Politicians seem so much more 21st century when they talk about attracting life sciences and information technology jobs to Indiana. But they're not about to ignore the state's second-largest employer-the often-overlooked insurance industry.
Indiana insurers employ more than 60,000 Hoosiers, second only to farming, and pay an average annual salary of $47,500, nearly $10,000 more than the state average, according to a 2004 study by Purdue University.
Moreover, the industry boasts some of the state's largest public and private companies-WellPoint Inc., American United Life Insurance Co. and Conseco Inc. among them-in terms of annual revenue.
To ensure the state remains attractive to the insurance profession, the Indiana Economic Development Corp. is leaning on the higher-education community for assistance.
Both Ball State University in Muncie and Indiana State University in Terre Haute have insurance and risk-management departments. And Ivy Tech State College now offers the 40 hours of prelicensing coursework needed before taking the agent exam.
For Indiana insurance companies looking to add jobs, or for outsiders wanting to move or expand operations, the state's educational assets could be a deciding factor, said Mike Chrysler, the IEDC's director of insurance initiatives.
"Education is Indiana's best hope to differentiate itself," he said. "We can change our tax and regulatory environment, and so can other states. But no one has the educational component we have."
Roughly 40 universities provide insur- ance and risk management majors, but Indiana is among only a handful of states that hosts two programs, according to the American Risk and Insurance Association in Pennsylvania.
Ball State has offered insurance and actuarial science courses for more than 30 years. Indiana State launched its program in 1988, with the backing of former Insurance Commissioner Peter Hudson, and offers a degree through its distance-learning curriculum.
Chrysler arrived at the state in July and said one of the aims of the initiative is to promote the state's skilled work force and the university programs as an asset for companies looking to expand.
Part of the push, though, involves familiarizing students with the profession even before they enter college. The locally based Insurance Education Institute offers a program to high school teachers that gives them the tools to instruct their students about insurance and risk management.
The IEI program is usually available each year at a half-dozen different colleges around the country. This year, the institute will host a session at Ball State June 19-24.
Separately, the Independent Insurance Agents of Indiana became involved last year in the national InVEST program, run by the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America.
InVEST also aims to introduce high school students to the world of insurance, financial services and risk management. The Indiana branch chose to kick off its endeavor at Lafayette Jefferson High School, a repeat winner of blue ribbon schools of excellence awards from the U.S. Department of Education.
The intent is to start a course dedicated to insurance there, and expand to other high schools in the state, said Roger Ronk, executive vice president of the IIAI.
"It's just a natural for us to go back and work the other direction," Ronk said of the organization's commitment at the high school level. "I receive calls weekly from my member agencies that are looking for people. So I think there is an unfulfilled need out there."
The state has emphasized the insurance industry before. Mary Ann Boose, program director for ISU's Insurance and Risk Management Department, was among those who served on a working group during the O'Bannon administration.
This effort is more structured, Boose said, in that the Daniels administration has dedicated someone to the mission-Chrysler-rather than delegating responsibilities to volunteers such as herself.
Under Gov. Mitch Daniels, Insurance Commissioner Jim Atterholt supports an initiative to make Indiana attractive to insurance firms. "The climate here is extremely friendly to the insurance industry," he said. "You can have a regulator who is pro-economic development and who is friendly to the consumer."
Atterholt's comments follow critics who think the insurance environment already is too friendly without the economic development initiative. A 1998 Wall Street Journal article labeled Indiana's insurance department as one of the nation's least effective.
Recovery and restitution amounts for consumers jumped from $5 million in 2004 to $9.7 million in 2005, Atterholt countered. And company fines increased from $405,431 in 2004 to $675,875 last year.
In mid-December, BSU, ISU and Ivy Tech participated in a forum in which insurance companies addressed their expected future employment needs.
To that end, BSU's Center for Actuarial Science, Insurance and Risk Management is devising a survey it will send to companies to track number of employees, types of jobs, and future hiring plans.
Steve Avila, co-director of the center, said the study should help determine what types of talent companies are coveting.
Between 20 and 30 students graduate yearly with insurance and risk-management degrees, Avila said. And an additional 80 undergrads and 25 graduate students earn actuarial science degrees from BSU every year. But more students, such as accounting and finance majors armed with a few insurance courses, are entering a profession he views as recession-proof.
"It provides a service everybody needs," Avila said. "You don't have the ebbs and flows like you do in some other industries."
ISU graduates about a dozen students from its insurance and risk-management program annually. Boose, however, concurred that the number of alumni getting jobs at insurance companies is likely higher.
Some of those entering the program in the future could come via Ivy Tech. If the college's foray into pre-licensing classes proves fruitful, educators will "absolutely" weigh offering an associate's degree that could transfer to a four-year school, said Tom Darling, Ivy Tech's executive director of work force and economic development.
The move would further Indiana's stature as industry-friendly.
"We are considered one of the top states for insurance education," Boose said. "That's a major feather in our cap."