New Senate Health Care Bill An Improvement for Employers

The U.S. Senate appears to be gearing up for another health care vote, with a measure from Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) headed to the floor as soon as the middle of next week.

At its core, the Graham-Cassidy proposal creates a block grant program, taking much of the funding provided in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and sending it to the states for them to set up their own health care systems and determine where to direct the funds.

It also does away with several pillars of the ACA, including the mandate for individuals to have insurance or pay a penalty. The true ramifications of that are uncertain, but could mean higher premiums for those in the health care exchanges (aka those who don’t have insurance through their workplace).

From the standpoint of employers, the Indiana Chamber believes Graham-Cassidy is an improvement over the ACA. This is primarily due to two changes:

  1. The removal of the employer mandate to offer coverage. If that goes away, so too does the ACA’s definition of a full-time employee as someone working an average of 30 hours per week; this has negatively impacted businesses and workers – many of whom saw their hours reduced.
  1. The permanent elimination of the medical device tax, which is detrimental to vital Hoosier employers like Cook Medical in Bloomington, Zimmer Biomet in Warsaw and many others.

Overall, those in favor of increased state control are more receptive to the Graham-Cassidy effort.

As Vice President Mike Pence put it on Fox News yesterday: “…The question that people ought to ask is, who do you think will be more responsive to the health care needs in your community? Your Governor and your state legislator, or a congressman and a President far off in the nation’s capital?…”

 What has opponents worked up is two-fold: affordable coverage for pre-existing conditions isn’t specifically guaranteed; and population size will determine the amount of the block grant, which will reduce funding for a number of states – including some in the Rust Belt and more rural states in general.

Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona told MSNBC on Thursday he has absolute faith that governors will keep pre-existing condition protections, because of the severe political cost if they don’t. Opponents are less convinced.

At this point, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is the lone Republican who has sworn opposition to the Graham-Cassidy bill publicly – in part because his state appears to be set to lose funds in this model.

Likewise, Indiana is expected to see less federal dollars, but the Hoosier state has been preparing for what it saw as an eventuality for several years – setting aside hundreds of millions of dollars to subsidize its Healthy Indiana Plan (HIP) 2.0.

The HIP model is unique in the country; it requires participants to have “skin in the game” with their health care decisions and allows for capping the number of participants. Both of these make it an inherently more nimble program. And ultimately, the state Legislature can also determine to put more funds into HIP 2.0, if it’s deemed necessary.

These facts and the lure of more state control were likely factors in Gov. Eric Holcomb’s decision to sign a letter supporting Graham-Cassidy; he was one of 15 state executives to do so. The reality is other states may not be as fiscally prepared for a possible funding reduction as Indiana is.

That leads us to who may end up being the pivotal figure in the floor vote: Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. She joined Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) and Sen. John McCain (Arizona) in voting no on the last health care reform measure. Collins is seen as a likely “no” again, joining Paul, while McCain is a predicted (or at least hoped for) “yes.”

As a result, the bill authors are pulling out all the stops and making special accommodations for Alaska in the bill to woo Murkowski’s vote – because they can’t lose her and have the bill survive for Vice President Pence to break the tie. If no specific provisions for Alaska are made, the state would be a big loser in the bill in funding because of its size vs. population and geography.

The Indiana Chamber plans to talk about health care reform with Sen. Joe Donnelly, who has announced his opposition to Graham-Cassidy, and Republican Sen. Todd Young during Wednesday’s D.C. Fly-in event.

UPDATE: This afternoon, McCain announced he would oppose the Graham-Cassidy bill, making passage of the bill seemingly very difficult.

Tech Talk: Getting the Most From Your Marketing Firm

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jim Walton is CEO of Brand Acceleration, Inc., which focuses on economic development marketing. Jim’s tips, however, can apply to all company-marketing partnerships. Learn more at www.brandaccel.com.

After working in the advertising and marketing industry for several decades, I can tell you that there remains a lot of confusion about what a marketing firm or ad agency does. For many, the notion is that such firms are made up of purple-haired, bearded designer types with tattoos and flip-flops. Admittedly, there are some of those, but today’s successful marketing firms offer much more than just design.

