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CHRIS KATTERJOHN Commentary: Now we have a plan-let's use it

May 15, 2006

For years, Indiana politicians-at least the smart ones-have talked about the importance of economic growth and development, and behind the scenes business leaders have replied, "Duh. How about coming up with some kind of plan?"

This was always a hot button for Dave Goodrich, retired real estate executive and former head of Central Indiana Corporate Partnership. In his days at CICP, Goodrich would bend the ear of anyone willing to listen about the need for a plan.

Well, how does he feel today, a couple of weeks after the release of Accelerating Growth, the economic development strategy offered by the Daniels administration?

"At least it's a start," Goodrich said from his home last week.

I agree, and the key to its success will depend on a number of things, not the least of which is the continued support and advocacy of Gov. Daniels himself. The governor-and the state of Indiana-can't afford to let the good ideas and initiatives contained in the plan languish for lack of leadership.

Admittedly, his influence is limited by certain factors, including financial resources, budget constraints and a Legislature whose future makeup is somewhat in question as the result of a bruising 2006 General Assembly.

Political pundits are predicting that House Republicans who helped push Daniels' transportation initiative Major Moves into law might find themselves out of office after November for "shoving the legislation down the throat" of a majority of Hoosiers who didn't really support it.

If Daniels loses his majority in the House, it would certainly disrupt his agenda.

Accelerating Growth "cuts right to the chase and zeroes in on [Indiana's] most glaring deficiencies-low earnings, low educational attainment and poor workforce preparation, and low levels of investment," according to Ball State University economist Pat Barkey.

Indeed, the governor's plan (read it yourself at www.in.gov/iedc/pdfs/Strategic_Plan.pdf.) contains initiatives that address all those shortcomings. All it will take in addition to leadership to see the plan come to fruition are time, manpower and money.

These days, that's a tall order.

For example, as IBJ reporter Peter Schnitzler pointed out in a story last week, the plan asks the General Assembly for $100 million to start three new funds designed to leverage federal dollars for R&D and innovation at Hoosier companies and universities, and to help close business-expansion and -attraction deals.

As is typical with the Daniels administration, Accelerating Growth is aggressive. It needs to be, because drastic times call for drastic measures.

Indiana's per-capita income has slipped from 106.4 percent of the national average in 1953 to 91.4 percent today-the ninth-steepest decline in the nation, according to the governor's document. So, the over-arching goal of his plan is to meet the national average in per-capita income and annual wages by 2020.

Now, on the surface, "to meet the national average" would seem a modest goal for an aggressive plan. It's not, however, when you consider that to accomplish it Indiana's economy must outpace the national average at least 10 percent annually for 15 years.

So, you see, I worry.

I worry about the willingness of Hoosiers and their legislators-a predominantly conservative, risk-averse group-to embrace the ideas contained in the plan.

And, I worry about the political price-i.e., not being re-elected-that Daniels and his team could face as a result of their drive to initiate real change in our state. The governor appears to be ruffling a lot of feathers with his persistent attack on government waste and his aggressive approach to policymaking.

And, ultimately, I worry if the strategy will be given the time it needs to prove to be effective. As Accelerating Growth says, "this plan must transcend administrations." In this partisan Legislature, that's also a tall order.

Accelerating Growth might not be perfect, but I give Daniels a lot of credit for delivering in his typical no-nonsense style a long-overdue document that contains concrete ideas and strategies and begins to address the state's economic future in a comprehensive way.



Katterjohn is publisher of IBJ. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to ckatterjohn@ibj.com
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