Earlier this month, voters throughout central Indiana chose mayors, city councilors and other local officials in municipal elections. Heading to the polls on Election Day is a civic duty – but there are 364 other days in the year when citizens make their voices heard on the futures of their communities, and the region.
When local college grads decide where to start their careers and talented job-seekers explore Indy as a potential hometown, they’re voting with their choices.
When a discouraged worker can’t find a job, or an aspiring entrepreneur decides not to take a chance on a promising start-up idea, it’s a vote of no confidence in our economy. Every time an employer looks for the most welcoming place to grow, they’re casting a ballot on our business climate.
So we’re waging a perpetual campaign to create jobs, raise wages and encourage investment. We’re working to enhance our quality of life as we compete against the largest urban areas for the talent that drives economic output. We need to entice more residents and companies to vote "yes”"on Central Indiana.
The Indy Chamber helps lead a public-private, metropolitan coalition working towards a more populous, prosperous region. We encourage all newly-elected officials to join the consensus for action that already includes most incumbent policymakers.
One of the most urgent needs we’ve identified is more public transportation options – to connect people with jobs, appeal to educated workers who prefer a less car-centric lifestyle, and encourage new development in urban neighborhoods.
The first opportunity to bring regional transit to Central Indiana is the Red Line, a 35-mile dedicated bus route that runs through Carmel, Westfield, Indianapolis and Greenwood, serving more than 100,000 residents and reaching 20 percent of our jobs and many of our largest companies.
Along the Indianapolis portion of the Red Line, one in four households live below the poverty line and a similar percentage doesn’t own a car; convenient transit service will make employment and education more accessible where the needs are greatest.
Rapid transit, along with investing in our trail and bikeway network, creates walkable neighborhoods that attract the commercial and residential development we’ve already seen in and around downtown. A recent national real estate industry survey shows that 77 percent of Millennial and Boomer homebuyers prefer this kind of urban/pedestrian-friendly living.
Investments like transit and trails will help attract talent, making our region more attractive to growing companies that thrive on human capital. But shifting towards a higher-skill, higher-wage economy also requires expanding our capacity for cutting-edge research and development. The public and private sectors are pushing the 16 Tech innovation district – located downtown north of IUPUI – as a center for industry-academic R&D that will create business opportunities in the life sciences, tech and other advanced industries.
These initiatives will make Central Indiana a more attractive place for companies of all sizes, but smaller employers face unique challenges – including access to capital. Because 90 percent of our businesses employ less than 20 workers, and 80 percent of our job creation comes from these homegrown enterprises, "thinking small" is another economic priority.
The Indy Chamber has been active in supporting small business growth through one-on-one coaching, workshops on planning, cash flow and other key topics, and direct microlending – modest loans (typically $5,000-$50,000) to help fill the gaps left by traditional borrowing. Recently, these efforts got a big boost as the U.S. Small Business Administration designated the Chamber an official microlending intermediary, more than doubling the potential capital available to help young companies expand and hire.
These are just a few priorities from our blueprint for regional growth. The Red Line, 16 Tech and trail/bikeway investments have the unanimous endorsement of metro mayors and council presidents – including the support of Mayor-elect Hogsett in Indianapolis – as our priorities for Regional Cities funding from the state.
Mayor Ballard and Congressman Carson have been champions for regional transit, among other important issues (and have made a compelling case for federal support for the Red Line), while Senator Joe Donnelly led the charge on securing the SBA microlending partnership.
Cooperation between the business community, elected officials and civic leaders has always been Indy’s formula for success, with partisanship taking a backseat to progress. So while the recent elections have ushered in new voices and new ideas, we are excited to keep moving forward on projects aimed at making the Indy region a better place to live and do business, a region where people and employers can thrive.
Michael Huber is chief executive officer of the Indy Chamber.