Avon High School Rocks the House

How about a little change of pace when it comes to a story about a school? Usually, it’s a lot of doom and gloom with school stories these days…school standards, budget cuts, failing schools, etc.

But, Avon High School just did something pretty cool when it got what appears to be the entire student body, teachers and administrators involved in an adorable pop music mash-up featuring a pretty diverse mix of the school in Hendricks County.

The Avon High School 2014 Lip Dub featured band and drama kids, sports teams from lacrosse to cheerleading and everything in between, to color guard and many others.

I’ll be the first to admit that I had to Google “lip dub.” Alas, I’m not a teenager any more. (No, wait. Thankfully, I’m not a teenager anymore.) Anyway, Wikipedia says it’s a “type of video that combines lip synching and audio dubbing to make a music video.” The other significant part of a lib dub is that these are often done in a single, unedited shot that usually travels through a number of rooms. Color me impressed.

What a fun way to boost school morale. Everyone in the video is happily participating. Sure, there’s probably a few broody kids in the back – this is high school, after all. But there were smiles, dancing and cheers all around. Kudos to Avon High School for giving us all a remembrance of what it’s like to be young and young at heart today!

Now, excuse me while I go plan an intricately choreographed lip dub featuring my daughter’s stuffed animals.

Throwback Thursday: What Decides a Legislator’s Vote?

In the today’s look back, we feature an Indiana Chamber-produced cartoon from 1954 titled, “What Factors Decide a Legislator’s Vote?”

It’s a good question, even today. Here are the influencing factors it lists as possibilities:

  • Conscience: What are the facts? What’s right? What’s wrong?
  • Affected by : (A) Personal background and experiences; (B) Knowledge (or lack of knowledge) of the facts
  • The Party “Line”: Party caucus decisions and party discipline
  • “Lobbies”
  • Opinions of the folks “back home”: (A) Whose judgment the legislator respects and/or (B) Who he believes can help him be re-elected

While these are all pretty much the same conditions as today, we’d likely change the reference to legislators from “he” to “he/she” considering state government is no longer just a “boys club.” In fact, you can see that topic addressed in this old Throwback Thursday post.

Vincennes University Working to Tackle Skills Gap

Our team recently had the opportunity to visit Vincennes University (VU). We spoke with their administration about the work they do to prepare students for today’s high-demand jobs.

We toured their campus, including a visit to the impressive Red Skelton Performing Arts Center. We also walked through the Indiana Center for Applied Technology, which had several labs with technical equipment used by manufacturing companies for students to train. Some of the machines were “welding robots,” and each was given a human name. Vice President Dave Tucker said that, while machines exist to ease human labor (welding in particular is difficult on the body), there is still a need for skilled engineers and mathematicians to program the robots.

We also toured Toyota Motor Manufacturing (TMMI) in Princeton, IN. VU has a partnership with TMMI called the Toyota Advanced Manufacturing Technician Program (AMT). The program includes a two-year degree in Computer Integrated Manufacturing: Robotics that combines cutting-edge curriculum and paid working experience, along with learning highly sought-after business principles and best practices of a world-class manufacturer. Their giant robots were affectionately named “Godzilla!”

 

GUEST BLOG: Make Your Business’ Web Site Engaging, Intuitive and Professional

This guest blog about business web site design is the first in a series of informative posts presented by The Web Guys — a web design and digital marketing agency located in Carmel.

As the world becomes increasingly more digitized, a business web site is no longer optional. When looking for information, the average consumer’s first impulse is to head for Google — not the Yellow Pages. In the article “B2B’s Digital Evolution” on Google Think Insights, the author asserts:

New research from CEB’s Marketing Leadership Council shows that potential business customers are increasingly using digital channels to form opinions about major purchases. Today’s business buyers do not contact suppliers directly until 57 percent of the purchase process is complete. The challenge for marketers is to be present in these channels at all times with content that educates buyers and helps guide commercial decisions.

It’s important to realize, though, that not just any old web site will do. A well designed web site will have a higher conversion rate than one with a “one size fits all” approach, especially for younger, design-savvy visitors. Bad design shouldn’t happen to good companies, but all too often a business owner or manager will quickly slap up a sub par web site, bypassing the professional business, content and marketing expertise needed to drive traffic to the site and increase sales.

