ODLE: Indiana needs a new immigration burst

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Samuel L. OdleIndiana and Indianapolis have much to be proud of. The state is in a relatively good financial position, to the point of rebated taxes.

Indianapolis has financial challenges, but nothing that cannot be overcome by good ol’ bipartisan political work. I am optimistic Mayor Ballard and council President Maggie Lewis will lead us through the issues.

And we are recognized as a place to host national and international events—no small feat.

What concerns me is where the state is potentially headed in terms of population growth and management. Population growth is flat, and while the metro areas are booming, the rural areas are starting to suffer. We are experiencing what has happened to much of the U.S. already, where we depart from rural and become more metro-based.

Indianapolis’ population growth over the last 10 years is largely due to our rural population moving to the larger cities, with Indianapolis being the main beneficiary. The long-term prognosis from the Indiana University Public Policy Institute is that our rural areas will be depleted of workers by 2040 and primarily be populated by older residents past their productive years.

Our future success, even as Indianapolis, depends on others—rural Indiana towns and the people who make up those communities.

We often hear about the brain drain in Indianapolis and Indiana, and the truth is that we do educate far more college students than our job market can absorb. So, yes, young people are leaving rural areas for jobs in the larger cities and when they can’t find a job and the lifestyle they desire, they leave the state.

This is all occurring while we are trying to increase the number of Hoosiers who attain post-high-school education.

Unless we ensure that our job market expands at a much greater pace, we will be educating Hoosiers for quick export and potentially see Indiana’s real population decline.

The decline will also be the citizens we have invested in educating. It’s the people without education who remain and require even further support from those committed to staying and growing Indiana.

So how do we as a city get Indiana really growing and prospering again? The government and business community need to drop the one-sided commitment to fiscal conservatism and develop a plan that swings for the fences.

First, we need an immigration strategy that invites new citizens to populate our dying rural communities. These communities are ideal for new United States citizens. They can help rebirth our rural communities the same way immigrants settled in the 1800s.

This growing rural population is the linchpin of our future agricultural dominance. It will also diversify our work force to provide future workers as retirees and baby boomers age out of the work force.

Second, we must develop a bold plan to take advantage of rising global wages and provide incentives for companies to bring jobs back to the U.S. Our technical training schools can partner with these companies to make certain they have the abundant work force they require to remain competitive.

And third, we need to build on our energy and life sciences foundation to support existing companies with everything they need to grow here, and not be lured away.

Immigration is not a problem, but rather a hidden opportunity Indiana should seize to help enable growth for a brighter future. We must preserve some of what we’ve been while planning accordingly for the change that is inevitable.•


Odle is the former chief operating officer of Indiana University Health and CEO of Methodist and University hospitals. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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  1. Now if he'd just stay there...

  2. Daniel - what about the many US citizens who do NOT follow what the Bible teaches? The Hindus, Jews, Muslims and others who are all American citizens entitled to all rights as Americans?? This issue has NOTHING to do with "What the Bible says..." Keep all Churches separate from State! Pence's ongoing idiocy continues to make Indiana look like a backwards, homophobic state in the eyes of our nation. Can't we move on to bigger issues - like educating our kids?

  3. 1. IBJ should link to the referenced report. We are in the age of electronic media...not sharing information is lazy. Here is a link http://www.in.gov/gov/files/Blue_Ribbon_Panel_Report_July_9_2014.pdf 2. The article should provide more clarity about the make-up of this panel. The commenters are making this item out to be partisan, it does not appear the panel is partisan. Here is a list of the panel which appears to be balanced with different SME to add different perspectives http://www.in.gov/activecalendar/EventList.aspx?view=EventDetails&eventidn=138116?formation_id=189603 3. It suggests a by-pass, I do not see where this report suggests another "loop". 4. Henry, based on your kneejerk reaction, we would be better off if you moved to another state unless your post was meant as sarcasm in which case I say Well Done. 5. The article and report actually indicates need to improve rail and port infrastructure in direct contradiction to Shayla commentary. Specifically, recommendation is to consider passenger rail projects... 6. People have a voice with their elected officials. These are suggestions and do not represent "crony capitalism", etc. The report needs to be analyzed and the legislature can decide on priorities and spending. Don't like it, then vote in a new legislature but quit artificially creating issues where there are none! People need to sift through the politics and provide constructive criticism to the process rather than making uninformed comments in a public forum based on misinformation. IBJ should work harder to correct the record in these forums when blatant errors or misrepresentations are made.

  4. Joe ... Marriage is defined in the Bible ... it is mentioned in the Bible often. Marriage is not mentioned once in the US or Indiana Constitution ...

  5. Daniel - Educate me please: what does the Bible have to do with laws? If the government wasn't in the business of marriage to begin with, then it wouldn't have to "define" marriage at all. Marriage could be left as a personal, religious, or otherwise unregulated action, with no ties to taxes, legal status, etc. Then people could marry whomever they want, and all this silliness would go away. Remember to vote Libertarian in November.