BizVoice: Social Media Changes Landscape of Hoosier Politics

Longtime WTHR-TV political reporter Kevin Rader says he picks up “ripples” on Twitter or Facebook about posts that are gaining steam, getting retweets and likes, that make him take notice to a certain policy or official’s statement. “It’s almost like an immediate Nielsen Report that comes to your desk every day that you can look at and say, ‘Oh, this is interesting … or this is interesting,’ ” he notes.

John Zody, chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party, believes social media is “big” for candidates and officeholders – and not just in a reactionary sense. “You have to think about how people are receiving news. It’s not just one way (traditional media) or the other (social media). You’ve got to have the proactivity to get out there and make sure it’s communicated every single way and exhaust every possible resource.”

His counterpart for the Republican Party, Tim Berry, says “The advantage of social media is that you can talk directly to your constituents. You’re not taking through Kevin or the Indianapolis Star. You’re talking directly to your constituents and then that is shared – your perspective is shared. And that’s what people sometimes miss through the use of social media – the opportunity to talk directly to your intended target.”

But there does need to be caution with social media usage, according to Andrew Downs, IPFW political science professor and director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics.

“It has got to be part of an overall strategy. You can’t ignore it; you’ve got to be present. But if you let it dominate, which it’s easy to do, you will lose. It doesn’t play that big of a role yet,” he asserts.

Rader offers another example of how Twitter, for example, has changed his job.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been frustrated by people who have now realized, ‘Look, I don’t have to make a statement to the media. All I have to do is Tweet a little something out and I don’t have to answer a question.’ You find yourself thinking, ‘Oh boy, so are we really serving the people sitting at home?’ You don’t get any follow-up, anything in-depth and it’s become acceptable now.”

But what can the media do? It has little choice but to cover it. And as Downs quips, “Yes, you don’t have to answer questions. That’s the beauty of social media (for candidates).”

Read much more from this group in the September-October edition of BizVoice magazine, where they discuss the climate in the state and what to look for on Election Day. A related article in the same issue focuses on the use of “digital first” technology to reach voters.

Anti-Bullying App Gets Microloan Boost

The current edition of BizVoice® magazine includes a story about the Madison County Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA), an after-school program for students in grades six to 12 that helps students learn how to brainstorm ideas for companies, present those companies to an investor panel and secure funding for their ideas.

As part of the YEA program, Pendleton Heights High School junior Brandon Boynton created an anti-bullying app called The Bully Box, which is marketed to schools and allows students to report acts of bullying anonymously, while allowing the school district to collect bullying data to help comply with anti-bullying laws and protect students.

Boynton’s app won the local contest held through the Madison County YEA program, as well as the regional contest in Boca Raton, Florida. He placed in the top six of a national competition at America’s Small Business Summit in Washington D.C. in June.

According to a press release from the Flagship Microloan Program, the app has also caught the attention of the microloan organization, which provides small loans of between $1,000 and $5,000 to businesses in a 10-county region of East Central Indiana. The program announced it will make a working capital loan to Most Beastly Studios, which produces The Bully Box app. The Flagship Enterprise Center, a technology incubator in Anderson, is a sponsor of the Madison County YEA program and is a partnership between the City of Anderson and Anderson University.

To raise additional capital for the app, Boynton is running a campaign via crowdfunding site IndieGoGo. His goal is to raise $25,000 by Sept. 24.

Also in Boynton’s toolbox is The Curfew Buddy – keeping parents and children connected quickly about where children are and when they’ll return home.

Kudos to this young Hoosier entrepreneur and the Madison County YEA program for giving Boynton and other enterprising students the experience and opportunity to change the world through their innovative products, services and ideas.

BizVoice Keeps Earning Accolades

Six recent honors from the Indiana Society of Professional Journalists and the national APEX competition raise the BizVoice total of national and state recognitions to 69. The honors received for 2013 work include:

APEX Awards of Excellence:

Indiana SPJ

One of the highlights remains a Grand Award in the national APEX competition for the “Let’s Make a (Business) Deal” five-story package in the September-October 2011 edition. Stories were written by Rebecca Patrick and Tom Schuman. There were nearly 3,400 entrants with 100 earning the Grand Award.

July/August BizVoice Building a Buzz

Today, we’re unveiling our July/August edition of BizVoice magazine.

And the headline is actually a joking nod to our cover story about drones… assuming they make some sort of buzzing sound as they fly. If they don’t, well, let’s just ignore it and move on.

