Free Trade Zones By the Numbers

Site Selection breaks down America’s free trade zones into two types of activity: merchandise received and exports. A few findings:

  • Indiana is eighth in the exports category and 14th in merchandise received
  • Texas and Louisiana are 1-2 in both categories. Three through five in exports are South Carolina, Mississippi and Florida, respectively. For merchandise received, it’s Tennessee, California and Kentucky.
  • For exports by individual zone, here’s the top five: Brownsville, Texas; El Paso, Texas; Broward County, Florida; Knoxville Tennessee; and Atlanta.
  • In merchandise received, the top five are: Memphis; Gramercy, Louisiana; Baltimore, Harris County, Texas; and Dallas/Fort Worth. Indianapolis trade zone 72 is 11th on the list.

Wellness Council Program a Real STAR

Five-Star-150x150Do you need any additional evidence that workplace wellness and its importance are here to stay? Digest this fact: In 2014, the number of companies completing a level of the Wellness Council of Indiana’s AchieveWELL program exceeded the total of the previous five years combined.

AchieveWELL was recognized as a winner (for innovative membership program) recently in the Indiana Society of Association Executives’ STAR awards program. The Wellness Council has been a part of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce since 2011.

The program provides a blueprint and a strategy for implementing a successful wellness initiative in the workplace. It was developed to assist employers in creating a corporate culture that encourages and supports employee health through worksite wellness.

AcheiveWELL’s process is proven to reduce the costly and time-consuming mistakes many internal wellness committees make when attempting to deliver wellness at work. It promotes productivity, presenteeism and engagement at work.

There are three different levels in the AchieveWELL program (three star, four star level and five star l). Each level has goals and programs for organizations to promote wellness. Companies are provided with tools, templates and personal coaching to help them comply with the established criteria for delivering a comprehensive and consistent workplace wellness initiative. Once one level is completed, a company may advance to the next level.

Check it out online and connect with the Wellness Council of Indiana to learn how your organization can benefit.

Job ‘Casualties’ Mount Due to Device Tax

16446238In our most recent Indiana Chamber Policy Call with Congressman Todd Rokita, the subject of the medical device tax came up. No surprise. It’s been a topic in countless conversations ever since the terrible idea was first broached in 2010.

Rokita expressed confidence that repeal will make its way to the President’s desk in 2015. What happens then, of course, can’t be predicted.

A recent Site Selection article notes that concerns have only multiplied. It contains quotes and analysis from Cook Group chairman and long-time Indiana Chamber board member Steve Ferguson, who says five plants (each would have employed up to 300 people) have been “put on hold” because of the tax.

Check out the full article.

Graduation Numbers to be Concerned About

Complete College America and its Alliance of States released their latest report Monday, titled Four-Year Myth. Below are a few numbers, national and Indiana-specific, that explain that title and its consequences.

Nationally

  • At public two-year institutions, 5% of full-time students pursuing associates degrees graduate on time. An extra year costs $15,933 in tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation and other expenses. In addition, students give up approximately $35,000 in lost wages by graduating late. The total cost: $50,933.
  • At public four-year institutions, 19% (non-flagship) and 36% (flagship/very high research) of full-time students graduate on time. An extra year costs $22,826 in tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation and other expenses. In addition, students give up more than $45,000 in lost wages by graduating late. The total cost is over $68,000.
  • Only 50 out of the more than 580 public four-year institutions reviewed have on-time graduation rates at or above 50% for their first-time, full-time students.

Indiana

  • 6% of full-time students pursuing associates degrees at two-year institutions graduate on time. On average, students graduate in four years with 93 credits (rather than the customary 60 credits). Each extra year costs $51,748 in school-related expenses and lost wages.
  • 17% of full-time students at four-year non-flagship institutions graduate on time. On average, students graduate in five years with 143 credits, rather than the customary 120 credits. Each extra year costs $68,176 in school-related expenses and lost wages.
  • 42% of full-time students at four-year flagship/very high research institutions graduate on time. On average, students graduate in 4.4 years with 134 credits, rather than the customary 120 credits. Each extra year costs $68,176 in school-related expenses and lost wages.