So, how do you select a marketing firm? What skills and characteristics do you look for? Once selected, how do you make the partnership work? Here are a few pointers:

It’s a partnership
The first thing the client (economic developer) needs to remember is that it’s a partnership relationship. Great marketing firms work as part of your marketing team, not just as a vendor who is there to take orders and design stuff. They assume an ownership role in you and your community. They’re in it for the long haul.

Think big picture
Great organizations, including economic development organizations (EDO), have a well-thought-out set of goals, setting forth their vision for the community’s future. From the first day, the EDO should get the new marketing firm involved with the visioning, making them part of the team, and sharing the vision. This is not the time to hold back or to be secretive.

The marketing firm should provide depth and counsel
Have you ever hired a designer to create a new brochure or website, just to find that you spend much of your time teaching him or her about economic development? Maybe you even have to do all the copywriting because the designer doesn’t write.

A great marketing firm should know your industry and your audiences as well, or better, than you. Do they know any site selectors or real estate professionals? Have they ever visited c-suite offices or interviewed corporate executives about their expectations of marketing tools? To save yourself a lot of aggravation, seek out a marketing firm that knows your audiences. They should also demonstrate a deep knowledge of marketing principles. From start-to-finish, the marketing firm should know and be able to communicate your story.

Get them involved early and often
Let’s say your organization wants to target the food industry, and you’re considering ways to reach out to people in that industry. From that very moment, that’s when you should get your marketing firm involved. Rather than simply cranking out a food industry brochure, the marketing firm, working as your partner, will help flesh out important considerations and provide ideas for ways to successfully reach the audience with the right message.

Be open to new ideas
Coming off point number four, you should always be open to new and different ideas. A marketing firm with broad experiences may bring you a suggestion that you never considered. They will also offer suggestions that are more in tune with the big picture (point number two).

Cheaper isn’t necessarily better
We are often asked what our hourly rate is, as if a lower rate means a cheaper final product. It doesn’t. If a vendor has a low hourly rate, there’s probably a good reason for that. Instead, you should look for a firm, fixed price that won’t change unless the scope of work changes. That way, you’ll know how much to budget.

What services do they provide, and which ones do you need?
Some agencies offer a very narrow line of services, like web design. Others offer a much broader list, such as media planning and buying, public relations, video production, workforce attraction marketing, event planning and management, etc. It’s unwise to limit yourself by selecting a firm that is unable to grow with your needs.

Be responsive
Working with a marketing firm does not mean that all the burden is on their shoulders. They’re going to need your input to get work done, especially if the work is on a deadline. You’ll be asked to proofread work and answer numerous questions to be sure it meets your expectations. It’s important to respond right away.

By making your marketing firm a trusted partner in your community economic development marketing effort, you’ll have a much greater likelihood of success. Hire the best, and you’ll experience truly positive results.

Recruiting Outside the Box: Indiana Dual Career Network

Recruiting has become something of a dance. It’s no longer as simple as placing an ad and waiting for candidates to knock on your door. Recruiters must be creative and utilize a multitude of tools to source talent.

The standard avenues for recruitment still exist – word of mouth, employee referrals and job boards. There is one piece, however, that has been a challenge for individuals recruiting for highly specialized fields: What happens to the spouses of the candidates being courted?

Recently, I was invited by a colleague at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) to participate in a group called the Indiana Dual Career Network (IDCN). Laura Farkas, interim president of IDCN, summarizes the goal of the group:

The IDCN is a network of professionals throughout the state who are involved with talent recruitment, with the added focus of paying attention to Dual Career issues, which is another way of saying “Trailing Spouse” challenges. In other words, as Indiana companies and institutions of Higher Ed are trying to recruit talent to their organizations, a pool of talented spouses and partners develops alongside them, who will be wanting to envision compelling work for themselves. Instead of a problem, we want to engage with each other and share information, resources, and networking contacts to make sure we all see “Trailing Spouses” as opportunities.

IDCN started a little under four years ago specifically for the academic world. Department heads at a number of Indiana universities were having difficulty attracting talent and realized that often the reason a candidate rejected a position was the lack of job opportunity for the trailing partner.