This issue covers a gamut of topics. Here are a few of the top stories (but you can view the full edition via our interactive online version):

Working to Build Business Success Stories

Have you done business with or heard of either Gear Brake or Groom HQ? Probably not — at least yet. These are two of the promising start-ups that went through the Velocity Indiana accelerator program earlier this year and are now co-working in the Jeffersonville space to build their business dreams.

We’ll do a quick Q&A with Chris Bailey (Gear Brake) and Andrew Klawier (Groom HQ) as part of a July-August BizVoice magazine story on Velocity (in just its second year) and its potential. It will be part of an Indiana Vision 2025 focus on Dynamic and Creative Culture that includes:

  • Drones and their Indiana impact
  • Launch Indiana, another effort to develop entrepreneurs
  • A one-on-one with Kent Parker, an Indiana native who experienced business success in several locations around the country
  • A roundtable discussion on entrepreneurial financing

BizVoice goes in the mail June 30 and all stories will be available online on that date.

This is Unique With a Capital U

The Found Elsewhere page of BizVoice, our Indiana Chamber magazine, does as the name suggests – offers interesting information first reported in other places (studies, publications, etc.). After all, we don’t claim to have the monopoly on fascinating facts.

While Found Elsewhere typically appears on the last page of the publication, I’m taking an educated guess that Governing’s Last Look has a permanent home in that spot. The May edition has an entry that we just had to share.

A few clues:

  • International border
  • Library and opera house in the same building
  • Jurisdictional implications

The story can’t be done justice without the photo. Check it out.

No Longer the Amateur Sports Capital?

That amateur sports capital label that Indianapolis has worked so hard to earn and maintain over the years may not apply anymore.

Steve Penny, leader of USA Gymnastics, has called Indy home the last 15 years. He wants a rebranding of his adopted hometown to sports capital of America. Why? It has something to do with “owning the town.”

Our BizVoice magazine Business of Sports feature highlights the four Olympic sport national governing bodies (track, diving and synchronized swimming in addition to gymnastics) that call Indianapolis home. Their impact and business partnerships make a difference throughout Indiana.

And be sure to check out the sidebar on Olympic diving champion David Boudia and the significance of the Indiana University Natatorium. Since that story was completed, Boudia has qualified for three events in the biggest meet of 2014 — the World Cup in China from July 15-20.

High Electricity Prices are Bad for Everyone

The headline might seem like an obvious one – you’ve most likely seen your energy bills go up over the last several years. But it’s not just families struggling to pay high electric bills. Hoosier companies, particularly those that are energy intensive (such as manufacturing facilities), face exponentially-higher sticker shock when it comes to paying the electricity bill.

And the consequences of companies paying more for electricity is far-reaching: less money for employees, higher prices for consumers, fewer opportunities to expand and lost economic development chances.

Here’s a little history: In the early 2000s, Indiana was fifth lowest in the country, in terms of electricity prices. Today, the state has fallen to the middle of the pack, around 27th lowest.

The State Utility Forecasting Group (SUFG) out of Purdue University puts together electricity forecasts every two years. The current forecast (released at the end of 2013) points to prices increasing by over 30% over the next 20 years, with electricity demand in Indiana staying almost stagnant.

We look at the reasons for the higher prices and the lower demand in the new edition of BizVoice®. I spoke with the director of the SUFG, as well as the president of a small foundry in Rochester and a representative from the Indiana Industrial Energy Consumers, Inc. (which represents some of the state’s largest industrial energy users) for their reactions to the SUFG report.

While I didn’t have the opportunity to include an email interview with Wayne Harman, manager of energy procurement from ArcelorMittal USA, I’m able to share some of it here. Here’s a shortened Q&A:

BizVoice®: What is the consequence of high electricity prices for a large energy-intensive company like ArcelorMittal USA?

Harman: “Higher electricity costs translates to net higher costs for manufacturing finished steel products. Added costs cause inflationary pressure when they can be passed on to customers or squeeze profit margins when a commodity’s market selling price is too low to fully cover the added manufacturing costs. Business investment tends to be reduced until a later period when profit margins are stronger.”

BV: When determining where to build new plants (nationally or abroad), how much of a factor are electricity prices?

Harman: “The cost of power is a key factor in making such a decision, but also the availability and reliability of that power source need to be taken into consideration. Market demand and a company’s supply position to serve that market area need are more important in making such decisions … Above a certain cost point, electricity costs become a deal breaker for such investments.”

