Work Share Program Needed in Indiana

Right now, state lawmakers and their staff are drafting bills for introduction and molding strategies for the opening of the Indiana General Assembly only three weeks away. One of the most important things they can do is to enact a work share program for the state.

Work Share, or short-term compensation as it is sometimes called, is a voluntary and cost equivalent alternative to traditional unemployment benefits.

In lieu of laying off a number of employees during an economic downturn, an employer elects to retain those employees and reduce the hours of employees of a particular group or department. Those employees are then permitted to draw a partial unemployment compensation benefit based upon the hours reduced.

Employers are able to maintain a skilled and stable workforce while employees are able to keep their jobs and benefits instead of facing unemployment and economic ruin. The state wins by reducing the number of job losses. Taxpayers win in keeping jobs in place with no net increase in unemployment insurance costs.

Work share is an innovative, win-win program now in place in 26 states, but not yet in Indiana. State legislators need to hear from employers and citizens alike right now to urge them to seriously consider and enact a work share program in the next few months.

Please take a moment to send a message to your own state legislators urging them to move forward and establish a work share program in 2015. Simply visit the Indiana Chamber’s online grassroots center to send an email message to your legislators.

 

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.

Raising the Woof: Speak Your Dog’s Language, Sort Of

87739557It appears there really is a business idea waiting to happen for just about everything.

When I first got a Shih Tzu puppy, the thought of leaving him alone while I was at work bummed me out – and probably him, too. I turned the radio on in the mornings so he wouldn’t be lonely and even left a message on our answering machine once or twice that first week (something along the lines of “mommy will be home soon!”) Ridiculous or endearing? You decide.

If only there had been a way for him to give me a verbal “paws up” that he was OK.

Now there is.

WÜF, touted as “the world’s smartest dog collar,” offers two-way audio with man’s best friend. The collar sounds pretty cool – it’s waterproof, shockproof and bite-proof. Other features include activity tracking, GPS, feeding recommendations, games and more.

I heard about this device in an Entrepreneur.com story. Here’s an excerpt:

The mutual communication magic happens using a companion app and a microphone-speaker combo embedded in the rugged collar. You’ll receive alerts on a companion app from WÜF whenever your dog is, uh-oh, “barking a lot, crying, whining, growling or whimpering unexpectedly.” And, because it would be torture to listen to all that drooly doggy talk from far away without being able to respond, the app also lets you squawk back.

… the collar monitors your dog’s overall health and activity levels, lets you remotely play with and train your dog using customizable programs and even helps you keep your dog within an invisible “geofence” perimeter around your yard.

Now I don’t have to wonder what my beloved dog does all day – I’ll simply ask him.

Momentum for Significant Changes to Indiana Taxation

Since 2002, there have been numerous changes to the Indiana tax laws to improve Indiana’s competitiveness, while at the same time implementing cost controls and preserving Indiana’s ability to balance its budget. Notable changes include the elimination of the gross income tax and the supplemental net income tax; the elimination of the inheritance tax; reductions in income tax rates for individuals, corporations and financial institutions; numerous deductions and credits designed to stimulate economic development; and the addition of property tax caps. As a result, various national studies have recognized Indiana’s ability to improve its tax climate while maintaining fiscal discipline. The Tax Foundation in Washington, D.C. recently ranked Indiana’s tax climate the eighth best in the country on its State Business Tax Climate Index.

Indiana, however, isn’t resting on its laurels. On June 24, the Governor hosted the Indiana Tax Competitiveness and Simplification Conference, comprised of a mix of national and local economists and tax practitioners. As its name suggests, this one-day conference was intended to identify and discuss ways in which Indiana could make improvements to its tax laws to enhance Indiana’s competitive positioning and to simplify its tax laws and tax procedures. In September, the state issued its 70-page Tax Competitiveness and Simplification Report.

The Legislature had a similar initiative, but one with a different approach. The Legislature created a “blue ribbon” committee to study Indiana’s business tax structure. Members of the committee were designated governmental leaders and representatives of select interest groups and key organizations (including the Chamber). The committee met three times to hear testimony from national and local groups and individuals, and then concluded with a meeting on November 12 to discuss and approve its findings and recommendations.

