Chamber Comments on State’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Transportation Infrastructure

Indiana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar on the release of the report from the state’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Transportation Infrastructure:

“The recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Transportation Infrastructure are an important first step. The group has identified priority projects and clearly defined the funding challenges. Equally important will be the work called for in HEA 1104 (2014), legislation outlining an Indiana Department of Transportation study of financing alternatives that will help meet future funding needs.

“In addition, it’s time for Washington to get its act together and assure that federal funding shortfalls are addressed. Some states are already cutting back on important projects in fear of Highway Trust Fund deficiencies as soon as August 1. What is truly needed – instead of short-term, crisis-avoiding extensions – is a multi-year renewal of the federal transportation plan.

“Superior infrastructure is one of the four drivers of the Indiana Chamber-led Indiana Vision 2025 and strong transportation via road, rail, air and water is critical to our state’s economic future.”

Gov. Pence Convenes Tax Conference

The Pence administration is looking for big and little ideas regarding taxes. The Governor – through the Department of Revenue and Office of Management and Budget – recently conducted an all-day discussion on ways to simplify Indiana’s tax code and tax administration as a means for making Indiana even more competitive in its quest to attract more business activity to the state.

The day began with comments from Indiana’s own Al Hubbard, former director of the National Economic Council and a longtime Indiana Chamber board member. His insights were followed by a panel of nationally recognized tax experts who discussed – at a high level – tax structure and the impact of taxes and tax reforms. Well-known economist Art Laffer (of the Laffer Curve fame) spoke at lunch.The afternoon consisted of breakout panels of various Indiana tax professionals who addressed different aspects of our tax system. Each session and all the talks were captured on video and most of the panelists also submitted papers or written comments on the topics they discussed (see the Indiana Chamber’s remarks, under the Tax Simplification section at www.in.gov/dor/5122.htm). The video link and other conference materials are available for review at www.in.gov/dor/index.htm. You can also submit your own ideas (up to two weeks post conference) at www.in.gov/dor/5120.htm.

The event was generally intended to generate, collect and consider ideas on how to make Indiana’s system simpler and better. Everything from big picture sweeping changes to down-in-the-weeds process tweaks were put on the table. There were many references to “broadening the base and lowering the rates.” The taxation of business personal property came up in a number of times. And a wide range of suggestions and recommendations on tax policy and procedure in the contexts of sales, income and property tax were brought forth. Indiana Chamber staff and numerous members of the Chamber Tax Policy Committee took part in the panel discussions and otherwise participated.

The question now is how this host of ideas will be digested by the Pence administration and the Legislature. Many members of the tax policy committees in the Legislature participated and were in attendance. And many of the attendees will also be participating in some way with the Legislature’s Blue Ribbon Tax Commission that will get under way later this summer. The Governor indicated that he hopes the commission and ultimately the General Assembly will give consideration to some of the things discussed at the conference. It seems likely that the conference will create momentum for some proposals. Many appear very doable and could be realized in the near term, others may take a much longer course or never pan out. Of course, only time will tell which ones fall into which category.

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.

Accountabilty Panel Continues to Work; Core 40 Panel Getting Started

Nearly a year has passed since the media storm surrounding Indiana’s school accountability measures and the decision by state leaders to appoint a panel to develop new accountability metrics. Unfortunately, despite 10 day-long meetings, the panel remains far from completing its work.

The Indiana Chamber’s Derek Redelman serves on the panel and reports that he and several other panelists have been frustrated by the lack of support. For example, despite being told at the panel’s first meeting last fall that both the Department of Education and the Legislative Services Agency would have data sets to separately test any ideas that the panel developed, they were not informed until the fourth meeting of the panel that neither agency actually had the promised data. Similarly, despite member requests at the very first meeting to engage national experts to help with this work, the first opportunity for the panel to meet with any experts did not occur until the panel’s eighth meeting – more than six months into their work.

The panel made some limited progress at its latest meeting on June 26, but significant issues – like the preferred method for measuring student growth; the main reason for the panel’s formation – remain far from decided. In the meantime, the timeline for completing this work is quickly approaching, so the panel will meet again on July 8.

Meanwhile, a new task force – this one charged with a review of Indiana’s Core 40 diploma requirements – began meeting on June 11. The panel was originally formed in response to legislation mandating the development of a new CTE (career and technical education) diploma that would have created Indiana’s fifth and least rigorous diploma option. The Chamber opposed that mandate and joined with the governor’s office, the Commission for Higher Education and the Department of Education to kill the proposal, while agreeing instead to review our current diploma options.

The new task force is co-chaired by Teresa Lubbers, Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education, and Glenda Ritz, state superintendent of public instruction. It also includes representatives from K-12 education, career and technical education, higher education, and the business community – including the Chamber’s Derek Redelman.

Three questions appear likely to be the focus: 1) How can the diploma options provide an attractive and effective pathway for career and technical education students; 2) How can Algebra II (and/or other math requirements) be structured to effectively serve all college and career options; and 3) How should the diploma options be adjusted in response to rising remediation rates for college-bound students?

The next meeting of the task force is scheduled for July 24; recommendations are expected next summer.

Netflix Vs. Cable TV

Last fall, I studied off-campus in Philadelphia. The first week of the program, they sent us out into the city to find housing and furniture. By the end of that week, I did have roommates and an apartment, but we rented minimal furniture to save money. Our TV ended up being one that we found on the street. We propped it up on a cardboard box that slowly began to sag over the weeks, and often it was a gamble whether or not the picture came through.

Though we paid for cable, I ended up turning to Netflix during those few months. It was much simpler than fiddling with the old, boxy TV, and I liked being able to watch a whole series at my own pace.