According to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, the state has a number of  initiatives underway that support on-time completion, including:

  • Requiring clear semester-by-semester degree maps for every public college student
  • Promoting more proactive college advising practices to keep students on track and intervene as needed
  • Launching a statewide “15 to Finish” campaign to change the long standing perception that taking 12 credits per semester is enough to graduate on time

Report Card Coming for Teacher Prep Efforts

19293579Teacher preparation programs have been the subject of much scrutiny in recent years. It appears Washington agrees with the need for some evaluation and measurement.

Governing reports:

The federal Department of Education announced preliminary rules requiring states to develop rating systems for teacher preparation programs that would track a range of measures, including the job placement and retention rates of graduates and the academic performance of their students.

In a move that drew some criticism, the Education Department said the new rating systems could be used to determine eligibility for certain federal grants used by teacher candidates to help pay for their training.

Critics have long faulted teacher training as inadequately preparing candidates for the realities and rigors of the job.

In a conference call with reporters, Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, said that far too many education programs set lower requirements for entry than other university majors.

“The last thing they want or need is an easy A,” Mr. Duncan said. “This is nothing short of a moral issue. All educators want to do a great job for their students, but too often they struggle at the beginning of their careers and have to figure out too much on the job by themselves.”

The proposed rules will be subject to public comment for 60 days. If they are adopted, states will be given a year to develop the rating systems, with alternative programs like Teach for America also subject to the rules.

Water, Water Not Everywhere Any More

TWhen I started writing about water earlier this year as part of the Indiana Chamber’s report on our state’s water resources, I never imagined the topic would be this deep. I’m not drowning, but do feel a little over my head at times on this ever-flowing topic.

The paragraph above makes the point that water puns are almost endless (see, I didn’t say pool, ocean or other aquatic term). But seriously, work is taking place on evolving this year’s study into concrete action steps over the next several years to help ensure Indiana’s resources for the long term.

In Kansas, long term means 50 years. Check out a few of the details (including the last paragraph on why this is so important) from this Topeka Capital-Journal article:

Gov. Sam Brownback opened a water policy conference by unfurling a nearly completed 50-year plan containing dozens of proposals for confronting the state’s obstacles in meeting agricultural irrigation and drinking supply demands.

Salient issues requiring attention involve topsoil pouring into man-made reservoirs in eastern Kansas and depletion of the underground Ogallala Aquifer in western regions of the state. Reservoir dredging and aquifer conservation figure prominently in the blueprint, which also raised the possibility of drawing excess water from the Missouri River to supply Kansas consumers.

Brownback said the water study process initiated one year ago would culminate in strategies specific to regional geography and consumption patterns. Pieces of the solution will be expensive, the governor said, and state laws and regulations must be modified to speed reform.

The document recommends crafting tougher state regulations and enhanced enforcement to hold water-right violators accountable.

“As I look out on the future of Kansas, one of the big things we have to resolve is the issue of water,” he told more than 600 people at the conference. “It’s just one of those key things that we’ve got to address. We’ve got to do it working together.”

A blue-ribbon task force is to be formed to map a “balanced, affordable and sustainable” strategy for paying for water projects financed with local, state and federal funding, the governor said.

An estimated 85 percent of water consumption in Kansas is due to irrigation, officials said.

Jackie McClaskey, secretary of the state Department of Agriculture, said the report would direct state agencies involved in recruiting businesses to focus economic development on entities that value water conservation and reliance on technology that improves water efficiency.

Only the Elephants Might be Upset; No More Peanut Report

7324001You have to start somewhere when it comes to better utilizing taxpayer resources and getting rid of unnecessary government work. But rest assured, there is a long way to go.

Check out this Government Executive recap of some common sense legislation out of Washington:

The House  put the final touches on a widely embraced bill to eliminate or modify 53 useless or outdated agency reports, an effort backed by the White House as a cost-savings measure.