The scope of the topics discussed has been extensive. The discussions have included some “big ideas,” such as elimination of the personal property tax, the broadening of the sales tax base to include more services, the elimination of the corporate income tax or the reduction of the sales tax rate if the sales tax base is broadened and the idea of turning Indiana into a forced combination, or unitary, state. Big ideas to eliminate taxes in their entirety, or reduce tax rates, and even many of the less ambitious ideas, raise issues of finding replacement revenues to balance the budget and maintain Indiana’s fiscal discipline. Other ideas, such as broadly taxing services or making Indiana a unitary state, may raise revenue to “fund” other changes, but they raise significant policy questions and potentially undermine Indiana’s goal of being more competitive and simplifying its tax laws.

This should not, however, be written off as an academic exercise. There have been numerous ideas in which there appears to be a consensus of opinion for change. Some are areas in which there is very little or no discernible fiscal cost. Those areas include ways in which tax procedures can be improved and streamlined. There are other areas in which there is a conceptual consensus for change, but the improvements would have revenue implications of varying degrees. An example is simplifying Indiana income tax by reducing the number of “decoupling” adjustments from federal taxable income. For the most part, there is a revenue cost to each decoupling adjustment.

The state’s report indicates that it envisions a “package” which will be revenue neutral. It includes a discussion of over 50 ideas, which does not include all of the ideas discussed at the conference or in the white papers prepared by conference speakers in advance of the conference. Some of the topics discussed in the report are very specific and include recommendations. Those seem the most likely to be presented to the Legislature during the 2015 session. Others topics were discussed in less specific terms and appear to reflect the state’s view that additional analysis and discussion is needed. These topics appear more likely to be presented in future sessions if at all. The Legislative blue ribbon committee made 19 recommendations, with more focus on property tax changes.

This chart identifies some of the topics which have been discussed, as well as possible prospects for change. With the high level of effort this year to identify areas for improvement, there is a genuine opportunity to enhance Indiana’s tax climate and legitimate reason for optimism. On the other hand, a package which contains elements that raise revenue in order for the package to be revenue neutral or the temptation of the state to add or exclude elements in a package which give the state an unfair advantage in dispute resolution, could result in a package which includes provisions reflecting highly questionable tax policy and that hurt Indiana’s competitiveness and create further  omplexity to Indiana’s tax system, the exact opposite of the stated goals from the Governor’s tax conference.

Consequently, cautious optimism might be the best characterization.

While we do not yet know exactly what will be presented to the Legislature in 2015, many changes will likely be proposed and discussed. It could be an exceptionally interesting session.

Mark J. Richards is chairman of the Indiana Chamber Tax Policy Committee and a partner at Ice Miller LLP. 

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.

Study Committee Wraps Up Work Share Debate

At the end of August, the Interim Employment and Labor Committee heard testimony on work sharing, which was reported by the Indiana Chamber at that time. Recently, the committee met very briefly and reported its findings, but ultimately failed to issue a supportive recommendation.

Because of the number of committee members absent, it may have been difficult to get a recommendation that work share legislation be passed in 2015. As a result, Rep. David Ober (R – Albion) opted for a more neutral “report finding” and has assured the Indiana Chamber that there will be a work sharing bill filed for the upcoming legislative session.

While disappointed that a recommendation to support work share was not proposed, we are looking forward to once again continuing the debate. The Chamber expects to push forward on this issue, which would be a win for employees, business and state government.

NOTE: A work sharing program would allow employers to maintain a skilled and stable workforce during temporary downturns. Employers could reduce employee hours without layoffs, enabling workers to keep their jobs – which hopefully could be returned to full-time status once economic circumstances improve. The employer continues to provide benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans, while impacted employees are permitted to draw a partial unemployment benefit based upon the reduced hours. 

Have a Taste for Culinary Careers?

23064608Every weekend, I reach for a spoon – a big one – and dig into a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream. Delectable chocolate chunks. Crunchy walnuts mixed with bananas. It’s one of my favorite indulgences. But that doesn’t mean I want to be a primal ice cream therapist.

Haven’t heard of it? Neither had I until I saw Delish’s list of the 10 coolest food jobs (no pun intended)!

