As we begin a new year, most Hoosiers are filled with hope and optimism for their families. 2017 provides Indiana with many exciting opportunities to grow its economy and create wealth for its citizens. There is much hard work ahead, but our state has proven that it is up to the task. Here are my top economic development wishes for Indiana as we begin a new year.

Long-term funding of infrastructure:  Indiana should increase and create sustainable funding to support infrastructure improvements.  The most glaring weakness is in the area of transportation where gas taxes have not kept pace with costs.  Transportation infrastructure is vital to our manufacturing and logistics economy.  In addition, our state has a lot of work to do to improve water and sanitary sewer infrastructure.  We face aging infrastructure in rural and urban locations that must be addressed before there are dire consequences.

Expansion of early childhood education for low income families:  Our state should expand its pre-K pilot program and make it available to more children throughout Indiana.  An earlier start in education for children paves the way for greater learning and success in life.  If we are going to help families trapped in poverty in rural and urban areas of our state, there are not very many ways to do so than the funding or early childhood education.

Overhaul of workforce development programs:  While Indiana has some momentum in the area of workforce development, we have much work ahead of us.  Speaker of the House Brian Bosma has correctly concluded that we have too many training programs operated in too many silos in our state to leverage the best results from the use of the money.  In addition, our educational attainment and ongoing training of adults already in the workforce levels rank in the bottom 10 states in the U.S.  Indiana should reorganize its programs and funding to deliver better results.

Financing flexibility for local communities/counties:  Our state should grant local elected officials more flexibility in how they can fund important projects and initiatives in their communities.  In the era of local government finance after property tax reform, many local units of government have been limited in its ability to fund strategic investments.  As an example, many other states allow greater flexibility to bond against local sales and personal income taxes, but Indiana continues to be restrictive in this area.  If residents of a local community do not like how funds are being spent, they can vote elected officials out of office, because it’s their money.

Hate crime legislation:  Indiana is long overdue in enacting hate crimes legislation.  You might be asking why this is an economic development issue.  The reason is that more and more companies are examining these types of issues when considering where to invest capital and hire team members.  Companies want to make sure that their employees are afforded protections against inappropriate actions by an element of our society.  State Senator Greg Taylor has long championed this issue and it is time to adopt legislation to address it.

Economic development incentive improvements:  Our state has been fortunate to have good incentive tools in place during the past 10 – 15 years, but they are not as competitive as they were when they were originally created.  Innovative governors in the Midwest and across the U.S. have greatly enhanced economic development incentive programs to deliver greater benefit to companies.  Indiana should closely examine making the Hoosier Business Investment Tax Credit program refundable and also consider the transferability of the Venture Capital Tax Credit in order to leverage more investment from non-Indiana residents.  This will help ensure that Indiana remains competitive for economic development opportunities.

Data center projects:  For many years, Indiana has said that it wants to attract data centers to the state.  While these projects are not big job creators, they bring significant capital investment to our communities, which helps fund local government.  Our state’s problem is that we have the “triple whammy” of business personal property taxes, sales taxes on electricity and sales tax on equipment purchases for data centers.  It is no wonder that our state has struggled to win large data center projects.  If Indiana is unwilling to exempt sales taxes as it does for the manufacturing industry, then we should stop pursuing data center projects.

Regional Cities program expansion:  The state has greatly benefited from the Indiana Economic Development Corporation’s Regional Cities program.  The program is now being examined by many other states as a model to support talent attraction and economic development.  The funding of regional plans in the Evansville, Fort Wayne and South Bend regions of the state was a great start, but many other regions in the Indiana also put forth great ideas for their areas.  The state legislature should definitely include additional funding in its next budget.

Larry Gigerich serves as Executive Managing Director of Ginovus. 

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