The vote tally of 382-0 was evidence that the only area of disagreement between Republicans and Democrats in both chambers was precisely which reports to target in subjects ranging from the Agriculture Department’s write-up on the number of peanuts planted each year to the Homeland Security Department’s analysis of illegal imports of products made from dog and cat fur.

Though some studies have tagged nearly 300 reports as possibly superfluous, negotiators worked the number down. In June, the Office of Management and Budget identified 74 dubious reports; a Senate bill named 64; and a House bill passed in April listed 79.

“In today’s challenging fiscal environment, Congress must leverage every opportunity to save taxpayer dollars by streamlining or eliminating antiquated reporting requirements that are duplicative, irrelevant or simply ignored,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., a co-sponsor. “While enacting the bipartisan Government Reports Elimination Act may not go as far as we would like, it nevertheless represents precisely the type of pragmatic, good government legislating that a divided Congress should be doing more of.”

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who had introduced a companion version, said, “Hundreds of federal employees spend countless hours producing mountains of these reports each year, and in many cases no one ever reads or even refers to those reports. Surely these agency resources could be targeted to smarter, more productive efforts that will actually provide more direct benefit to customers and taxpayers.”

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., a co-author, cast the final bill as just “a first step toward making government smaller and smarter.” She and Warner introduced another bill that would target another 67 reports.

Harmonizing Music History with Worker Productivity

19188345Technology improvements are generally associated with getting the same amount of productivity with fewer workers. But something called the “quartet effect” – with links back to the lyrics of the Grateful Dead – instead emphasizes enhancing what people do with their time. Governing reports:

In the foreword to David Dodd’s The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics, Robert Hunter, the band’s “lyricist in residence,” wrote that the song “Uncle John’s Band” represented “the first lyric I wrote with the aid of that newfangled gadget, the cassette tape recorder. I taped the band playing the arrangement and was able to score lyrics at leisure rather than scratch away hurriedly at rehearsals, waiting for particular sections to come around again.”

What Hunter was describing, of course, was an improvement in productivity resulting from the application of new technology. Productivity is usually measured in terms of the labor cost per unit of production, and in most cases improvement is achieved by using new technology to reduce head count. For instance, a steel mill that once employed 10,000 workers produces the same tonnage with only a thousand employees, bank tellers are replaced by ATMs and elevator operators become a thing of the past. But in Hunter’s application of new technology, no one’s position was eliminated. It’s an example of what has been called “the quartet effect” at work.

When you reduce the head count of a musical quartet, you have not improved its productivity. If what you wanted was the music of a quartet, you have destroyed the product. The technology Hunter employed is the kind that, rather than eliminating jobs, allows existing staff to make better use of their time and gives them the opportunity to create higher-quality products.

How is this relevant to government? For most local governments, public safety constitutes the largest single category of expenditures, typically accounting for about 60 percent of total costs. For states and for some local governments, education is the dominant cost category. But it’s important to remember that within these areas, personnel costs — the salaries and benefits of police officers, firefighters and school teachers — are the real cost drivers. Personnel costs typically represent 80 percent or more of the total cost of a police department, for example. Few would argue that taking cops off the streets or teachers out of classrooms improves productivity.

A New Type of ‘Accidental’ Tourist (Employees Gamble With Some Odd Excuses for Missing Work)

WWe’ve all likely felt that urge at some point in our working careers to just take the day off. But how many have actually called in sick with a fake excuse to do so.

The answer is 28% in the past year, according to a CareerBuilder survey. That’s down from 32% a year earlier. But the entertainment here comes from the reasons employees give for not being able to make it to the office that day.