BV: Nationally, Indiana used to rank fifth lowest in electricity prices, now we’re somewhere around 27th lowest. What kind of an impact is that making when companies compare states to locate their new or expanding businesses?

Harman: “Clearly the higher cost of electricity in Indiana now as compared to just a few years ago is a disadvantage. Companies must also factor in projections for how the electricity costs will likely increase going forward as compared to other geographical regions, as there is a wide range for current power costs and power generation mix (nuclear, coal, natural gas, etc.) region to region. Indiana is heavily coal-fired generation and as such the costs to deal with tightened EPA emissions from these power plants has translated into higher power prices.”

BV: The SUFG released a recent forecast that predicted that prices will grow by over 30% over the next 20 years, while demand stays relatively flat. If companies have a hard time keeping up with costs now, what is the impact that an extra 30% will have over time?

Harman: “All companies are being forced to reduce the energy intensity of their businesses in order to offset what they can of the future electricity cost increases. Any cost increases that cannot be passed on through higher selling prices cause profit margin compression and reduce the financial health of a company. Companies are sensitive to customer demands that they must first do everything in their power to avoid any increases in costs before they try to seek cost recovery through price increases. …

Since 2006, ArcelorMittal USA has reduced energy costs by more than $163 million through focused improvements and energy management, making us the only steelmaker to be named an Energy Star® partner by the US EPA and participant in the US Department of Energy’s Better Plants Program.”

Read the full story.

Throwback Thursday: 75 Years Since Bremen Castings Opened its Doors

You know a company is tied to its community when the community is in its own name. We’re proud to call Bremen Castings Inc. an Indiana Chamber member, and sincerely congratulate this Northern Indiana company for its milestone this month in celebrating 75 years in business.

We featured this innovative company in BizVoice magazine last year, so check out the article. And being a social media person, I enjoy seeing how Bremen Castings honors its employees in its social media feeds. A thoughtful way to include staff in the company’s messaging. Be sure to get BCI’s updates on Twitter and Facebook.

And a release from the company offers more on its anniversary:

The iron industry has been around for generations but over the years, the face of foundries has shifted away from small, family-run businesses to large corporations.  Bremen Castings Inc. (BCI) in Bremen, Indiana, is not one of them.

The family-owned foundry will be celebrating its 75th anniversary in March and James (JB) Brown, President of Bremen Castings, credits the longevity and success of the company to its forward thinking business model, streamlined day-to-day operations, and above all, having each employee feel as though they are a member of the Bremen family.

“It is crucial for everyone to be a team member and an active citizen within our communities so we strive to cast each employee into a valuable and responsible individual,” says Brown.  “We have a set of core values that we want everyone to have and appreciate.”

Originally named, Bremen Gray Iron foundry (the name was changed to Bremen Castings Inc. in 1972), the company was established on March 17, 1939 by Ellis Brown, Charles W. Kling and Harold Heckamen with an initial investment of $10,000.  Some of the first customers included Bendix Corporation, Clark Equipment, and Ford Motor Company.

Since its inception, Bremen Castings has grown from an 800 square foot building to its current 125,000 square feet with more additions planned for the future.  The company has continued to stay at the forefront of the foundry industry, having won numerous awards for its safety, technology and environment-friendly manufacturing.  Today, Bremen is still privately owned and operated by the Brown family.

You Say ‘Honest to Goodness’ is OK

When tourism officials unveiled “Honest to Goodness Indiana” as the state’s new brand a few weeks ago, the criticism came fast and furious. But in our completely unscientific poll, you didn’t seem to mind (or maybe you just didn’t like the past efforts).

The question was to weigh in on your favorite Indiana tourism slogan of the recent (and not so recent) past. The top three vote-getters:

  • Honest to Goodness Indiana: 50%
  • Wander Indiana (a 1980s entry): 20%
  • Restart Your Engines (the immediate predecessor): 17%

Some took the opportunity to offer a new slogan. Among those: Discover Indiana, Explore Indiana, The State That Works (Governor Pence’s campaign mantra and tied to the economic development efforts).

In our current poll, we’re asking about a new professional sports franchise (the Indy Eleven is reaching out to potential soccer fans around the state) and gauging your early interest. The off-field efforts are featured in our Business of Sports story in current BizVoice magazine.