Opinion and Forefront

GREGG: Fair trade, education, regionalism will lead to prosperity

December 10, 2011

John R. GreggQuestion: As governor, what would you do to improve the Indiana economy?

Answer:
Our state and national economies are struggling unlike at any time since the Great Depression.

If there ever were a time to move past the partisan positioning and ideological warfare we see both in Washington and Indianapolis, it is now. What we need is a practical plan for creating jobs.

I come at this from a business perspective, having served at two Fortune 500 companies, run a small business, and met a payroll and led Vincennes University, an institution intimately involved in work-force development and job attraction in Indiana.

From these experiences, and from traveling Indiana this past year to meet with and listen to Hoosiers of all stripes, I have developed a road map to restoring Indiana as an economic leader. Let me briefly outline the basic challenges and the practical responses required:

• Our competitors have changed. We’ve spent too much time looking over our shoulder at Illinois, when we should be looking out for India.

• Many look at the Midwest and derisively call us the “Rust Belt.” They tell us that if you want to make it, you’ve got to move to Chicago or to the left or right coasts.

• Too many of our kids aren’t learning the skills they need, not just to pass ISTEP, but also to compete against students across the planet.

• Too many workers are stuck on jobs and technology that have moved on without them.

As governor, I will spend every waking moment reversing these trends and ensuring that Indiana is built to compete.

There will be plenty who say we can’t do it. But Indiana has done it before, leading the nation and the world in agriculture, transportation, steel and automotive technology. If I am our next governor, I won’t stop working until Indiana leads the world again.

• We must ensure that our business climate is modern, competitive and affordable.

• We must ensure that we approach all economic development from a regional perspective. We can still fight one another in the sectionals, but we have to break down county lines when it comes to job creation. We need growth plans for each region of our state focused on their unique competitive strengths. And we must end destructive beggar-thy-neighbor policies and remember that we will not move ahead by leaving other Indiana communities behind.

• We must double down on the sectors in which we already excel, like life sciences, logistics, advanced manufacturing and agribusiness. I applaud Gov. Daniels for his efforts to improve our business climate and attract new sectors to Indiana. But we must do more to attract the industries of tomorrow, like alternative energy—which could end up being the silicon chip of the 21st century—clean coal and other new technologies.

• We need an unprecedented focus on Hoosier small businesses. We will continue to pursue large job-creating projects, but cutting the ribbon on a 10-person shop will be just as important to me. We also must address the startling lack of startup funds and capital available to small businesses and entrepreneurs. I will push to provide the kind of investment capital and incentives that other forward-looking state governments, like our neighbors in Ohio, have helped to create.

• Finally, we must ensure that Indiana companies are afforded every advantage in overseas trade agreements. Free trade does not mean unfair trade, and the days of selling out American companies in the name of free trade must end.

Serious times call for serious leaders, and unfortunately, we’ve seen too few leaders. Now is the time for us to lay down our arms against one another and focus like a laser on the issues that matter to Hoosier businesses and workers.•

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Gregg, formerly speaker of the Indiana House, is running for the Democratic nomination for governor. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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