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Right-to-work boosting job-marketing efforts in Indiana

March 31, 2012

Local economic development groups are wasting no time touting the state’s new right-to-work law, a spot check shows.

But most of the organizations are so small they’re limited to including the news in brochures or on websites. No fancy marketing; for that, they’ll rely on the Indiana Economic Development Corp.

“It’s not that we don’t want to; it’s just that we have very limited budgets,” said Cheryl Morphew, executive director of Johnson County Development Corp. and president of the Indiana Economic Development Association trade group.

The law arguably is one of the most influential and controversial pieces of legislation to come out of the Statehouse in several years.

Indiana is the 23rd state to have a right-to-work law, which supporters say will help attract employers and increase jobs by prohibiting employment contracts that require workers to pay union fees or join unions.

Right-to-work puts Indiana on an even playing field with many states with similar laws in the Southeast, where several non-union and foreign-based car companies have manufacturing plants, proponents say.

Opponents, however, argue that it will lead to lower wages and poorer-quality jobs.

Gov. Mitch Daniels, who signed the bill Feb. 1 following weeks of protests, said the law already has led the state to sign tax-incentive agreements with three companies that otherwise would not have considered locating in Indiana.

“I probably underestimated how important an addition to our already excellent business climate this was going to be,” Daniels said in March.

However, questions arose about one company touted in a state news release. Indianapolis-based MBC Group, a nonunion firm that offers outsourced package manufacturing, denied that right-to-work influenced its decision to expand its Brookville operations in eastern Indiana.

Local groups are finding ways to wend the news into marketing strategies.

Morphew said her organization plans to add right-to-work to existing materials as a complement to other benefits the state already offers businesses. And she will bring it up in conversations with site selectors and company officials.

Morphew hopes Johnson County can band with neighboring economic development associations to ultimately market right-to-work as a regional effort.

On top of that, many local economic development associations will look to the Indiana Economic Development Corp. to take the lead.

“We want to be singing from the same songbook, so that it’s a similar message,” Morphew said.

IEDC will include right-to-work in state promotional packets, a spokeswoman said, but has no plans to launch a campaign directly centered on the contentious issue.

Greg Wathen, president and CEO of Evansville-based Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana, supports the measure and plans to promote it by using cheaper, “old-school” tactics to directly pitch to specific targets instead of more costly, broad mailers. He also uses electronic communications and some social-media avenues.

“There’s a short window to get [right-to-work] out there,” he said. “You don’t know what other Midwestern states are going to do.”

Wathen also said the coalition has several business trips planned over the next three years to cities including Atlanta, Chicago and Dallas, where he expects right-to-work to be a part of any conversations.

Right-to-work hasn’t been an issue for a huge employer in his area, Toyota Motor Corp., which is adding 400 jobs by next year as part of a $400 million expansion of its Princeton assembly plant.

Nor has it hindered Subaru of America in West Lafayette or Honda Motor Co. in Greensburg.

Dax Norton, executive director of the Boone County Economic Development Corp. in Lebanon, said right-to-work will be featured in print brochures his organization takes to manufacturing and commercial real estate brokerage trade shows.

The association hired a marketing director to help increase the county’s exposure to prospective companies. That includes electronic marketing specifically targeting land available for manufacturing.

Boone County has increased its manufacturing base with the development of Lebanon Business Park along Interstate 65 and Anson near Whitestown. But Norton realizes the county needs more than just a right-to-work law to attract business.

“Will we win every project because of right to work? No,” Norton said. “Is it something we had to do? Absolutely.”

In Marion County, Develop Indy also is targeting the business benefits of right-to-work for vacated industrial sites that could be transformed into manufacturing facilities. It likely will add right-to-work language to its website advertising those available properties, said Marketing Manager Jessica Higdon.

“Our plans in the future are to use that right-to-work component for specific industries related to manufacturing,” Higdon said. “As we push those properties out in our marketing materials, obviously [right to work isn’t] going to make sense for other industries.”•

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