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BLUeprint For A More Competitive Workforce

Our Indy Chamber advocacy agenda covers a lot of ground – our team works hard to understand and advance the issues that matter to thousands of employers across our nine-county region, many of whom also do business across the country and around the world.

But if there’s a policy area that’s a competitive common denominator for nearly every Chamber member, it’s education and workforce development.  From publicly-traded corporations to family-owned businesses, from mid-market manufacturers to start-up software developers, hiring employees with job-ready skills is a top priority.

That’s why we’re excited to be the lead partner for Indiana in the newly-launched Business Leaders United (BLU) State Affiliate Network, an initiative of the National Skills Coalition. This network is a first-of-its-kind coalition of business and industry leaders organized with support from major corporate and philanthropic investors (including Indy’s own Lumina Foundation) to shape innovative state and regional workforce policies (and share what works with partners across the country).

As a lead partner, Indy Chamber is convening our other metro Chamber partners, the Indiana Chamber, regional workforce groups, the Indiana Manufacturer’s Association and others to kick off this latest effort to develop ‘upskilling’ solutions to meet the needs of local businesses and demands of the changing job market.

Learn to Earn

How can we tell Indiana’s workforce policies need work?  Well, besides the chorus of calls to elevate the issue from companies across the state, we can also crunch the Census economic data to confirm that Indiana ranks 35th among states in median income, and 40th in income growth since 2008.

It’s a pretty simple formula: More educated workers with sought-after skills earn higher wages…and help attract the growing employers that want to hire them.

Governor Holcomb and the General Assembly have emphasized workforce development, creating and expanding programs like Next Level Jobs and working to align technical education, post-secondary and vocational training with industry needs and occupational trends.  But sluggish gains in Hoosier paychecks show we need to pay even more attention, amp up employer engagement and offer disruptive thinking.

Here’s more background on BLU, and it’s not too late to get involved in our partnership – contact Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs Tim Brown (tbrown@indychamber.com) for more details.

A Complex Issue

We need effective, empowering workforce policies that help Hoosiers advance their skills and succeed in the job market.  But our human capital challenges start much earlier, with access to quality preschool and achievement in our K-12 classrooms.

We’ve written at length about the complexities of intergenerational poverty and the need for a comprehensive, “all-hands-on-deck” approach to inclusive growth; one thing is clear – a quality education is one of the surest catalysts for upward mobility.  But districts like IPS that serve a community with significant levels of poverty also need sufficient resources to overcome the accompanying challenges.

IPS has asked local taxpayers to do their part through last year’s referenda, and we continue to work with the district to find efficiencies and streamline operations to raise teacher salaries and protect academic programs, but we believe the state funding formula should acknowledge the needs of low-income students (wherever they live).

In Indiana, state education aid generally “follows the student;” students living in poverty also receive an added (and aptly-named) ‘complexity grant.’  However, changes to the complexity system have tied funding to eligibility for federal programs like food stamps (SNAP), narrowing the numbers of students within the guidelines and threatening major cuts for high-need districts like IPS, along with rural school systems where poverty is also pervasive.

Earlier this week, the General Assembly’s interim committee on fiscal policy heard testimony on complexity funding (Chalkbeat offers a good summary here).  We aren’t committed to a specific solution yet, but seek a broader-based approach that accurately reflects the number of students in need.

Blowing Money Fast

Rick Ross isn’t exactly a paragon of healthy living, but we thought this song title was appropriate – Indiana’s failure to act on public health issues means diminishing the effectiveness of state spending in other areas.  After all, what’s the impact of a great workforce initiative if the person it helps is too sick to work?  And K-12 education consumes the majority of the state budget for good reason – it’s key to a lifetime of success.  But we also have to make sure kids aren’t hindered by developmental issues and a potential future of chronic illness.

That’s why we are focused on priorities like curbing Indiana’s high smoking rate by raising cigarette taxes and the legal age to buy tobacco products.  But we recognize vaping can also pose health risks to Hoosiers, and act as another gateway to smoking for young people.  The interim committee on fiscal policy also considered various options to tax vaping products this week – the practicalities and effectiveness of a wholesale versus a retail tax on e-liquids, along with a potential tax on the devices themselves.

We expect to join with our partners in the Raise It For Health coalition in supporting a comprehensive approach to discouraging smoking and vaping through higher taxes and other limitations (i.e. raising the smoking age to 21), for a healthier and more productive Hoosier workforce, lower healthcare costs and added revenue for public health programs.

Revenue Capacity & Competitive Regions

We need skilled workers, healthy workers – and appealing places for them to live.  We know that more and more people are moving to metropolitan areas, and that younger adults in particular have a preference for walkable urban settings. But in many ways, from state road funding to the distribution of local income taxes, the more urbanized areas of Indiana lose out under the current revenue system.

This creates higher hurdles to regional collaboration and investment: Indiana’s metro regions – dominated by Central Indiana – will drive the state’s population and economic growth, so we need interlocal efforts to invest in infrastructure, quality of life and economic development priorities that support regional competitiveness.  But that’s difficult when the urban cores that anchor the regions struggle to keep up with even essential services and routine maintenance of roads, etc.

The interim committee on fiscal policy is also considering the role of regional development authorities (RDAs) in making regional investments (and perhaps raising new revenues to do so).  We support an approach that allows for transformative new projects and revenue reforms that help address the structural inequities faced by cities like Indianapolis.

“Where’d you get your information from, huh?”

In working through these issues, our Local Government & Fiscal Policy Council got a preview of new research from the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute (IFPI) on how local revenues are keeping up with average costs across Indiana’s urban, rural, and suburban communities.  It was an eye-opening analysis of how the places that generate much of the state’s employment and economic output also face its toughest fiscal constraints.

This study, authored by Purdue economist Larry DeBoer, will be presented in more detail at the IFPI Annual Meeting on October 31st.  The program is open to the public – check it out, register and join us there.

 

 

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