Indiana’s bicentennial celebration to include push for ‘big ideas’

Indiana's upcoming bicentennial celebrations will include a push to identify some of the "big ideas" that could help drive change in the state's financial, agricultural, cultural and other sectors over the next half-century, project organizers said Friday.

Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann and former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton announced the "Bicentennial Visioning Project" during a news conference in the Statehouse Rotunda next to a display case holding Indiana's original 1816 state constitution.

Hamilton, who came up with the project idea, said Indiana needs to use next year's 200th anniversary of its December 1816 elevation to statehood to look to the future and develop "a vision for Indiana for the long haul."

"We're living in a time when the world is going through enormous changes. You read about them every day. The dynamics of the world, globalization, technology in every single field. And we want to make sure the state of Indiana is prepared to enter that kind of a future," the 84-year-old Democrat said.

Ellspermann, a Republican, said the project will focus on eight to 10 subject areas that are still being developed.

She said civic leaders, "thought leaders" and others will be enlisted over the summer and given the job of trying to envision the state's future and what steps Indiana might need to take to prepare for the next 50 years and beyond. Ellspermann said participants assigned to the various subjects will meet this fall for one-day "visioning" sessions to conjure up ideas about what lies ahead.

Those ideas will be edited into a final report by Norm Heikens, a former reporter and editor for IBJ and The Indianapolis Star who will lead the project. He'll be assisted by five Indiana college students who will serve as "bicentennial scholars" to aid in the editing process.

Ellspermann said Heikens will have "the monumental task of distilling those great ideas and recommendations into a final document … that will really bring to life these big ideas." She said the goal is to complete the report by July 2016.

Indiana's largest state-based bank, Old National Bank, is providing $150,000 to underwrite the project.

Hamilton said the project's report could help drive policy changes by state and local government by exploring wide-ranging areas that are expected to play a role in the state's future, including agriculture, commerce, the financial industry and arts and culture.

He said he came up with the project idea because he realized Indiana needs to take a long look into the future.

"A journalist many years ago said to me that the problem with politicians is that they don't put their feet up on the table, look out the window and think," Hamilton said.

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