Farkas shared a recent IDCN success story: A candidate for a job at Purdue University had received six offers, but chose Purdue because of the additional job search assistance available to their partner.

This is creative networking at its best. Communicating through ListServ, the group can spread the word within the academic world and to surrounding business partners and work to secure employment for those partners of job prospects.

IDCN’s goal is not only filling positions, but also attracting and keeping talent in Indiana. I definitely will continue to reach out to this group for upcoming open positions.

Indiana’s ‘Growing’ Industry: Wine (Plus, A Little History)

Of the many things Indiana is known for, being a hub for the wine industry might be a surprise.

Yet, Indiana is one of the top 20 wine-producing states in the nation and the Purdue Wine Grape Team (an extension service for the wine grape industry) points to impressive economic impact stats:

  • The wine industry’s annual impact on the economy in Indiana: $100 million
  • There are eight million bottles of Indiana-made wine sold annually; more than one million gallons of wine are produced annually
  • By 2019, there should be 100 wineries in the state (there were 37 in 2007)

And if the topic of wine pops up at your next social event or networking soiree and you need a new “Did you know?” (or just want to know more about the wine industry) here are a few interesting factoids:

  • Enology is the study of wine and winemaking
  • Viticulture is the science, production and study of grapes
  • Purdue offers four courses related to wine and food science and is home to the Richard P. Vine Enology Library, which contains about 2,000 bottles of wine; the school is home to three vineyards, including one near Vincennes

If you’re interested in the history of Indiana wine (including which town was the birthplace for the pre-Prohibition top 10 industry in the state), read this history from Indiana Wines.

And speaking of history, you might be interested in learning about some of the oldest wineries in the world, which pre-date Indiana’s now-booming industry by hundreds of years. A recent blog post from Wine Turtle (a group of wine enthusiasts out to make it easier for beginners to learn about wine) looks at the oldest wineries in the world (edited for length, but find the full post here):

  1. Staffelter Hof – Germany

The Staffelter Hof is one of the oldest wine companies in Germany. Its name is linked to a monastery in Belgium and its winemaking history goes back to the 862 AD.

  1. Château de Goulaine – France

The Loire Valley is a region famous for its spectacular landscapes, medieval castles, and exquisite wines. And one of the oldest wine companies in France and in the world is located here. The Château de Goulaine’s history goes back to the year 1000 when Marquis Goulaine founded the first winery in France.

The winery still belongs to the same family and produces some excellent Muscat and Vouvray wines. For this reason, the company is considered the oldest European family owned winery.

  1. Schloss Johanisberg – Germany

Although Germany is not one of the leader winemaking countries, it boasts some of the oldest wine companies. In fact, Schloss Johannisberg winery is the third on our list and its history begins in the year 1100.

  1. Barone Ricasoli – Italy

In 1141 Baron Ricasoli establishes the oldest wine company in Italy that still bears his name. The winery is located between Siena and Florence, an area particularly famous all over the world for the great quality of the wines.

  1. Antinori – Italy

39 years later, in 1180, in Italy emerges the second oldest wine company of the country, the fifth in the world. The Antinori family started producing wine in the Florentine countryside before moving to Florence in 1202.

  1. Schloss Vollrads – Germany

Back to Germany, we have to mention a wine company founded in 1211 that became famous mainly for its Rieslings, the Schloss Vollrads winery.

Mike Rowe Surprises Northwest Indiana Veteran in Web Series

Heads up: You might want to have tissues nearby.

In his new web series “Returning the Favor,” Mike Rowe is visiting hardworking community-minded people around the country with the goal of repaying the favor of their community service or volunteerism. Rowe was the star of the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe” and is an outspoken advocate for trade occupations.

The first episode is filmed in Lake County’s Cedar Lake (near Crown Point) and features U.S. Army Engineer veteran Jason Zaideman, who created and runs a non-profit organization called Operation Combat Bikesaver.

Zaideman’s mission with the organization is to help other veterans and first responders live through post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, depression and other mental health issues that can accompany military service or emergency response.

