Indiana has had a lot of economic development success in recent years, and much of the foundation for this success is the result of actions taken by the Indiana legislature to modify Indiana’s tax structure. This effort started in the early 2000s when lawmakers started chipping away at Indiana’s antiquated tax structure, first by eliminating the gross income tax and later the inventory tax. Other pro-business tax laws have passed in recent years, such as an expanded R&D tax credit and phased-in reductions in the corporate and individual tax rates.
Yes, tax reform has been helpful, but a pro-business tax policy alone is not an economic development strategy. Former Governor Mitch Daniels once said government doesn’t create jobs. While this statement is undoubtedly true, government can still do much to promote a business culture conducive to making job creation easier and more sustainable.
During this legislative session, the Indiana General Assembly would be well-served to consider the following areas in the furtherance of the state’s economic development efforts.
Workforce Development Coordination: While Indiana has made strides in improving its workforce readiness, especially as it relates to the Central Indiana tech sector, additional heavy lifting is needed. Indiana needs to better deploy its higher education and technical educational assets to address needs of current employers as well as future companies it wishes to attract. With IU, Purdue, Notre Dame, Butler, and Rose Hulman, as well as a host of other nationally renowned public and private universities and colleges, better coordination between government workforce initiatives and higher education is a no-brainer. Similarly, integration of Ivy Tech and state community and technical colleges in this same overall effort should be a top priority. The legislature can provide direction, tools, and incentives to foster this effort. Speaker Bosma and Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar have already alluded to the need for more coordination and better results in this area. 2017 is the perfect year to start.
Workforce Training Programs: The state of Indiana, Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC), and Department of Workforce Development (DWD) do a tremendous job of utilizing performance-based incentives to attract and retain businesses. For example, one of the IEDC’s most potent tools, the Skills Enhancement Fund, provides reimbursements to companies spending their own money to train their employees. Unfortunately, this program is perpetually underfunded and unable to provide its matching resources to a large swath of the new and existing Indiana businesses looking to hire and retain employees. The return on investment from this program is immense. In conjunction with its broader workforce development efforts, the legislature should provide better funding to the IEDC’s and DWD’s training programs. By allocating more funding to those entities actually deciding how and who to train – i.e., the employers – workforce development dollars would be better spent and provide more effective results.
Infrastructure: Despite the tremendous strides Indiana has made in the tech space, the Hoosier economy still relies heavily on its transportation and industrial assets. Critical to the state’s long-term success in this area is a viable and sustainable infrastructure. Roads receive a lot of the attention in this regard, and with good reason, but fully addressing this issue doesn’t stop with highways. Indiana needs to lay the groundwork for a multi-phased infrastructure strategy that includes water, sewers, and other utilities. The Indiana legislature plays a key role in ensuring the funding exists to execute this game plan. This should be a top priority in the coming year.
In addition to the areas listed above, the legislature can foster better economic development results by empowering local communities, promoting regionalism, and supporting other pro-economic development efforts. But making a significant dent in workforce development, infrastructure, and training initiatives requires different and improved funding sources. The legislature loosens and tightens the state’s purse strings at its discretion – its increased attention in these areas is needed now more than ever.
Tim Cook is chief executive officer of KSM Location Advisors.