Check out this description:

Ben & Jerry’s Primal ice cream therapist (yes, that’s his real title!), Peter Lind, consumes four to five pints of ice cream in an average week (roughly 15 to 25 flavors per day). The purpose of this madness? To assure Ben & Jerry’s delivers the best-tasting product possible. Peter and his team dream up, then sample and adjust flavors over and over until they are completely satisfied. “You could make a chipotle ice cream, but exactly how hot should it be?” That’s the kind of creamy conundrum the gurus must figure out.

Crave adventure? Become a chocolate explorer:

Biting into a bar of chocolate, it’s hard to comprehend the journey those cocoa beans travel to get to your taste buds. Meet Ray Major, Scharffen Berger’s resident “cacao hunter.” It’s his job to source the best possible cacao for the company’s artisan chocolates. His work has taken him around the world to Nicaragua, Belgium, Ghana, Mexico, Brazil, Bolivia, Guatemala … the list goes on. On these adventures, Major and his team visit plantations to evaluate the trees, discuss the crops, sample the pulp and study the quality of beans.

Food lovers also may enjoy careers as celeb chef assistants, restaurant publicists, gourmet food buyers or beekeepers – just to name a few. And getting paid for what you love to do? That’s icing on the cake.

Chamber’s Top Honors Go to Lake City’s Kubacki, Rep. Brooks and Bloomington

KRH_7626Banking executive Mike Kubacki, Fifth District Congresswoman Susan Brooks and the city of Bloomington were all honored by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce this evening at the organization’s 25th Annual Awards Dinner.

A crowd of approximately 1,500 attended the event at the Indiana Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis. Saturday Night Live alum and radio host Dennis Miller was the featured speaker.

The awards dinner was presented in partnership with Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield.

“All of our honorees have demonstrated supreme commitment to making Indiana a better place. Their efforts will be felt well beyond today and pay dividends for years to come,” says Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar.

Business Leader of the Year: Mike Kubacki, Lake City Bank executive chairman, Warsaw
Lake City Bank Executive Chairman Mike Kubacki grew up in the business, with his father serving as president of Pierceton State Bank in Whitley County.

After a 25-year career in Chicago and Los Angeles with Northern Trust, Kubacki returned home when the call came from Lake City.

“People come up to me and say, ‘I bank at your bank and your people in this office are great,’” Kubacki shares. “It’s really an outstanding job, and it’s a 24/7 job – but that doesn’t bother me. It’s a magnificent experience.

“As a leader of a community bank, there simply isn’t a distinction between what I do at work and at home. Back in the day, we’d say there are two kinds of people in the world for a community banker – customers and prospects. So you need to be on your best behavior all the time. If you don’t enjoy that, you shouldn’t be a banker,” he states.

During his 16 years as CEO (through earlier this year), Lake City increased its assets from $800 million to $3.2 billion. Kubacki led a team that expanded efforts beyond its home of Warsaw by establishing regional centers in South Bend, Fort Wayne and Indianapolis. He also introduced a formalized training program called Lake City University.

That growth has earned widespread admiration. Dan Evans, CEO of Indiana University Health, was elected to the Lake City Bank board in 2010. He cites Kubacki’s leadership as a driver in his desire to serve. “Mike’s intensely focused on what is best for his customers and the communities that Lake City serves,” he notes.

In Kubacki’s current role as executive chairman and throughout his career, he has never been one to sit behind his desk. He says his office now is anywhere where he has his briefcase and cell phone. His direct relationships with clients, and community involvement are widespread.

David Findlay, current Lake City Bank CEO, says Kubacki’s role as chairman is equally as important as his prior one. “He’s a tremendous voice for the bank and the communities we serve. He’s one of the most effective calling officers I’ve ever seen in terms of his development of relationships with clients, centers of influence and prospects.”

Government Leader of the Year: Congresswoman Susan Brooks
Being a freshman is never easy. Fortunately for her constituents, Congresswoman Susan Brooks was a standout from the very beginning.

Her experiences as a lawyer, deputy mayor of Indianapolis, U.S. Attorney and at Ivy Tech Community College have helped her get off to a fast start. Prestigious committee assignments, reaching out across the aisle and actually moving legislation in a Congress plagued by partisanship are among the accomplishments.

