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Hard to believe it’s been almost twenty years since Kriss Kross released this hit – these days, would anyone in your Zoom meeting even notice if you wore your clothes backwards? We picked this title for a few reasons: The temperatures are starting to warm up after a few chilly days – a promising forecast for outdoor dining (starting May 22nd) as Marion County begins easing COVID-19 restrictions on restaurants and retailers.

Mayor Hogsett announced a plan to re-open Indianapolis earlier this week, in gradual phases informed by public health data (check out the latest here), consistent with Governor Holcomb’s Back on Track Indiana roadmap. We appreciate the collaboration between state and local officials to prioritize safety in restarting our economy, recognizing that circumstances vary across regions and around the state.

The Block is Hot

There’s another warming trend that isn’t at all welcome: Like COVID, climate change is a global crisis with growing local consequences. Our Transportation, Infrastructure & Environment Council recently heard from Katie Robinson of the Indianapolis Office of Sustainability about the city’s development of aBuilding Efficiency Program that connects our ‘built environment’ to broader environmental goals.

Buildings account for two-thirds of our greenhouse gas emissions, so energy efficient construction and facility management are critical to the administration’s goal to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

This long-term vision contributes to the global fight against climate change, but also brings more immediate benefits: More efficient buildings are healthier – improving indoor air quality for occupants and curbing ground-level ozone beyond their walls – with lower operating costs for owners and tenants.

‘Green’ manufacturing and construction can also be a catalyst for economic development and job creation. (Setting a bold but achievable goal for environmental protection bolsters our image as a forward-thinking, inclusive city as well, especially with substantive action.)

The Chamber is pleased to participate on the Building Efficiency Advisory Committee, representing our members in the discussions around energy benchmarking and reporting policies, to bring greater awareness and actionable data to this issue.

To that end, we’d welcome your input – please don’t hesitate to contact Taylor Hughes with any questions, comments, insights from your own experience (we need perspectives from the commercial, industrial and multi-family sectors to support appropriate policies for all) and ideas on the most useful measures of high-performing green buildings.

Help Wanted

With more than 20% of the Hoosier workforce filing for unemployment since mid-March, our job market is ice-cold, frozen by the public health crisis that closed large sectors of our economy. As Marion County and Indiana gradually re-open, some will head back to work – we all hope for a solid rebound, while recognizing that most signs point to a deep recession ahead.

Disruption across the labor force will leave many workers looking for new opportunities and employers perhaps seeking different skills, as the pandemic fundamentally changes the way we work in some cases and potentially accelerates trends like automation. This raises the stakes for a critical Indy Chamber priority – sustained support in employer-driven workforce development.

Investments in human capital are typically the most impactful for economic development, upward mobility and inclusive growth. Especially as we look to rebuild our regional economy, we can’t afford to neglect our workforce – every worker left behind represents an opportunity missed and a weaker recovery to come.

The Indy Chamber supports expanding proven programs like Indiana’s Workforce-Ready Employer Grants and Next Level Jobs, and the ongoing efforts by the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet to align these programs with the evolving demands of our economy. Given the scale of the challenges created by the COVID-19 crisis, we hope retraining and upskilling initiatives are also accommodated by federal CARES Act funding and explicitly addressed by future stimulus legislation.

Speaking of national initiatives, the Indy Chamber is also the lead Indiana partner for Business Leaders United (BLU), which mobilizes the business community on behalf of employer-driven workforce policies; read more about the BLU agenda here.

Even with unemployment and worker displacement requiring a new approach to workforce development, we aren’t ignoring the ongoing demand for talent that continues to drive our economy, even in the midst of a global pandemic. The Indy Chamber’s Rapid Response Talent hub is a partnership with the City of Indianapolis, Employ Indy, and Ascend Indiana to match workers with sought-after skills with employers who need them – if you have hiring needs, check it out and register (it only takes five minutes).

Can you hear me now?

The General Assembly’s Legislative Council met earlier this week via Zoom to determine policies and topics for interim study committees ahead of the 2021 session, and we learned during a number of roll call votes that lawmakers have as much trouble toggling between “mute” and “unmute” as the rest of us.

Unfortunately, the Council also muted the issue of workplace accommodations for pregnant employees.  Attempts last session to support expectant mothers on the job were pushed aside; from a business perspective, clarity on the issue would have been welcome as employers struggle to interpret a confusing collection of federal regulations, occupational safety rules that may or may not apply, and legal precedents in order to fulfill their obligations and do the right thing for their workers.

At a time when a safe return to work is a priority for all of us, the plight of pregnant workers will continue to have a place on our inclusive economic agenda looking towards next year.

The Council did endorse a wide-ranging analysis of how COVID-19 is affecting the operations of state agencies, preparations for future emergencies and opportunities to streamline government based on lessons learned through this crisis.

An ongoing review of tax incentives and workforce programs also found its statutory spot on the Fiscal Policy study agenda, while the Commerce and Economic Development Committee will tackle discriminatory business practices harming smaller retailers. Read more about the rest of the interim study agenda here, and watch for updates on meetings and opportunities for public engagement and testimony in the fall.

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