Participants (who need to apply and be accepted into the program) are taught how to rebuild motorcycles and get to keep the bikes they rebuild, while often learning new skills and using the Operation Combat Bikesaver workshop as a form of therapy to deal with a myriad of issues.

The episode features Zaideman’s story of how and why he created the organization. Throughout the episode, Rowe hears from veterans working in the shop and talks with local business owners and law enforcement officers about Zaideman’s impact on the community.

The style of the series is also intriguing as it gives a background look into producing the show, often showing Rowe and his producers planning their surprises for Zaideman – which take place at the end of the 20-minute episode.

And the surprises are great. I won’t spoil them here, but again will remind you to grab a tissue or watch this video somewhere where you won’t mind getting a little teary-eyed.

You can learn more about Operation Combat Bikesaver here and view the video here.

(*As is typical with Rowe, there is some salty language/content, though most is edited for a “family” audience, as Rowe mentions.)

Donnelly, Walorski Working to Define Full-Time as 40 Hours Per Week

Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), employers in Indiana and across the country have been forced to cut employees’ hours due to the law’s definition of a full-time employee as someone working an average of 30 hours per week.

The Indiana Chamber recognizes this as a significant issue for the Hoosier business community and has been pushing for a change back to the 40-hour work week. We are pleased to see that our delegation is leading efforts to make that happen.

Recently, Sen. Joe Donnelly reintroduced a bipartisan proposal that would change the definition of a full-time employee under the ACA to someone who works an average of 40 hours per week. Donnelly partnered with Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) on this legislation.

Senator Joe Donnelly and Congresswoman Jackie Walorski greet Vice President Mike Pence as he arrives in South Bend to deliver the May commencement address at the University of Notre Dame (photo courtesy WSBT).

“I believe that we can work together to fix issues with the health care law and improve our health care system. I have heard from part-time workers across many industries, like school cafeteria managers to grocery store employees to adjunct professors at colleges, that have seen their hours cut to comply with the health care law,” Donnelly said.

“In Indiana, common sense holds that a full-time employee is someone who works an average of 40 hours a week, and the health care law should reflect that. I’m proud to partner with my friend and colleague Sen. Collins to reintroduce the Forty Hours is Full Time Act, and I am hopeful the Senate will consider this bipartisan bill soon.”

Meanwhile, a similar effort was introduced Thursday in the House led by Republican Congresswoman Jackie Walorksi (IN-02) and Congressman Dan Lipinski (D-IL).

The Save American Workers Act (H.R. 3798) also would restore the traditional 40-hour work week under the ACA.

“Obamacare’s burdensome employer mandate and its redefinition of full-time workers are hurting middle class American families and crushing our job creators,” Walorski said. “The Save American Workers Act will provide much-needed relief to hardworking Hoosiers who have faced reduced hours and fewer jobs. This bipartisan, commonsense bill will give businesses the certainty they need to create jobs, and it will give workers the opportunities they need to succeed.”

Background
The ACA currently requires employers with more than 50 full-time equivalent workers to offer health insurance to full-time employees (working 30 hours weekly) or face a penalty. This requirement has forced businesses to reduce hours and slow hiring in order to avoid unaffordable new costs or the ACA’s substantial fines. The 30-hour definition has affected workers in the private sector as well as city, state and school employees, with a particularly severe impact on hourly, part-time, and seasonal workers.

Report: STEM Message Not Getting Through

It seems as if everyone is talking about the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) talent shortage, but the message is apparently not being heard. Randstad US conducted a study to uncover key motivations, beliefs and perspectives of STEM-related topics among kids aged 11 to 17.

The research shows that despite high interest in STEM studies and confidence in STEM skills at a younger age, interest dwindles as children grow older. Students 11 to 14 years old are 18% more likely than students aged 15 to 17 to consider math one of their favorite subjects. Fifty-six percent of young people also said knowing how STEM skills relate to the real world would make STEM classes more interesting.

