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VIEWPOINT: 'Buy local' should be rallying cry

April 7, 2008

In recent months, our governor and mayors across the state proudly have announced business developments and out-of-state companies' plans to expand or relocate in Indiana. They've worked overtime to earn these economic boosts, and they're to be congrat ulated for helping bolster the state and local economy.

But we're ignoring a simple strategy that could yield many more high-paying jobs: Buy local.

Here's the irony: Pursuing this strategy doesn't have to cost a dime. No recruiting trips to China, no tax incentives, no taxes at all. All we have to do is commit to buying local professional services, including architectural, engineering and construction-management, legal, accounting, public relations, advertising and dozens of other business consulting services.

All too frequently, our universities, government agencies, hospitals, major institutions and corporations don't see the connection between buying local and the resulting economic development. As a result, they're exporting jobs and capital out of the state.

It's naïve to think Indiana organizations should exclusively hire only other Indiana businesses. Of course, there are times when it makes sense to hire the best company for the job regardless of where it's located. And sometimes that's going to mean hiring an out-of-state firm. But if that firm has a special expertise or service, instead of giving it the entire contract, request that the firm partner with an Indiana company, so a portion of the jobs, taxes and benefits stay in-state.

Many of our firms do compete in other states and countries, and are successful in bringing jobs and capital back to Indiana. It is in every Hoosier's interest to have our companies succeed in a global marketplace. To achieve global success, however, we must become serious about helping Indiana companies grow at home. Home-court advantage should mean something when our local firms compete in Indiana for jobs.

We must change mind-sets about the Indiana talent pool, considering local talent first, and asking ourselves this question whenever making a hiring decision: How can we keep this (project, service, function, job) local?

Certainly, it's a major accomplishment to get Medco Health Solutions to bring 1,300 jobs to Boone County, for Nestle to settle in Anderson, and for SMC Corp. to build a company headquarters in Noblesville, but we cannot rely on attraction alone to yield the jobs we need. Real growth will come from growing Indiana business, especially Indiana-headquartered companies.

We must recognize there's more at stake here than just jobs. Not only does buying local pump money into Indiana, but it helps our state build a stronger foundation for economic development growth. It allows us to offer the kinds of jobs and careers that attract young professionals, families and top-notch citizens-the kinds of people who contribute not just to the economy, but to the quality of life.

Growth in Indiana companies means additional resources to support community services. Major philanthropy doesn't come from branch offices of national firms, nor does the top talent needed to fill boards of directors, volunteer to lead key initiatives or build the relationships that build communities. It comes from Indiana-headquartered companies that have deep ties to the community and the capital to support community needs.

If the major buyers of services in Indiana are seriously committed to Indiana, they'll support other Hoosier companies. They'll see the benefits of that support in the form of increased, better-paying jobs, moreaccessible support services, increased tax base, increased philanthropy, and sons and daughters who want to stay in Indiana.

Here's my challenge: When you consider your next contract for professional services, ask yourself this question first: How can we keep this business in Indiana? The amount of talent and expertise we have right here may just surprise you.



Sullivan is executive vice president of Shiel Sexton, an Indianapolis-based construction and development company specializing in health care, education, life sciences, and public and commercial facilities.
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