Entrepreneurship and Opinion and Editorials and Economic Development

EDITORIAL: Learn right lessons from Litebox gaffe

November 5, 2011

Gov. Mitch Daniels has been derided in recent days for standing next to California businessman Bob Yanagihara and declaring, “We like visionaries, we love inventors, we love entrepreneurs. You are all those things.”

To be sure, the vetting that state and local officials did of Yanagihara seems insufficient and poorly done. In brief interviews with IBJ and The Star late last month, Yanagihara was full of contradictions that spurred immediate skepticism.

At one point, he told IBJ he was in line for $40 million in incentives, nearly quadruple what he actually was offered. He later said he confused Indiana with another state Litebox had talked with. He told The Star his backers were “well-heeled individuals,” then moments later said, “Actually, it’s just me.”

Yet Daniels’ point was on target. Indiana’s economy needs visionaries who are willing to risk everything in pursuit of a dream. Yanagihara appears to be a poor illustration—he’s unproven, his business plan looks flimsy, and tax liens have piled up against him in California—but that should not obscure the larger truth.

Hoosier businesspeople long have wrung their hands over why the state does not generate more true entrepreneurs—people like the late Bill Cook, who started a Bloomington medical-device business that now employs 9,500, or the late Mel Simon, whose Indianapolis retail development company now employs 5,200 and has a market value of $37 billion.

True entrepreneurs are audacious and sometimes even reckless. That might rancor Hoosier sensibilities. But the characteristics also help foster dynamic, fast-growing companies—something the state clearly needs in abundance.

The good news is, Indiana’s economic-development-incentive programs are well-structured, so companies get the tax breaks only if they deliver on the jobs they promised. That means when Daniels and Ballard stood alongside Yanagihara to trumpet his plans to hire 1,100 Hoosiers to make mobile video screens, they may have dinged their reputations, but they didn’t put tax dollars at risk.

Next time around, we hope economic development officials do a little more checking before they stage a similar event. But we also hope they keep hunting for the visionaries, innovators and entrepreneurs ready to try out their big ideas on Hoosier soil.

Time to vote

We’ve been disappointed with the mudslinging associated with this year’s mayoral showdown between Republican incumbent Greg Ballard and his Democratic challenger, Melina Kennedy. It seems beneath both candidates, who strike us as quality people.

But if you are a Marion County resident, don’t let distaste for the process keep you home on Election Day. The stakes are huge, as Indianapolis struggles with fixing its schools, halting the exodus of residents from Center Township, and other critical issues. Now is your chance to help shape the city’s future.•

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To comment on these editorials, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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