George Gemelas: Indiana’s red-state approach to the clean economy

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At first blush, the Hoosier State might seem far from being a leader on climate and sustainability. We are a barn-red state, a key U.S. agricultural producer, and the most manufacturing-intensive state in the nation. In the political and business spheres, few here are banging the drum of “sustainability” or “climate action,” nothing like California or New York.

It’s time to blink and look around, though, because Indiana is catching its stride in the race toward a clean economy.

Across the state, Hoosiers are seizing the opportunities that the clean economy presents. We’re snatching up billions in investment to manufacture the technologies of tomorrow, and incredible Hoosier innovations with a sustainability upside are popping up statewide.

While, to some, our state’s qualities might seem to put us at odds with the issue of climate and the environment, it is precisely these attributes that position us to be a leader—in our own unique, Hoosier way—to tackle these important challenges. Our strong business environment, our pragmatism and our excellence in agriculture and industry—all of these will be needed to meet our country’s environmental challenges.

In agriculture, Indiana is incubating potentially game-changing innovations that could dramatically increase yields and cut pollution: plants that change color to signal they have disease (Insignium AgTech), drones to scan crops for infestation by detecting individual insect bites in leaves (Taranis) and special animal feed that decreases cattle’s methane output (Elanco). We have visionary producers who are exploring climate-smart beef at Fischer Farms and pushing toward carbon-neutral eggs at MPS Egg Farms.

In manufacturing, we’re putting up new innovative ventures. Purdue researchers earned a Guinness world record for developing the world’s whitest paint, which has powerful cooling properties when used on top of buildings. To the north in Kokomo, a South Korean company is investing in a big semiconductor and battery recycling plant, and here in Indy, ReElement Technologies is ratcheting up its rare-earth metals recycling refinery, which also has significant U.S. national security implications given China’s dominance in that supply chain.

Most of all, our manufacturing prowess and business environment position us to meet the future production demands of the global market. We’ve already won big investments to build EV battery giga-plants with companies like Stellantis, GM and Samsung SDI. We can also move to manufacture the concrete and metals and other key components that technologies of the clean economy will require.

In the energy sector, Indiana is also home to some key bets. With help from Cummins, traditionally a diesel engine-maker, Indiana—alongside Michigan and Illinois—scored a federal clean hydrogen hub designation last October to develop and scale the emerging technology. Purdue, with its top-tier nuclear engineering program, is helping push forward small modular nuclear reactors, a safer zero-carbon power source for small cities. If all goes right, both could transform the global energy sector.

Especially given this early momentum, Indiana should not be afraid to continue paving our own path on climate and sustainability. We can harness our strengths and be a hub that invents and churns out the solutions of tomorrow.

If we do, we can bring growth and create new careers, attract a young and innovative workforce, and keep Indiana on the radar for investors far and wide. This is all while proving a red state like ours can play a critical role in tackling the challenges the world is facing.•

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Gemelas is chief operating officer at Climate Solutions Fund and a Mitch Daniels Leadership Foundation fellow. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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