Number of smokers

What is the economic impact of just the high smoking rates? If tobacco was not used or produced:

  • An additional 178,000 jobs would exist
  • Personal income would be $28.7 billion higher
  • More than $100 billion in cumulative new investment would take place

Let’s change the subject to opioids. New Indiana University research identifies the following impacts of the drug epidemic:

  • $43.3 billion in economic damages (2003 to 2017)
  • $752 million in potential lost wages in 2016
  • $521 million in hospital costs related to opioid overdose in 2016

We know that opioids are, first and foremost, an individual, family and community crisis. But there is no separating the broader impact on the workplace and its ties with the aforementioned groups.

Indiana Workforce Recovery is a multi-year effort that will work directly with employers throughout the state to educate their team members and help reduce the stigma of drug use. The results will include reduced health care costs, turnover and employee absences, as well as improved workplace culture, morale and productivity.

Among the initial steps for employers:

  • Review and update your company policy on prescription drug use in the workplace (identify what a drug free workplace means for your organization)
  • Offer employee education to raise awareness about opioid use and misuse (encourage those in need to seek treatment)
  • Review hiring and retention practices to accommodate workforce needs (drug screening process, return-to-work programs)

Many groups, including the Indiana Chamber and the Wellness Council of Indiana, are focused on programs and initiatives to improve health outcomes. This will certainly continue to be the case.

The impacts are too important for everyone, including our state. Indiana can only be best in business and beyond if its citizens are healthy and productive.

Kevin Brinegar is the President and CEO of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce President.