As we begin a new year, most Hoosiers are filled with hope and optimism for their families. Economic conditions continued to improve in 2017 and the outlook for 2018 is very positive. There is much hard work ahead, but our state's leaders have proven that they can tackle major challenges and look to the future. Here are my top economic development wishes for Indiana as we begin a new year.

Continued expansion of early childhood education for low income families: Our state should continue to 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 better ways to do so than the funding of 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. Governor Eric Holcomb and Speaker of the House Brian Bosma have 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 rank in the bottom 10 states in the U.S. Indiana should reorganize its programs and funding to deliver better results. The appointment of Blair Milo as Secretary of Career Connections and Talent was an important decision to accelerate progress in this area.

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 their 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 after all, 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 Senators Greg Taylor (D-33) and John Ruckelshaus (R-30) have come together to advance this important 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 United States have greatly enhanced economic development incentive programs to deliver greater benefit to companies. As an example, Indiana should closely examine making the Venture Capital Tax Credit transferable, refundable or sellable 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 and property tax revenue to our communities to help 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, while states like Iowa and Ohio have been very successful. 

Enhancement and expansion of the Regional Cities program: The state has greatly benefited from the Indiana Economic Development Corp.'s Regional Cities program. The program is now being reviewed and emulated 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 Indiana also put forth great ideas for their areas. Governor Holcomb and the state legislature should work to enhance the program to encourage participation by more rural communities and provide additional funding in its next biennial budget.

Larry Gigerich serves as Executive Managing Director of Ginovus. Ginovus is a recognized leading global provider of location modeling, site selection, and economic development incentive procurement & management services. Ginovus team members have advised and served in support of more than 1,500 projects throughout North American and the Caribbean during their careers. Ginovus is headquartered in Fishers, Indiana.