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All around us, Hoosiers are on the move – as vaccination numbers keep rising, more workers head downtown, restaurants and retailers are rebounding, and Memorial Day weekend even featured the familiar roar of engines from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as live crowds (!) watched Helio Castroneves hoist the Borg-Warner trophy for the fourth time.

Your business advocacy team isn’t taking a victory lap, even though this session of the Indiana General Assembly was generally positive for our priorities.

We keep moving forward on a number of issues, and successfully implementing the Marion County transit plan continues to occupy a place near the top of the list. With more businesses reopening and hiring picking up, the ability to get around town – to connect employers and workers – is an economic necessity. During session, we fought off efforts to siphon local investments from IndyGo and sabotage federal funding for bus rapid transit (and infrastructure upgrades along the routes).

But the work goes on. Now the focus shifts to specific policies to make every dollar count, including land use around these rapid transit corridors to encourage neighborhood investment and redevelopment.

 

Zone Defense

Proposed changes to Marion County’s zoning ordinance to support transit-oriented development (TOD) will be considered by the City-County Council over the next few weeks, starting with a hearing in the Metropolitan and Economic Development Committee on Monday. The current plan calls a TOD-friendly zone around rapid transit lines for dense development, with fewer building restrictions based on parking requirements, lot size and other technical tweaks – basically normalizing the kind of walkable, mixed-use projects that are in demand by market (but often require concessions and variances from current zoning standards).

This zone is currently set at 600 feet; it started at 1,000 feet, and we’re working to avoid any further TOD trimming as well as clarifying language around the design of grocery stores that could locate near transit stations.

Improved mass transit service has been an Indy Chamber focus for well over a decade, and we’ve made major progress. But this is where the rubber meets the road in making all the years of effort truly pay off – a solid TOD strategy helps attack the challenge of ‘missing middle’ housing, strengthens the urban tax base by attracting new investment and accelerates the redevelopment of neighborhoods across Indianapolis. Zoning regulations aren’t anyone’s idea of scintillating summer reading, but deserve all the attention we can muster for their potential to shape our future.

And speaking of summer reading…

 

Summer School

The Indiana Department of Education this week announced $122 million in learning loss prevention grants for community partnerships to help K-12 students catch up from the last year of COVID-disrupted education. 34 of the 110 awards focus on Marion County or the broader Indy region; this includes $11 million for “summer learning labs” organized by the Mind Trust, United Ways of Central Indiana and Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Indiana that could serve more than 7,000 students across the city.

It’s one of many ways we’re already seeing the impact of the last legislative session (the learning loss prevention partnerships were tackled in HB1008), along with a fast-paced rollout of the Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative (READI) grant program.

Students won’t be the only ones with extra work to do over the next few months – legislators were also assigned a hefty list of interim study topics. A few areas of particular interest:

  • Sticking with K-12, the education study committee will check on the early outcomes of the learning loss grants, along with ways to minimize bureaucratic mandates on local school districts and make better use of data resources;
  • The committee will also explore the daunting challenge of closing racial achievement gaps;
  • In our legislative wrap-up, we noted the success of police reform (HB1006) this session wasn’t matched by much momentum on criminal justice issues – the study committee on criminal justice and corrections will explore the availability of counsel during bond hearings and the capacity of the public defender system – issues that obviously impact incarceration rates and contribute to widespread jail overcrowding;
  • The fiscal policy committee will also undertake a planned review of tax incentives and workforce development programs, offering a chance to weigh in on economic development and employer-driven workforce policies – two priorities that go hand-in-hand.

The General Assembly also created a statewide commission to analyze the need for low-barrier shelters and services for Hoosiers without homes.

We sought action in this area due to the challenging combination of COVID’s economic turmoil, legislative action to overrule local renter protections and an ongoing shortage of affordable housing options. As we focus on aggressive harassment as a separate public safety concern, we have to elevate our emphasis on compassionate, comprehensive solutions for homelessness – we’ll be watching the deliberations of this commission closely, potentially as a participant, and see it as a significant step forward.

 

BAC to Business

Finally, we’ve mentioned that this year’s “wrap-up” needs the ironic quote treatment, since the General Assembly never actually adjourned its 2021 session. One reason was to override Governor Holcomb’s veto of SB5 (injecting local politics into public health orders), but also to craft new congressional and legislative districts based on Census data delayed by the pandemic.

The 2022 elections will be the first under these new maps, with implications for a litany of state and local business priorities. We’ll also have a slate of school board elections and municipal campaigns looming in 2023 – and we need to stand up for Indy’s interests at the ballot box and by building relationships across the state.

So we’re also revving up our Business Advocacy Committee (BAC), the political arm of our team. That means more engagement with Indy Chamber members and fundraising to refill the coffers…we’ll close with that teaser, but expect to hear much more about BAC in the months ahead. And if you want to get a head-start on building the BAC, you can make a preliminary contribution here.

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