Question: What is the most important thing the General Assembly could do to improve prospects for economic development?
Answer: It’s time to reboot the American Dream for Indiana by doing three things:
• Better leverage strategic thinking and collaboration.
• Ensure a better return for taxpayers on public investment in private enterprise.
• Cultivate a work force with credentials so employees bring full value to employers, and in turn create opportunities for meaningful careers.
Nearly 1 million Hoosier adults lack the education and training to obtain jobs that will help them individually and improve the state.
There are nearly 2-1/2 job openings in science, technology, engineering and mathematics for every unemployed person in Indiana. Despite the economic downturn, these jobs have remained in demand and will only increase as technology marches on.
These jobs pay well. In southern Indiana, a young person with a two-year technical degree from Vincennes University can get hired at Princeton’s Toyota plant for more than $45,000 a year, not including overtime.
Per-capita income continues to decline relative to other states. Our educational system must support new pathways to successful employment and self-sufficiency. We must get over the myth that success means a four-year college degree and working in an office.
We must acknowledge that our work ethic has changed, and not for the better. Nowadays, people might need to learn skills that we sometimes take for granted.
The safety net should not become a way of life. For many people, this means creating a new normal. Our educational system must support a new set of expectations for a lifetime of earning, active parenting and good citizenship. Enhanced support of early childhood education and lowering our mandatory education age from 7 to 5 dovetails well with these kinds of expectations.
If you are not a reader by 8 years of age, your chances of graduation from high school are drastically lowered. And as our Indiana Chamber of Commerce president recently noted, dropping out of high school in the 21st century is the equivalent of a self-imposed economic death sentence.
During the last legislative session, leaders from both sides of the aisle created the Indiana Career Council to better align educational and employer training programs with current and future needs of Hoosier companies on a regional basis.
As one council member described, our efforts must reflect what the Marines call a “hard charge:” When you have a problem—and we have our share—you give a maximum effort to solve it.
Our hard charge needs to be creating opportunities for people to earn credentials that bring value to employers, and in turn find meaningful work that pays the bills, and allows for personal saving.
While this work progresses, it is also imperative that we ensure tax dollars Indiana invests in attracting, growing and retaining business bring us quality jobs and expanded meaningful working opportunities.
We must guard that Indiana, now widely viewed as the best place to do business in the Midwest and the fifth-best state nationwide, stays at the top.
We must not continue to accept the ordinary. The American Dream isn’t to be taken for granted.•
Hale represents Indiana House District 87 in Indianapolis. She is a Democrat. Send comments on this column to [email protected].