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EDITORIAL: Foreign trade trips are must-dos in today’s world

March 9, 2018

“We need to take Indiana to the world and bring the world back to Indiana.”

That’s what Gov. Eric Holcomb said nearly one year ago as he announced that India-based Infosys Ltd. would bring a tech hub and 2,000 jobs to Indianapolis. It sounded almost boilerplate, the kind of comment that might be tucked into talking points about the state’s economic development strategy and pulled out for speeches and press releases.

But Holcomb and his administration are putting those words into action.

As IBJ’s Hayleigh Colombo reported in our March 2 issue, Holcomb has already taken four international trade trips (including one during his brief stint as lieutenant governor). His commerce secretary, Jim Schellinger, has been on every one of those trips—and has taken six more (including a last-minute jaunt to India to help secure that Infosys deal).

Combined, Holcomb and Schellinger traveled to 11 countries and 31 cities last year, all in an effort to boost the business foreign companies do in Indiana and the business Indiana companies do overseas.

Already, Indiana is an international powerhouse.  The Indiana Economic Development Corp. reports Indiana has the highest percentage of private-sector jobs from foreign-owned firms in the Midwest.

More than 800 foreign-based businesses employ nearly 200,000 Indiana residents. And Indiana exports $38 billion in goods and $9 billion in services a year to other countries. In all, international trade supported more than 812,000 jobs in 2014, a number that’s almost certainly grown. That’s more than one of every five jobs in the state.

Those kinds of numbers don’t happen by chance. They are the result of carefully cultivated relationships with business and government leaders in places like Japan, India, Germany, England and even Hungary. These are contacts meant to last not just through a political administration but over decades. Holcomb is building on the work done by former Govs. Mike Pence and Mitch Daniels and Frank O’Bannon and those before them.

But it’s work that’s more important than ever. Our increasingly globalized—but also politicized—world means Indiana leaders must labor harder and faster to show foreign firms why Indiana is the right place to do business. It’s not always easy. The competition (from other states and other nations) is tremendous and there are constant complications (think President Donald Trump’s recent threat to place tariffs on imported aluminum and steel).

Foreign investment in Indiana is invaluable, as is the ability of Indiana firms to sell their products and services in other nations. We encourage Holcomb to continue his focus on foreign trade and his emphasis on traveling to meet worldwide leaders one-on-one—and we urge local officials to join him whenever possible.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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