Web design companies know that in order to be truly effective, business web sites need to meet these three criteria: they must be engaging, intuitive and professional.

Every web site relies on visitor engagement to flourish; after all, it only takes a click of a button to leave a disappointing web site and look for greener pastures. Each company approaches engagement differently — some focusing on graphics while others rely on attention-grabbing content. The best sites usually are a combination of both of these elements.

Getting a visitor’s attention is one thing, but keeping it is quite another. A web site with navigation that takes more than five seconds to understand will confuse and irritate potential clients. Visitors should see a clear, intuitive path through the site. Avoid the trap of “Mystery Meat Navigation” – links that say “Click Here!” without any indication of where they lead. Consistent, clear labeling with call-to-action buttons that direct customers to get quotes, make purchases and contact businesses should stand out on every page.

Even an engaging, intuitive site can fall flat, however, if its design looks unprofessional to users. Consumers approach the Web expecting businesses to have professional, informative websites — not throwbacks to the 1990s. If you’re still relying on flashing animations, ticker tapes scrolling by and black text on lime green backgrounds to catch attention, a face-lift is long overdue.

When hiring a Web design agency to create a web site, business owners should research available options. Find an agency with experience, and ask detailed questions about the design process before committing to a partnership. For Indianapolis and Indiana business owners, working with a local company like The Web Guys enables them to provide optimal content paired with SEO services to reach their target markets.

First impressions are everything — and an unprofessional, confusing site will send potential customers running to the competition. Creating an engaging web site only requires a modest investment of time and resources but will generate traffic and new customers for years to come.

Next month, look forward to learning about the importance of having proper web site visibility on Google, Yahoo! and Bing!

Complete College on Time with 15 Credits Per Semester

On-time graduation rates at public Indiana colleges and universities are staggeringly low. Only one in 10 students at two-year colleges finish a degree on time, and only three in 10 students finish a four-year degree on time, according to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education’s 2014 College Completion Reports.

The reports provide a robust, comprehensive picture of student success at each public college and university in Indiana. They include data on transfer and part-time students and disaggregated data by race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status to focus attention on persistent achievement gaps.

Statewide, there’s a 24-point completion gap at two-year colleges between the highest-performing racial/ethnic group and the lowest-performing group. At four-year colleges, the gap is 31 points. Additionally, less than 4% of Pell grant recipients graduate on time from two-year colleges. About 17% of students receiving this need-based grant graduate on time from four-year colleges.

Why do these low graduation rates matter? First, graduating on time yields greater returns for students by lowering their cost per degree. The estimated cost of an additional year of schooling to a student is $50,000 in tuition, fees and lost potential income. What’s more: Indiana college graduates borrow over $27,000 for a four-year degree. As loan default rates rise, so does the importance of cutting college costs. The surest way to lower a student’s cost per degree is to finish sooner.

Second, institutions and the state bear significant costs for extra semesters as well, in lost productivity and additional financial aid awards. According to the College Completion Reports, four-year schools spend about $62,000 for each degree produced. About 30% of students don’t complete a four-year degree within eight years, adding to productivity losses for institutions.

Of course, for many students who are working or raising families, attending part-time may be the best option. Unfortunately, as students take additional semesters and hit state and federal financial aid limits, their probability of completing the degree declines. In fact, full-time students are six times more likely to graduate with a four-year degree than part-time students. And students who invest in their education but do not receive a diploma bear the greatest lost, reaping nearly zero return on their investment, according to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education’s Return on Investment Reports.

Fortunately, the state has made great strides on both policy and institutional levels to improve completion rates. For instance, thanks to recent reforms, state financial aid now funds completed credits rather than attempted credits to incentivize completion.

Additionally, credit creep legislation cut the number of credits per degree to 120 for four-year degrees and 60 for two-year degrees. This means students who take 15 credit hours per semester set themselves up to finish on time.

As we work to combat student loan default rates and the rising costs of college, we must continue to ask how we can use dollars more efficiently. Tackling graduation rates, and ensuring those who invest in their education complete it in the shortest time possible, is imperative to minimizing those costs.

To read institution-specific data in the 2014 College Completion Reports, visit the Indiana Commission for Higher Education’s web site.

Hannah Rozow is a senior at Indiana University – Bloomington and a student representative on the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

Don’t Squander That Tax Refund!

