Editorial: Job one for eco-devo pros is helping existing firms thrive

Keywords Opinion

The business of attracting and retaining jobs in Indiana—the purview of the Indiana Economic Development Corp., the Indy Chamber and dozens of other groups across the state—isn’t for the faint of heart.

Officials here must scratch and claw for high-paying jobs, vying against aggressive communities across the country—many with amenities like mountains and oceans, and many willing to dole out incentive packages so large they border on absurdity.

Despite Indiana’s business-friendly climate, huge wins in attracting new companies to our region—such as Honda’s 2007 commitment to build a car plant in Greensburg—are rare.

That reality, and some recent news events in central Indiana, underscore that it’s easier—and more financially prudent—to focus on growing existing companies than to draw new ones here.

That approach might not have the headline-grabbing flash of luring an Amazon HQ2, and sometimes it even can seem distasteful. For example, some Indianapolis City-County Council members turned up their noses last year as they OK'd a $30 million incentive deal in return for Corteva Agriscience’s promise to retain 1,385 jobs for a decade—a pact that lacked a commitment to add jobs.

Just this month, the IEDC announced an easier-to-swallow deal that will help fortify one of Indianapolis’ old-line industrial companies, Allison Transmission Holdings Inc.

Allison, which already has 2,600 workers in Indiana, is planning to build an innovation center and a test facility that together are expected to create more than 300 jobs.

In return for those job-creation plans, the IEDC offered Allison up to $7 million in tax credits and $50,000 in training grants.

The reality is that plum jobs such as those offered by Allison and Corteva don’t come along often. Economic development officials could spend years trying to lure firms of their caliber only to come up empty.

And even when a company is deeply rooted here, its fortunes can change in an instant. Such was the case with Indianapolis-based DowBrands, maker of Ziplock bags, after owner Dow Chemical put it on the block 1998. The buyer shuttered the entire, 300-person headquarters.

That tale is a stark reminder that the outcome at Corteva—formerly known as Dow AgroSciences and also formerly owned by Dow Chemical—could have been far worse.

The future of Indianapolis-based Dow AgroSciences became mired in uncertainty after Dow and Delaware-based DuPont in 2015 announced a $130 billion merger, with plans to break apart into three new publicly traded companies.

One of those is Corteva. Indianapolis vied to become the headquarters but landed a consolation prize instead, becoming a so-called “global business center.”

Corteva might indeed grow from here. It has a deal with the IEDC that would award it up to $28 million in tax credits if it added 600 jobs by 2028.

Big incentive packages get the attention of the C-suite, of course, but they only take a region or a state so far. A stew of factors—from the supply of skilled workers to the quality of life—also play into companies’ decisions on where to grow or contract.

Such factors likely will drive whether Corteva pulls the trigger on expanding here. We at IBJ will be chronicling that outcome. But beyond the spotlight, thousands of firms across Indiana are making investment decisions every day based on such “soft” criteria.

To win at the economic development game, the state must minimize weaknesses and build on strengths. That keeps existing companies investing here, which is our surest path to prosperity.•

__________

To comment on this editorial, write to [email protected]

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: IBJ is now using a new comment system. Your Disqus account will no longer work on the IBJ site. Instead, you can leave a comment on stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Past comments are not currently showing up on stories, but they will be added in the coming weeks. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.