Gov. Mike Pence painted a rosy picture during his progress report in Batesville Tuesday, Aug.13, then immediately got real with the convivial crowd of 182.
He noted Indiana has led the nation during the last three months in a row in creating manufacturing jobs. “We even beat out the state of California,” he crowed, citing Hill-Rom and Hillenbrand Inc.’s contributions.
Site Selection magazine said the state is the best in the Midwest and second best in the county in which to do business. CEO magazine listed Indiana at No. 5 in the U.S. and No. 1 in the Midwest, according to Pence, which earned the night’s only midspeech applause at the event sponsored by Hill-Rom, Hillenbrand Inc., Aramark and Rural Alliance for the Arts that benefitted the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce.
The Columbus native continued, “I don’t need to tell any one of you … that while Hoosiers are filled with a sense of potential in this moment, the reality is a quarter of a million of Hoosiers are still out of work.” With 8.4 percent unemployment, “people understand we’ve just got to do better.”
The state’s 50th governor observed, “We’re in a competition for jobs and investment every day.” He presented a four-part strategy to make Indiana stand out enough to be chosen by businesses wanting to expand or relocate.
The first factor: “An honestly balanced budget is the foundation of our economic prosperity.” The governor explained that in annual budgets for 2013-15, “we kept our spending increases to just 2.5 percent annually,” matching inflation. That will give the state a surplus in excess of $100 million in each of the next two years, he estimated.
“Fiscal discipline pays dividends in the competition for jobs,” Pence emphasized. When he spoke about that belt-tightening at a recent conference, four Chinese businessmen rushed up to the podium afterwards, liking what the governor said. With $1.2 billion in total tax relief over the next two years ($900 million of that new tax relief), he promised, “Indiana will be the lowest taxed state in the Midwest ... there’s no more effective way to advertise you’re a good deal than lowering your prices.”
The second factor: Indiana must maintain its reputation as a business-friendly state. One of Pence’s first executive orders was to sign a statewide moratorium on new regulations. They are down 72 percent from this time last year. “We are cutting red tape.” He continues to ask business leaders in all 92 counties what rules get in the way of doing business.
The third factor: Great roads lead to more jobs, he said flatly. “I’m pleased to report … in this last session of the General Assembly … we were able to invest $800 million in new money for roads and bridges,” including $200 million for local infrastructure.
According to Pence, one of Indiana’s best assets is having the highways to move goods around the country. When critics say Indiana is in the middle of nowhere, he responds, “We’re in the middle of everywhere.” He wants area leaders to serve on a commission “to think big thoughts about (long-range) infrastructure.”
The fourth factor: Hoosiers must receive the right kinds of education to lessen the skills gap. When the governor talks to executives here, he doesn’t hear there are no jobs, but rather that they couldn’t find qualified people to fill the job openings.
“I’ve had all kinds of companies looking at Indiana.” While owners praise Hoosiers’ work ethic and decency, “every single company poised for growth tells me … ‘we have to be more confident than we are today’” that skilled labor is available.
His Irish immigrant grandfather used to tell Pence, “All honest work is honorable work.” Because both political parties want to make career and vocational education a priority, the Indiana Career Council and regional works councils have been established. “I’m incredibly excited about that. The purpose of these councils is to create curriculums that are relevant” for geographic areas. “The needs in Batesville are different than the needs in Evansville” and other cities.
Pence was aghast to learn just 1 percent of high school students graduated with Core 40 with technical honors diplomas. Relevant curriculums may boost graduation rates, the six-term 6th District congressman suggested.
As Batesville Community School Corp. superintendent Dr. Jim Roberts, director of student learning Melissa Burton and all four principals listened, the governor heaped praise on the school district throughout his speech. When Roberts, the chamber vice president, introduced the speaker, he told the superintendent, “I greatly esteem your leadership here at Batesville schools. Batesville is setting the pace in education and collaboration.”
Speaking about curriculums for a 21st century tech world, the Hanover College graduate said BCSC is “so far ahead of the curve on this” with its Project Lead the Way, logistics and advanced manufacturing classes.
“I really do want to commend members of the school board and administrators” on the partnerships with Ivy Tech Community College and local businesses. “You’re making it work. Batesville and a small handful of communities inspired the work of the General Assembly this year.”
Looking out at the sea of expectant faces, Pence said, “I have a challenge for you … to see if you can be a part of our collective team in seizing the moment” to elevate the state. “I’ve seen a lot of heads nodding on particular points … I want your help, before the end of this week. Reach out to one person you know in business outside of Indiana,” perhaps a supplier, vendor or college friend, brag about the state’s pro-business climate, then have the person explore the possibilities by contacting the Indiana Economic Development Corp. at www.iedc.in.gov or 800-463-8081.
“We’ve got a story to tell. All of us must recognize this unique moment and seize it and take ownership in it.” The governor reminded listeners, “You are Indiana’s best ambassadors.”
Pence concluded, “I’m absolutely convinced if we keep the state on our present course, if we continue to be bold and enthusiastic … I believe we can have more Hoosiers going to work than ever before … we can build a more prosperous and healthy and better Indiana for our children and grandchildren.”
Debbie Blank can be contacted at email@example.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.