“The term ‘STEM’ needs a rebrand and awareness campaign to get the next generation of talent excited about pursuing these careers,” said Alan Stukalsky, chief digital officer for Randstad North America. “Young people are self-selecting out of higher STEM education classes because they can’t see how these skills apply to different professions and employers they’re excited about. It’s a misperception and a serious economic problem, as a rapidly growing number of jobs now require STEM competencies. If we don’t find a way to guide and prepare the future workforce for these positions, we run the risk of the need for these skills escalating and the hiring gap expanding.”  

The study revealed not only a lack of students’ awareness of what types of STEM jobs exist, but also a lack of personal connection to STEM professionals and how STEM jobs are defined.

  • 52% of students say they don’t know anyone with a job in STEM, and more than 1 in 4 students (27%) say they haven’t talked to anyone about jobs in STEM.
  • Almost half (49%) of respondents say they don’t know what kind of math jobs exist and 76% report not knowing a lot about what engineers do.
  • 87% think people who study STEM work at companies like NASA; far fewer associate them with mainstream consumer brands like Instagram (40%) and Coca-Cola (26%).

Young people reported high enthusiasm for careers not explicitly defined as STEM but requiring related skills, suggesting the need for broader education as to how STEM skills can be applied in fields beyond math and science.

  • 64% of students rate creating video games for a living as very fun, while 90% rate it somewhat fun.
  • 54% of respondents think it would be very fun to earn a living working with marine life, with 89% rating it as at least somewhat fun.
  • 47% think it would be very fun to make web sites for a living, with 86% saying it would be at least somewhat fun.

Taking Care of Our Money – Not!

Living from one paycheck to the next remains common for a majority of workers – 78%, in fact, compared to 75% a year earlier. And the dilemma impacts more women (81%) than men (75%).

According to new CareerBuilder research, 38% of employees said they sometimes live paycheck-to-paycheck, 17% said they usually do and 23% said they always do.

In addition:

Having a higher salary doesn’t necessarily mean money woes are behind you, with nearly one in 10 workers making $100,000 or more (9%) saying they usually or always live paycheck-to-paycheck and 59% in that income bracket in debt. Twenty-eight percent of workers making $50,000-$99,999 usually or always live paycheck to paycheck, 70% are in debt; and 51% of those making less than $50,000 usually or always live paycheck to paycheck to make ends meet, 73% are in debt.

A quarter of workers (25%) have not been able to make ends meet every month in the last year, and 20% have missed payment on some smaller bills. Further, 71% of all workers say they’re in debt — up from 68% last year. While 46% say their debt is manageable, more than half of those in debt (56%) say they feel they will always be in debt. And it should be noted that 18% of all workers have reduced their 401k contribution and/or personal savings in the last year, more than a third (38%) do not participate in a 401k plan, IRA or comparable retirement plan, and 26% have not set aside any savings each month in the last year.

Less than a third of workers (32%) stick to a clearly defined budget and a slight majority (56%) save $100 or less a month.

Still, despite financial woes, there are certain things employees aren’t willing to give up. When asked what they’d absolutely not give up, regardless of financial concerns, employees cited:

  • Internet connection: 54%  
  • Mobile device (smart phone, tablet, etc.): 53%
  • Driving: 48%
  • Pets: 37%  
  • Cable: 21%  
  • Going out to eat: 19%  
  • Traveling: 17%  
  • Education: 13%  
  • Buying gifts for people: 13%  
  • Alcohol: 11%

K-12 Teacher Shortage Grows

Teacher shortages are not a new concern and the subject areas with the biggest gaps remain fairly consistent. Still, as the 2017-2018 school year was beginning, CNN had an extensive report on the challenge. Among the findings:

The Learning Policy Institute estimated that if trends continue, there could be a nationwide shortfall of 112,000 teachers by 2018.

Public schools in 48 states and the District of Columbia report teacher shortages in math for the 2017-18 school year, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Forty-six states report shortages in special education, 43 in science and 41 in foreign languages.

Nationwide, teacher education enrollments dropped 35% between 2009 and 2014, the most recent year for which data are available, according to the Learning Policy Institute.

A survey at UCLA found that freshmen’s interest in teaching as a career has steadily declined over the past decade.

Dan Goldhaber, director of the University of Washington’s Center for Education Data and Research, who studies educational trends at the University of Washington, sees two main reasons.

