Governor-elect Eric Holcomb has appointed a former Democratic gubernatorial candidate to be Indiana's chief economic development officer.
Holcomb announced Thursday that Jim Schellinger will be Indiana’s Secretary of Commerce under his administration. He will replace Victor Smith, who was appointed to the role by Gov. Mike Pence in 2013.
Schellinger, 56, was tapped by Gov. Mike Pence last year as president of the Indiana Economic Development Corp. He was chairman and CEO of Indianapolis-based CSO Architects, but has taken a voluntary leave of absence to serve in the IEDC.
In taking the role of secretary of commerce, he has decided to retire from CSO and sell his ownership stake, according to the firm. He was not required by the state to do so.
CSO is the largest architectural firm in the city in terms of local architectural billings, according to IBJ research. It has about 80 employees.
"I am confident that Jim, with his experience as a business leader coupled with his accomplishments at the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, will further advance Indiana's business climate,” Holcomb said in an announcement from the IEDC. "I look forward to working with him as we continue to make Indiana a state that works.”
During Schellinger’s tenure at IEDC, companies have made commitments to create more than 29,000 jobs and invest $4.74 billion in Indiana, according to the group.
The announcement touts Schellinger as having played a key role in critical economic development successes for the state, such as persuading the parent firm of Dow AgroSciences to keep signifcant operations in Indianapolis as it planned a merger with DuPont.
Schellinger said he was “honored to be given the opportunity.”
"In my role as president of the IEDC, I have continued to learn so much about how to support the growth of Hoosier businesses while also helping attract new companies to Indiana,” Schellinger said in the release. "Today more Hoosiers are working than ever before in our state's history, and I look forward to working with Governor-elect Holcomb and his team in continuing Indiana's economic momentum."
Smith did not immediately reply to IBJ’s request for comment, but the news release said he planed to return to the private sector.
Schellinger ran for governor in 2008 but narrowly lost in the Democratic primary to Jill Long Thompson, who lost in the general election to Gov. Mitch Daniels.
Michael Hicks, a Ball State University economist and director of the Center for Business and Economic Research, called the pick of Schellinger “outstanding.”
Having a former businessman in the role is important, he said.
“It’s really helpful to have somebody who has been in the business of meeting payroll and dealing with customers,” Hicks said. “A big chunk of what he’s going to be doing is talking to businesses about the opportunities in Indiana.”
Hicks also said he believes Schellinger has a modern view of how to approach economic development. It’s not just about business atttraction anymore—rather about how to develop and retain a skilled workforce.
“Jim gets that,” Hicks said. “The job of the secretary of commerce is to make those arguments to policymakers and to convince businesses that are coming here that we are doing that."