Brooks asked for and received placement on the Committee on Education and the Workforce, plus the Committee on Homeland Security. She was also assigned to the Ethics Committee, which investigates the conduct of House members. In addition, earlier this year she was the only freshman asked to serve on the House Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi.

Tom Snyder, Ivy Tech president, did not know Brooks prior to bringing her on board. In addition to strengthening the in-house legal capabilities at the community college, she helped developed what eventually became the school’s Corporate College (with an emphasis on training capabilities).

“Susan is an incredibly good listener in terms of business needs,” he explains. “She was a business advocate when she was here and she’s taken that position as she’s moved on to Congress.

“She’s had two bills passed in a Congress that has a reputation for not getting bills passed. I think Susan is an example that if you get the right people in Congress, they get past institutional barriers and get things done.”

Of the approximately 70 House members voted into office two years ago, Brooks states, “People want us to try and be different because they are so fed up and angry about the gridlock.”

Sarah Evans Barker, longtime judge of the U.S. District Court of Southern Indiana where Brooks was a U.S. attorney, believes Brooks has what it takes to make a difference: “Susan brings the same outlook, same approach, and same dedication and good humor to every responsibility she is given – and people trust her for that. She is who she is. It’s a wonderful fact about her and wonderful description of her.”

Community of the Year: Bloomington
If you look at just the last decade alone, the city of Bloomington has been on the cutting edge in several industries.

The life sciences sector – led by world-renowned device manufacturer Cook Medical Group – continues to thrive. An emergence in the high-tech arena is also paying dividends.

The work of the Bloomington Technology Partnership (BTP) has helped pave the way with a variety of endeavors. Another key factor driving technology has been the education and knowledge housed at both Ivy Tech and Indiana University.

“Just over the last 10 years, we’ve seen something like 500 patents come out of the work of all our faculty members – and many of those patents have led to either technologies that have been licensed or the development of start-up companies,” says Indiana University President Michael McRobbie.

“So over about the same period, we’ve seen nearly 40 new companies get established that have grown out of IU-developed technologies and innovations.”

The city believes its crown jewel will be a 65-acre certified technology park that includes a 12-acre core property currently under development in downtown. Weekly networking events, numerous technology gatherings and an annual three-day conference further emphasize the importance placed on the tech economy.

But life is about far more than work, and Bloomington’s prosperity and popularity is strongly rooted in its culture and attractions. It’s something the city consciously uses to its advantage.

Mayor Mark Kruzan: “Our economic development strategy is based on the notion that quality of life is synonymous with economic vitality. We’re trying to make Bloomington the kind of place people want to visit, live, work, invest in. That’s what’s fueling the economy.”

Community leaders and residents come together to tackle challenges and create new opportunities. Above all, they are passionate about their hometown.

“There are some of the geekiest, smartest people working on tech startups here. And every single one of them is creating a product that blows me away every time,” notes Katie Birge, director of the BTP.

Concludes McRobbie: “I’ve never regretted for a nanosecond moving here. I love living in Bloomington … it really is a wonderful environment in which to live.”
Ivy Tech Community College served as the speaker sponsor for the event, while the opening reception sponsor was Uzelac & Associates. The speaker reception sponsor was Hirons & Company: Advertising + Public Relations.

The awards dinner followed the Indiana Chamber’s fall board of directors and annual membership meetings. Indiana Chamber Volunteers of the Year Phil Bounsall (Walker, Indianapolis); Jill Ritchie (Indiana Beverage, Valparaiso); and Heather Wilson (Frost Brown Todd, Indianapolis) were announced during a lunch ceremony.

Tom Easterday, executive vice president of Subaru of Indiana Automotive, of Lafayette, was elected the Indiana Chamber’s 2015 chair of the board of directors.

Videos honoring the award winners that were shown at tonight’s event can be viewed at www.indianachamber.com/go2/winners. Read more about the winners at www.bizvoicemagazine.com.

