NEW ALBANY —
It’s getting better, but it’s still not great.
That was the consistent message on the regional economy at One Southern Indiana’s annual meeting Friday. The event brought 450 business and community leaders together at The Grand in New Albany to discuss, and celebrate, the efforts of the past year and to present economic development chamber’s plan to grow business in the region.
“It’s all about growing the economic pie here in Clark and Floyd counties and across the region,” said One Southern Indiana President Jody Wassmer at the outset of the meeting. “Pro business and pro Southern Indiana is what this organization is all about.”
Gerry Dick, the keynote speaker at Friday’s event and president and managing editor for Grow Indiana Media Ventures, said there is a positive outlook for business growth in Indiana for 2012.
“As we look at 2012 the assessment we get is Indiana is kind of holding its own,” he said. “It’s not ‘happy days are here again’ by any stretch of the imagination, but there is a level of confidence out there in the Indiana economy.”
Dick said the state’s unemployment rate remains high, but steady at 9 percent. He added a positive sign was that the state saw the largest increase to the workforce in 35 years in December, with more than 17,000 jobs being added to the state’s employment figures.
“Perhaps [it’s] a sign that people are feeling somewhat more confident about the economy,” he said.
Dick added that anecdotally business offered an optimistic outlook on the state of the economy.
He offered a business confidence index, which is a survey of various businesses in Indiana, dropped throughout 2011 to a low point of 60 percent in September. But since reaching its low point confidence has risen, ending the year at 64 percent confidence in the state’s economy.
A stronger indicator was when he compared the state’s economy to the national figures. Dick said 76 percent of those surveyed on the Indiana business council felt the state’s economy is headed in the right direction, compared to 25 percent feeling as though the national economy is headed in the right direction.
He added the most positive sector in Indiana, by far, is the technology companies.
With the strength in growth for technology-based businesses, Dick said education has become a concern for business leaders.
Education is key
“We hear frequently companies cannot find the skilled workers that are needed,” he said.
He added that education and workforce development is the number one issue that company presidents and leaders have around the state as to help to continue to develop the Indiana economy.
“That workforce development issue, in every part of the state, I think is right at the top of the list,” Dick said.
Rep. Ed Clere, R- New Albany, and Sen. Ron Grooms, R- Jeffersonville, both said Southern Indiana is well positioned to offer businesses an educated workforce.
Clere said there are a host of the right pieces in place with Indiana University Southeast, Ivy Tech Community College and the Purdue University Technology Park located in the region.
“We’re very fortunate to have them in Clark and Floyd counties and we need to continue to support their mission,” he said.
Clere offered that the state legislature is taking additional steps to help keep college more affordable. He said a bill has been introduced to avoid “credit creep” to ensure college students can graduate without collecting unnecessary credits beyond 120 hours. Along with the “credit creep” legislation he said the state legislature is trying to help improve accessibility to keep college affordable and make it easier for people to navigate through the financial aid process.
Grooms said the connection that local universities and community colleges have with the area school systems is also a key in continuing to develop a future workforce.
He referenced dual credits and specialized skills programs that help position high school students to move on to post-secondary education or learn specialized job skills. He said a goal is, “continuing to promote that type of activity through our community college network and our four year colleges, to involve as many kids in high school...that want to participate.”
But Grooms added the programs need to be promoted more and working with the Indiana Department of Education is helping to do that.
“I think we are doing a good job in working with the resources we have now,” he said. “We are getting attention from the state in this area by getting some of these innovative grants.”
With several political leaders in attendance, the topics invariably veered into their realm.
One issue which several speakers touched on was the right-to-work bill that was recently signed into law by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. The bill was signed into law Feb. 1 after a contentious fight in the Indiana legislature, including a boycott by House Democrats. The right-to-work labor law made Indiana the 23rd state to prohibit labor contracts that required workers to pay mandatory union representation fees.
But Dick said that the impact the legislation may have will not be significant one way or the other.
“I don’t think on either case it’s going to create this flood of jobs coming into the state right away nor is it going to mean the demise of organized labor in my opinion,” he said. “I think it will be somewhere in the middle.”
Dick did add that right-to-work legislation may offer a chance for Indiana to entice more companies to the state.
“Indiana will be able to come to the plate to take more swings at economic deals because of the passage of right-to-work,” he said.
Wassmer, however, was more certain of the impact of right-to-work legislation, as well as another hot-button issue in Southern Indiana.
“The new right-to-work law in Indiana and the prospect of the Ohio River Bridges Projects finally ... breaking ground in 2012 are huge economic development drivers for our community and our region,” he said.
Along with the support he offered for right-to-work, 1si listed among their public policy initiatives in their strategic plan to “be an unapologetic advocate for the Ohio River Bridges Project.”
“The Ohio River Bridges Project, particularly the new east-end bridge which, combined with the River Ridge development, promises huge economic development potential for Southern Indiana,” according to the strategic plan.
1si strategic plan
A three-year strategic plan was also offered at 1si’s annual meeting.
The economic development organization offered that it will launch its own smartphone application “One Southern Indiana to go” and begin publishing a “One Monthly” newsletter to keep the region informed on what it is doing.
Other goals set out in the strategic plan were to add 150 members per year and maintain an 87 percent retention rate; have the Clark and Floyd counties’ unemployment rate below the Louisville Metropolitan Statistical Area, state and federal levels and announcing new jobs with hourly wages 50 cents higher than the counties current average wages; and be named American Chamber of Commerce Executives Chamber of the Year by 2015.
Part of 1si’s annual event is to recognize those who were leaders in their organization throughout the past year.
Kyra McCormick, associate vice president and branch manager with Your Community Bank, won the award for ambassador of the year; John P. Lawson Jr., chief operation officer for First Savings Financial Group was named chairperson of the year; and Hoosier Energy and Clark County REMC won Economic Development Partner of the Year award.
Focus is on technology and education
NEW ALBANY —
It’s getting better, but it’s still not great.
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