Hoosier Wages Trending up as Indiana Takes The Lead

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A lot has changed since my great grandfather established the George Koch Tin Shop in Evansville in 1873. Leadership has transferred through five generations and our once small family business has grown into Koch Enterprises with seven operating businesses. While many other companies have come and gone in the past 140-plus years, we've found success by focusing on steady and consistent growth.

As a board member of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, I see these values I hold as a business owner emulated by Governor Mike Pence and the state of Indiana. Since its establishment in 2005, the IEDC and the state have committed to improving our economy and ensuring quality jobs for all Hoosiers across the state. Much like a business, the key is persistence.

These constant efforts to advance Indiana as the best place for business have resulted in dramatic achievements. Since January 2013, unemployment in Indiana has dropped from 8.4 percent to 4.4 – a 14-year low. And just last year, we surpassed the state's all-time employment record, which was last set in 2000. Today, more Hoosiers are going to work than at any time in Indiana's history. That's a true testament to the state's efforts to support job creation and to the resiliency and dedication of Indiana business owners.

But the real success, the real winners in this are the hardworking Hoosiers. Employees are much more than just that. At Koch, we are a team and a family. This is the backbone of our success. We take our time when hiring because we demand top talent with the knowledge, skill and dedication to contribute to a growing business. In turn, we invest in not only those we hire, but in the communities and the schools that are shaping tomorrow's job applicants.

And I'm not alone. Job creators across Indiana are improving employee wages, as nearly 60 percent of the 138,800 private sector jobs created in the past two years have been above the state's average wage. At the IEDC, average wages of committed jobs are not only above the Indiana average but have increased by 14 percent – to $24.87/hour – from 2014.

As Indiana forges ahead toward full employment, this trend will only continue as the pool of job applicants decreases. In order to land and retain top talent, employers will have to bid to compete. Consider Lincoln, Nebraska, where unemployment has dipped to 2.3 percent. According to the Wall Street Journal, wages there have surged by about 10 percent in just one year's time and job creators are offering hiring bonuses and other benefits to attract employees.

A recent article in The Times ("Indiana Income Lags Further and Further Behind") notes that Indiana's average income remains below the American average, but it fails to consider the true value of Hoosier wages. In Indiana, we enjoy not only the lowest cost of living in the Midwest but we boast the third lowest cost of living in the nation. According to the Tax Foundation, $100 in the United States is worth $109 here in the Hoosier State.

Each dollar earned in Indiana goes further here than in other states, contributing more to groceries, housing, health care and transportation costs. While I proudly share this with any non-Hoosier I meet, Indiana has refused to settle. That's why the state is taking further action: Cutting taxes to reduce overhead costs for employers, making unprecedented investments in education, vocational training and workforce development, and igniting a plan to improve culture and livability through the Indiana Regional Cities Initiative to attract top talent to the state.

These efforts are not isolated. Each move contributes to improving the quality of jobs for Hoosiers. It is a long-term commitment that requires strategy and persistence. Jobs are up, unemployment is down and Hoosier wages are on the rise because Indiana and Governor Pence are taking the lead in providing a climate in which businesses can grow and succeed.

Bob Koch is chairman of Koch Enterprises and an Indiana Economic Development Corp. board member.

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