RECENT INDIANA CHAMBER ANNUAL AWARD WINNERS:
Business Leader of the Year
Steve Ferguson – 2013
Scott Dorsey – 2012
Jean Wojtowicz – 2011
Mike Wells – 2010
John Swisher – 2009

Community of the Year
Bedford – 2013
Indianapolis – 2012
Kokomo – 2011
Terre Haute – 2010
Valparaiso – 2009

Government Leader of the Year
Former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar – 2013
Sen. Carlin Yoder and Rep. Jerry Torr – 2012
Speaker of the House Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long – 2011
Tony Bennett, state superintendent of public instruction – 2010
Stan Jones, former state commissioner for higher education – 2009

IBRG’s Brantley: Election a ‘Mini-Mandate’ in Indiana to Stay on Course

UOur friends at Inside INdiana Business interviewed Jeff Brantley, the Indiana Chamber’s VP of Political Affairs and our PAC, Indiana Business for Responsive Government (IBRG), about Tuesday’s election (the link includes an audio clip about the federal elections as well). Here’s the synopsis (edited for accuracy):

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce’s vice president of political affairs believes Hoosier voters in yesterday’s mid-term elections delivered a “mini-mandate” to legislators to continue focusing on job growth and the business community. All Indiana Congressional incumbents won re-election and Republicans swept the contests for secretary of state, state auditor and state treasurer. Jeff Brantley says voter turnout appears to be higher than anticipated and believes results in Indiana General Assembly races demonstrate Hoosiers like the direction policy makers are going.

Only one U.S. Congressional race, the 7th District between Representative Andre Carson and challenger Catherine Ping, was within 15 points. The winners are:

Peter Visclosky (D-1)
Jackie Walorski (R-2)
Marlin Stutzman (R-3)
Todd Rokita (R-4)
Susan Brooks (R-5)
Luke Messer (R-6)
Andre’ Carson (D-7)
Larry Bucshon (R-8)
Todd Young (R-9)

Statewide office winners were Secretary of State Connie Lawson (R), Suzanne Crouch (R) for State Treasurer and Kelly Mitchell (R) for State Auditor.

Jeff Brantley says, with only one exception, all candidates the organization endorsed were victorious.

Some incumbents in the Indiana General Assembly were unseated. They include Sen. Richard Young (D-47), who was beaten by Republican Erin Houchin, and Senator Tim Skinner (D-38), who lost to Republican Jon Ford. Incumbent Reps. Mara Candelaria Reardon (D-12) and Shelli VanDenburgh (D-19) also fell.

Get Your Scarves and Your UGG Boots; It’s Fall

AFall is upon us.

This means one thing for food and beverage companies all over the nation: it’s pumpkin spice time. The one ingenious, but verging on overused, marketing ploy has taken the country by storm.

It all started back in 2003 when Starbucks created the pumpkin spice latte, which has since taken on a life of its own. Today, you get just about everything pumpkin-flavored, from beer and soda to chips and hummus (this is real, I promise; I couldn’t make that up). Check out People magazine’s list of all the pumpkiny options this year.

Now, I personally have never been a huge fan of the original pumpkin flavored thing – pie. And I am not a coffee drinker so I do not participate in the #PSL madness that ensues from September to November each year, but in the spirit of fall (and out of curiosity) I have vowed to try as many pumpkin-flavored items as I can this season. It has become a joke between my roommates and I when we go to the grocery store.
So, here is the official Paige Ferise review of pumpkin flavored items:

  1. Pumpkin Spice Oreos: I was quite skeptical, but these are actually surprisingly delicious. I would recommend them.
  2. Pumpkin Pie Pop Tarts: As a broke student, I pride myself in being somewhat of a Pop Tart connoisseur. The pumpkin Pop Tarts did not quite live up to my expectations. They were okay, but not something I intend on stockpiling before they stop making them.
  3. Pillsbury Pumpkin Spice Cinnamon Rolls:  Good, but can’t beat the original.
  4. Pumpkin Spice M&Ms: They literally tasted just like the original M&Ms.
  5. Talenti Pumpkin Gelato: Magnificent. Talenti can do no wrong.

This is all the pumpkin I have experienced so far, but fall is still young, my friends!

Paige Ferise, a sophomore at Butler University, is interning in the Indiana Chamber communications department this fall.