Pence development fund deserves another look

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Indy Chamber represents our region’s employers and leads its business attraction efforts. We know that our affordability and ease of doing business are important economic development assets. But we also know that we live in a talent-driven economy—and our strategy for growth and jobs must adapt.

A skilled workforce trumps the most generous incentives. To be competitive, Indiana must attract and retain the human capital that thriving companies rely on for productivity, innovation and creativity.

The stakes are high. Area Development Magazine’s annual Corporate Survey asks executives to rank their site selection priorities. In 27 of 28 surveys, highway access, labor costs and taxes were primary concerns. In 2014, “availability of skilled labor” topped the list.

To appeal to employers, we need to appeal to their employees. To grow our own new companies, we first need risk-taking entrepreneurs to live here. Economic development is about more than making deals; it’s about building places where people want to live.

Gov. Pence’s proposed Regional Cities fund [Feb. 23] challenges Indiana’s metropolitan areas to create more livable communities that become magnets for talent. The fund would help metros like central Indiana, Evansville, Fort Wayne and others invest in amenities that improve their quality of life.

Increasingly, the next generation of professionals is settling in cities and suburbs. The top 100 U.S. metropolitan areas—only 12 percent of the nation’s land mass—are home to two-thirds of our population and generate 75 percent of our gross domestic product. Closer to home, 18 percent of Indiana’s jobs are in Marion County, 63 percent in the rest of metropolitan Indiana. Regional Cities recognizes demographic reality, and invests in our metros’ ability to compete for the best and brightest.

Unfortunately, last week, the House of Representatives slashed Regional Cities funding by more than three quarters—from $86 million to just $20 million over the biennium.

Pence’s modest $86 million request focuses on the communities that already fill state government’s coffers. Only 21 of our 92 counties produce more taxes per capita than they receive. Indiana will increasingly rely on a few metro regions to support the state.

The Regional Cities fund isn’t some boon to cities at the expense of rural Indiana:It’s a down payment on a stronger economy and a broader tax base for all Hoosiers. We urge legislators to endorse full funding for the Regional Cities initiative, and a long-term vision of a more populous, prosperous Indiana.

Michael Huber, president
Indy Chamber

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