Strengthening Indiana Economic Development

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When you read about a new corporate expansion project in an Indiana community or successful job initiative, do you ever wonder how that really came about? To get to the point where a grand public announcement about new jobs and new investment is even possible, dedicated economic development professionals - whom you rarely hear about - will likely have played a critical role in facilitating these opportunities.

Throughout Indiana these professionals face a complicated and tangled maze of challenges to create, foster and facilitate the deals that help grow Indiana’s economic fortunes.

On any given day, local Hoosier economic development professionals at the city, county, regional or state levels compete directly and intensely against other organizations around the world to attract and retain key businesses in our Indiana communities.

Because much of the work done by local economic development professionals is often unseen, it’s easy to take it for granted, but there are ways that local stakeholders can support these efforts.

Whether at the local, county or regional level, Indiana economic development professionals work through local boards and elected officials, redevelopment commissions, utility companies, state agencies and federal programs to create optimal opportunities to bring in new companies and to retain or expand existing businesses. Competition is intense, fierce and increasingly, global.  Without dedicated economic development professionals mounting a concerted local effort (supporting state and regional efforts), a possible deal can be lost, and with it hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in investments.

Simply put, it’s hard, critical, and increasingly sophisticated work.

Here’s a key challenge facing local economic development officials: site selectors and relocation professionals often research and target communities and sites without first seeking input from locals. A community may be eliminated without even knowing it was even being considered. To be included on a given “list” a community must be prepared in advance. A community must have all its assets in place and be ready to leverage the opportunity when the call comes.

When a solid lead or prospect does materialize, things have to happen quickly. The economic development professional has to be prepared to assemble an attractive incentive package that makes their Indiana city or county stand out from competitors. This can include a complicated mix of tax abatement, training grants, special financing support and arrangements, relocation assistance, subsidized infrastructure and other incentives. To succeed, the economic development professional has to skillfully assemble these incentives in such a fashion that all sides win. A large deal typically involves many players, including direct assistance, support and guidance from the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (a public-private state entity). Site selectors and relocation professionals often play prospective site organizations off against each other in other to secure the best deal. It can be ugly.

It’s not a simple process. How can these professionals be supported? Here are a few thoughts for all Hoosiers, from the legislative arena to the classroom:

--Keep Indiana’s business-enabling climate strong. Indiana is presently highly ranked by site selectors for a reason – state government has created a strong and attractive business environment with fair tax laws, incentives and performance.

--Never take any business for granted. Whether we Hoosiers like it or not, there are many businesses in Indiana who receive near-daily pitches about how the grass is greener in other states. Local economic development professionals spend a lot of time making sure established businesses are happy and stay happy with Indiana.

--A few years ago, when site selectors listed their important considerations, three things were on top: location, location, location. Today it’s quite different. The three top considerations are workforce, workforce, location. Every employee (and future employee) must be committed to personal improvement and growth in order for Indiana to remain competitive. The quality of Indiana’s workforce is critical for short- and long-term success.

--Continued state and local investments in infrastructure promote growth. A county or city can have a great workforce and facilities, but if the roads, railroads or airports aren't available or up-to-date, companies can’t grow and get their products to market.

Our economic development professionals are committed to Indiana’s growth. Giving them the tools and support they need is an investment to help support that growth.

Lee Lewellen is President and CEO of the Indiana Economic Development Association.

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