Taxes aren’t all bad – especially this time of year when refunds are doled out to the tune of (on average) approximately $3,000. But don’t be fooled. Before you embark on an extravagant shopping spree, there’s something I have to say: Halt! Stop! Wait!

Kiplinger offers 10 tips for spending (and saving) your refund. Paying off credit card debt, rebuilding your emergency fund and boosting retirement savings are great ways to protect – and pad – your pocketbook.

I know what you’re thinking: That’s no fun! Point taken. But heeding some of these suggestions might help you avoid a serious case of buyer’s remorse. Who wants to deal with that?

Throwback Thursday: Water on the Brain

Many involved in the Indiana environmental community are likely aware of our ongoing work on a survey of Indiana water resources in an effort to gauge future supply and demand.The Chamber actually hired Bloomington-based hydrogeologist Jack Wittman for the effort. In fact, read his recent Q & A with Indy-based NUVO magazine on the issue.

Along these lines, we recently discovered a similar report from June 1953, titled “Water Resources Report to Southern Indiana Inc.” The entire document is nearly 70 pages, but here are a few notes from the general summary:

These points are held to be fundamental guides for conducting future work:

1. Present water conditions – supplies; flood damages
2. Potential long-term supply needs
3. Potential long-term supply opportunities
4. Possible reductions of flood losses
5. General benefits to entire area which may result from improvement projects

The valley-wide approach to the water problem of Southern Indiana is all-important because surface water must be the main source of supply.

It is recognized that there now is a tremendous waste of water resources in Southern Indiana. Much water is lost in flood periods during the heavy rainfall seasons of the spring and early summer while many stream beds are almost dry in late summer and fall months. Equalization of the stream flows, therefore, is taken as the key approach to the problem…

It is impossible to propose a “blanket remedy”  for water problems in Southern Indiana. IN any year, losses from drought may be just as severe as losses from flood, or greater. Any storage of water in small watersheds is of much value to farm operations. The value of farming is on equal status with that of manufacturing and commercial activities in the support of the business system.

Electric Vehicle Charging Station Program Begins in Northwest Indiana

In an effort to encourage more use of alternative fuels in Northwest Indiana, the Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) has partnered with South Shore Clean Cities to launch a pilot program making electric vehicle charging stations available to more public entities.

South Shore Clean Cities is a Crown Point-based public/private organization that promotes the use of alternative fuels and technology.

Through the end of January 2015, the IN-Charge Around Town Electric Vehicle Program offers financial incentives to help defray the costs of putting in charging stations on public buildings. NIPSCO is offering up to $1 million in incentives for the program, according to a press release.

This program is the second part of NIPSCO’s recent alternative fuel push; the IN-Charge at Home Program gave an instant credit for residents to install a charging station on their property. Additionally, NIPSCO will buy an equal amount of renewable energy certificates for every unit of electricity used through the program.

“Electric vehicles are becoming an increasingly popular alternative to gasoline-powered cars,” explains Carl Lisek, executive director of South Shore Clean Cities, in a press release. “They offer fuel cost savings, produce no tailpipe emissions and help reduce reliance on imported oil.”

Charging station owners can choose to charge for using the station, but will operate free of charge for the owners.

Single Computer Screen Better than Double

I’ve written in this space before about workplace distractions, as in trying to have fewer of them. In thinking that most people would agree with that plan, I was a bit mystified as dual computer monitors became a quickly growing trend.

The research showed that productivity could be enhanced with two monitors. But that was if, and only if, you can avoid the interruptions — which can come twice as fast in the two-monitor world.

Farhad Manjoo, a personal tech columnist for The New York Times, summed it up in a recent column. He eloquently states:

In a switch that amounts to heresy among some techies, I’ve become a two-screen skeptic. Two months ago, about five years after becoming an ardent proselytizer for the Church of the Second Display, I turned off the extra screen on my desktop computer.

At first, the smaller workspace felt punishingly cramped. But after a few days of adjusting to the new setup, an unusual serenity invaded my normally harried workday. With a single screen that couldn’t accommodate too many simultaneous stimuli, a screen just large enough for a single word processor or browser window, I found something increasingly elusive in our multiscreen world: focus.