We couldn’t make these up. When asked to share the most dubious excuses employees have given for calling in sick, employers reported hearing the following real-life examples:

  • Employee just put a casserole in the oven
  • Employee’s plastic surgery for enhancement purposes needed some “tweaking” to get it just right
  • Employee was sitting in the bathroom and her feet and legs fell asleep. When she stood up, she fell and broke her ankle
  • Employee had been at the casino all weekend and still had money left to play with on Monday morning
  • Employee woke up in a good mood and didn’t want to ruin it
  • Employee had a “lucky night” and didn’t know where he was
  • Employee got stuck in the blood pressure machine at the grocery store and couldn’t get out
  • Employee had a gall stone they wanted to heal holistically
  • Employee caught their uniform on fire by putting it in the microwave to dry
  • Employee accidentally got on a plane

A few other interesting tidbits from the survey:

Though the majority of employers give their employees the benefit of the doubt, 31% say they have checked to see if an employee was telling the truth in one way or another.

Nearly one in five employers (18%) say they have fired an employee for calling in sick with a fake excuse.

Some workers have inadvertently busted themselves online. One in four employers (24%) have caught an employee lying about being sick by checking social media.

Perhaps not surprisingly, employee absentee rates seem to peak with flu season. December is the most popular time of year for employees to call in sick, according to 21% of employers, followed by January (17%) and February (14%).

Employees in professional and business services called in sick most often (35%) in the past year, followed closely by sales employees (34%). On the flip side, employees in the IT, retail and leisure and hospitality industries were least likely to call in sick this past year (22%, 21% and 20%, respectively).

Linking Veterans With Jobs and More

sThe Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs will be visiting eight Hoosier communities over the next several weeks, holding Community Outreach events that will offer veterans, active duty members and their dependents opportunities to connect with services and prospective employers.

All events are free. Registration is requested for planning purposes. Each event will be held from 1:00-6:00 p.m. (local time) in the following communities:

  • October 27 – Valparaiso – Porter County Expo Center, 215 E. Division Road, Valparaiso. Register
  • October 28 – South Bend – Ivy Tech Community College, 220 Dean Johnson Blvd, South Bend. Register 
  • October 29 – Ft. Wayne – Ivy Tech Community College, Coliseum Campus, Room 1640, Fort Wayne. Register
  • November 6 – Terre Haute – Ivy Tech Community College Terre Haute Main Campus, The Community Room, 8000 South Education Drive, Terre Haute. Register
  • November 13 – Bloomington – Ivy Tech Community College, 200 Daniels Way, Hoosier Times Student Commons, Bloomington. Register
  • November 20 – Columbus – Ivy Tech Community College, 4475 Central Avenue, Columbus Learning Center, Columbus. Register
  • December 4 – Lafayette – Ivy Tech Community College, Grand Hallway, 3101 S. Creasy Lane, Lafayette. Register
  • December 9 – Kokomo – Indiana Wesleyan, Kokomo Education and Conference Center, 1916 East Markland Avenue, Kokomo. Register

Additional outreach events will be planned for Muncie, New Albany, Bedford and Jasper. Those interested in attending events in these communities can find more information here or call (800) 400-4520.

“Each event will provide information and assistance with VA benefits, claims processing, remission of fees and even what to do if someone wants to enroll or return to college,” said Deanna Pugh, Director of Veterans Employment and Education. “The Indiana State Police, Dish, NiSource, United States Postal Service, Kroger and Lowes will be among the companies and organizations looking to hire employees to work in these communities.

“We will also offer Dale Carnegie sessions to help veterans prepare for interviews. We’re very excited about connecting our resources to our veteran communities and helping link those who have served our country with the many services designed specifically to assist them.”

A new state law that took effect July, 1, 2014, allows for approximately 26,000 post-911 veterans to apply for assistance through the Military Family Relief Fund. This new law eliminates the three-year restriction on access to the fund, which provides grants that may be used for needs such as food, housing, utilities, medical services, transportation and other essential family expenses. The Military Family Relief Fund has a balance of more than $7 million and lifting the cap will ensure those funds are available to support Hoosier veterans and their families.

Since its establishment in 1945, the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs (IDVA) has remained focused on aiding and assisting “Hoosier” veterans, and qualified family members or survivors, who are eligible for benefits or advantages provided by Indiana and the U.S. government.