EYE ON THE PIE: Indiana needs action, not analysis

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Indiana and other states have economic incentives for businesses. We try to attract new businesses, to keep businesses here, and to encourage existing businesses to expand. Yet we do not feel sufficiently successful.

Often, we are told that our failing is the inadequate development of entrepreneurial firms. The guys and gals with bright ideas just don’t get going in Indiana. Does our culture stifle creativity and the innovative spirit? Do our institutions make us docile and repress our flowering potential?

Today, we have special funding programs for startup companies. We have placed our faith and money in mentoring and educating new entrants to the world of independent business activity. We are going to teach our young people to be more entrepreneurial while we cut back on programs in music, de-emphasize the arts, eliminate theater and minimize literature. We’ll not provide the labs for physics, biology, chemistry and other sciences, but we’ll see to it that every child has a computer for chat.

And we are going to study the needs of our state. Oh, are we going to study them. Yes, again and again we’ll finance studies and develop new goals and objectives, form committees and issue reports to prove that what we knew to be true yesterday is still true today.

Let me quote the chancellor of Ivy Tech State College-Central Indiana, which has joined with several other leading organizations to help develop a work-force development vision for central Indiana: “A written, well-thought-out, long-term vision of work-force development needs represents a starting point through which key stakeholders can come together and better anticipate and shape the future.”

Would you want any less gibberish from your child if she is headed for a career in bureaucracy?

Would it be too much trouble to say that we need to improve reading and writing skills of those in our current and future work force? Those who cannot read and write effectively cannot think in an innovative fashion. Or maybe that is not true. If it is true, then the No. 1 issue for Indiana is basic literacy as a step toward self-respect. This means Ivy Tech and other institutions of learning need to examine themselves as perpetuators of the inadequacies in our primary and secondary schools.

If literacy is not the central issue, call in the anthropologists to examine the Hoosier culture. Is there something in what we honor that discourages achievement? We have studied our economy and our schools frequently with mediocre results. Is it time to study what we value?

Mitch Daniels and his advisers seem to know something about the Hoosier culture. Traveling the state in an RV and searching for the best pork-tenderloin sandwich, “Our Man Mitch” captured the governor’s office. He discarded the dress of the elitist East and the conversation of a well-educated person to affect a downhome style that was clearly winning.

Obviously, Daniels and Democratic opponent Joe Kernan both knew the issues. But Daniels got us in our hearts as well as in our heads. While Kernan had a fine set of emotional assets, Daniels knew our soul, ate its food and played its music.

Now, will he appoint an anthropologist to help shape our economic development program?

Marcus taught economics more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU’s Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to mmarcus@ibj.com.

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