The column also noted that it can take workers as long as 25 minutes to regain focus after being interrupted. And constant interruptions create a stressful workplace.

Gloria Mark, a professor who studies workplace distractions (how does one get a job like that?) at the University of California advises that people turn off email notifications, and answer and write email in batches once or twice a day rather than every few minutes. She notes that taking up such habits requires both personal discipline and buy-in from your bosses and co-workers.

Manjoo concludes:

That gets to the blessing of one monitor. With a single screen, I was forced to fight my distractions. I had to actively prevent myself from falling into email and Twitter, from ever losing focus on my main window. It took some time for me to exercise that willpower. But by finding methods of sticking to my task rather than coping with my distractions, my single-screen machine ultimately improved how I work. It can for you, too — if only you resist the pull of two displays.

 

Going the Mega-Region Route for Economic Development

Richard Florida — he of The Rise of the Creative Class fame — is writing about economic development in a recent post at The Atlantic Cities. But we’re not talking about counties teaming up for business attraction and retention purposes.

Florida says satellite images of the globe at night were used to identify the world’s 40 “mega regions,” defined as a contiguous lighted area with more than one major city or metropolitan area that produced more than $100 billion in economic output.

In North America, this means 12 mega regions that account for 243 metropolitan areas in the U.S. and Canada. The combined population is 230 million people (215 million from the U.S., which account for 70% of our population).

The Chi-Pitts region, which includes Indianapolis, has a $2.3 trillion economic output that would make it the world’s seventh largest.

Here is a quick rundown on the 12 creatively-named regions, from largest to smallest:

•Bos-Wash stretches from Boston through New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore to Washington, D.C., a total of 500 miles. It is home to 18 percent of the U.S. population – 56.5 million people. The region generates $3.75 trillion in economic output, meaning that, if Bos-Wash were a separate country, it would be the fourth largest economy in the world, behind only the U.S., China, and Japan and ahead of Germany.

•Chi-Pitts extends north and west from Pittsburgh through Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, Chicago, and Minneapolis, taking in more than 50 metros in all. Home to 41.8 million individuals, this mega-region’s economy is just a bit smaller than the United Kingdom’s, about the same size as Brazil’s and bigger than all of Russia’s.

•Char-lanta, which is home to 22 million people, takes in 45 metros, including Atlanta, Georgia; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Birmingham, Alabama. With more than a trillion in economic output, its economy is bigger that South Korea’s, placing it among the world’s 15 largest economies.

•So-Cal runs from L.A. through San Diego and spills into Tijuana, Mexico, accounting for 21.8 million people and more than one trillion in economic output.

•So-Flo includes Miami, Orlando and Tampa and is home to 15 million people. It produces more than $750 billion in economic output, making it about the same size as the Netherlands or Turkey.

•Nor-Cal includes San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland and 14 other metros surrounding San Francisco Bay. It has a population of 13 million people and produces more than $900 billion in output, roughly the same as Indonesia and more than Turkey.

•Tor-Buff-Chester stretches north from Buffalo and Rochester, taking in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal in Canada. It has an estimated population of more than 16 million (several smaller Canadian metros are not included in this tally). It generates output of nearly $600 billion, more than Sweden.

•Dal-Austin encompasses Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio, Texas. Its population is just under 12 million. It produces more than $700 billion in economic output, more than Sweden or oil-rich Saudi Arabia.

•Hou-Orleans, the great energy-producing belt that stretches from Houston through Mobile, Alabama to New Orleans, is home to more than 10 million people. It produces more than $750 billion in economic output, about the same as the Netherlands.  (Some researchers have suggested combining Houston, Dallas-Ft. Worth and Austin into a single “Texas Triangle.” This mega would include 20 million people, and its $1.5 trillion economy would be comparable to Australia’s and just a bit smaller than India’s or Canada’s.)

•The Cascadia mega-region, which stretches up from Portland, Oregon through Seattle and into Vancouver, Canada, is home to nearly 10 million people. It generates economic output of about $600 billion, comparable to Switzerland

•Phoenix-Tucson is home to more than 5 million people and generates economic output of more than $250 billion, just slightly less than Hong Kong.

•Denver-Boulder has 4.2 million people and $256 billion in economic output, more than Finland, Greece or Ireland. If it were a nation, it would  rank among the world’s 50 largest economies.