Math and science teachers aren’t paid enough. Salaries for U.S. secondary school teachers have largely remained the same over the past two decades, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

And students in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) can make more in other professions than they would teaching.

Teaching in the U.S. is too demanding. About 8% of teachers leave teaching each year, with two-thirds quitting before retirement, according to the Learning Policy Institute. This is double the percentage of teachers leaving the profession in countries like Singapore and Finland.

As far as potential solutions:

  • Help students be more strategic about their teaching opportunities. When students enter teaching certification programs, let them know where the jobs are. In many parts of the country, they’ll have an easier time finding jobs to teach math or science than English.
  • Partner school districts with local college and university programs. Though the teacher shortage is rooted partly in subject areas, it’s also a matter of location. Schools in low-income areas struggle more to fill positions. “It is the kids that are oftentimes most at risk that are the ones who are likely to suffer the most,” Goldhaber said.

One way to fix that would be to pull in students from local higher-ed programs to help teach in those areas. Many may stick around for a full-time job after graduation.

  • Make teacher certification national instead of state by state.Prospective teachers must pass an exam specific to the state they want to work in. But if a teacher wants to move from, say, Pennsylvania to California, they can’t immediately apply for jobs there. By having a national certification exam, teachers would have more mobility to go where they’re needed.

Purdue, Others to Help With Micro Debt

Purdue University is one of 11 schools that formed the University Innovation Alliance (UIA) in 2014. As reported recently by Fast Company, the UIA members are planning to tackle a challenge that is preventing many students from completing their degree.

Bridget Burns, the executive director of the coalition, says that most of UIA’s school presidents realized they were doing an awful job at keeping students enrolled, particularly those who from low-income households, first generation, or students of color. “It seems like a bunch of institutions … repeating the same experiments (to fix things) over and over and in many cases making the same mistakes.”

One alarming trend: Despite receiving financial aid, roughly 4,000 seniors who have good grades may quit school because of small outstanding scholastic debt. The sums are often less than $1,000 – but in many cases, such balances make them unable to register for their next batch of classes.

UIA and its partners will spend $4 million on micro-debt forgiveness, which will be managed by in-network academic advisors to use at their discretion over the course of the next five semesters. Half of the money is coming primarily from the Gates Foundation and Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation & Affiliates but the other half is a school match. Because every project that UIA does is carefully vetted beforehand, all institutions agree to double whatever philanthropic amount is directed toward their campuses.

The estimated award per student is projected to be about $900, but students can’t apply; administrators, who are adhering to an internal formula designed to spot the best candidates, will identify candidates and offer the one-time surprise infusion. “We know there’s variation across the 11 (schools) but we want to find the students who are low income, on track to graduate within a year – so they’ve already got a lot of effort behind them and it’s not too far ahead – but they have some unexpected costs,” Burns says.

Those costs might be anything that could disrupt an already tight budget, from a parking ticket that went unpaid and snowballed, to car repair, or an unexpected rent or medical issue that affected someone’s prioritization for what must be repaid. For low-income students already on loans, that’s generally a dream killer.

“If we don’t help them through to the finish line, that could waste all their effort.”

The concept of micro-debt relief has already proven effective at Georgia State University, a UIA affiliate that started its own retention granting program in 2011 to try to support the 1,000 or so students that it was losing each semester of extremely small tuition balances. Georgia State’s program is open to all students, not just seniors. Historically, it has 75% of those with more than a year to go are still enrolled 12 months later, while 60% of senior recipients go on to graduate within the same year that they receive assistance.

Burns expects UIA disbursements to cover only about half of the coalition’s students in need. That’s partly because of limited funding but also necessary because it’s a wide-scale experiment. Not aiding everyone creates a sad but necessary control group, allowing future funders to better compare the power of small, emergency cash allowances for those who received them versus those who didn’t.

More broadly, however, she hopes that UIA’s investment encourages other schools to act similarly. “This signaled where they should be focusing their attention,” she says. “These are many of the most innovative universities, who are saying, ‘These are things that are worth your limited time energy and money.’ ”