This experience has made me curious about Netflix versus cable usage. A recent article on Mashable delved into this topic; specifically, looking into usage during the summer. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the article reveals that cable TV is still dominant.

Roughly 99% of U.S. households (which total about 115 million) have a TV, and 56% of those have cable. Netflix only has about 48 million members worldwide. Additionally, Netflix has not reported increased subscribership during the summer months. Its peak months are January through March and October through December. However, there is about a 30% increase in family and kids content viewing hours during the summer.

Now that I have a properly functioning TV, I am once again a happy cable TV viewer, while still a Netflix subscriber. In fact, when I returned home to Indiana in the winter, I had an entire lineup of TV shows recorded on the DVR to catch up on. So while I went a long period of time without watching cable, I know that I would not completely forgo it, either.

Chamber Survey: Nearly 40% of Employers Left Jobs Unfilled Due to Under-Qualified Applicants

Jobs are there, but the employability of some Hoosiers isn’t matching what’s available says a new statewide survey by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Of the 532 participating employers, 39% (202) said they recently have left jobs unfilled due to unqualified applicants.

“That number is way too high and speaks to the work that policymakers, educators and employers still have to do. And also what individuals often need to do to make themselves more marketable for the type of employment they desire,” asserts Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar. “Collectively, we need to do better at connecting the dots regarding the open jobs and the qualifications it takes to land one of them.”

The survey, in its seventh year, asked employers about their recruiting practices, training and continuing education offerings and skills needs in their workforce. More than 40% of the survey participants had under 50 employees and just over one-third represents manufacturing or advanced manufacturing industries.

In response to what education level is required for their unfilled jobs, two-thirds (67%) indicated beyond a high school degree, with 38% saying middle skills (certificates, certification or associate’s degree) and 29% a bachelor’s degree or higher. The most often cited occupations in need of good applicants were those in the skilled trades (such as an electrician or plumber) and engineering (from technician to design).

What makes getting the right talent pool mix all the more critical, Brinegar notes, is that 96% of the respondents said they expected the size of their workforce to increase or stay the same over the next 1-2 years. The majority – at 57% – are actually looking to add more employees during that time.

On a related topic, more than 70% of respondents (72%) said that filling their workforce was challenging, with nearly 20% labeling it the single biggest challenge they faced. “So even those that are able to find people for their open positions are having to spend more time on it than they would like, and more time away from the company’s direct mission,” Brinegar offers.

When it came to identifying what skills are the most difficult to find among applicants and new hires, several “soft skills” that are traditionally not assessed in an education setting were at the top.

Work ethic was the most lacking at 55%. Communication, problem solving and attendance/punctuality each registered 42-43%. Each of these soft skills was indicated as far more challenging to find than academic skills, such as reading, writing and math. Only 10% of the respondents said they had no challenges finding the skills they needed.

Derek Redelman, the Indiana Chamber’s vice president of education and workforce policy, emphasizes that “employers have tried to help themselves and their workers by offering tuition reimbursement, but not enough are taking advantage of the opportunity.”

Case in point: Over half of employers surveyed (242 of 447) reported having tuition reimbursement programs. Yet, 64% of those respondents (156 of 242) stated the programs were seldom used by their employees and 5% said they were never used. Only 31% of employers reported that their tuition reimbursement programs were used frequently.

“Hoosier employers are frustrated by the skills of available workers,” Redelman declares. “They are willing to invest time and resources to address those challenges, but what’s too often missing is the willingness of workers and applicants to pursue the training and skills that employers value.”

Employers surveyed also expressed interest in working with the education community to a greater extent. Two-thirds of respondents (67% of 458) said they felt businesses should be more involved in reviewing high school diploma and college degree requirements. And 90% felt employers should be more involved in the design of career and technical education (CTE) programs to make sure they were on target. Over half of employers (56% of 458) reported that they are currently involved with local schools, including internships (35%), classroom presentations (18%), job shadowing (16%) and more.

Consistent with last year’s results, over two-thirds of employers (72% of 508) said they were getting little to no support from Indiana’s workforce development system: Some 36% reported knowing about WorkOne but never having had any contact; 25% accessed the system but were not finding the services helpful; and 11% had no knowledge of these services. Only 19% of employers reported success in hiring applicants using WorkOne recruiters or the Indiana Career Connect job matching system.

“Given the continuing needs of employers and the persistent number of unemployed adults, these responses point to the critical importance of the Governor’s focus on these issues and, specifically, the development of a strategic plan through the Indiana Career Council and local employer engagement through the Works Councils,” Redelman concludes.

According to Brinegar, the results of this employer survey will also guide how the Indiana Chamber concentrates its efforts to achieve several goals under the organization’s long-term economic development plan, Indiana Vision 2025.

Among those goals: increase to 60% the proportion of Indiana residents with high quality postsecondary credentials, especially in the STEM-related fields (of science, technology, math and engineering); see a notable increase in Hoosiers having bachelor’s degrees or higher; and develop, implement and fully fund a comprehensive plan for addressing the skills shortages of adult and incumbent workers who lack minimum basic skills.

View the survey results and executive summary at www.indianachamber.com/education.

Timeless Tips: I’ll Never Outgrow This Advice for College Grads

It was May 2000, I was graduating from college and I was scared to death about the future.

That period in my life was the best of times and the worst of times, as they say.

While an exciting new chapter was ahead, a painful one was underway. My dad recently had been diagnosed with cancer. There was a chance he wouldn’t be able to attend my graduation ceremony – the person who, along with my mom, had encouraged and supported me every step of the way. They cultivated from childhood a passion for learning.

Just when I thought there would be an empty chair in the crowd when I accepted my diploma, things started to look up.

My dad, weak from chemotherapy and radiation but beaming with pride, watched me graduate after all. And the following month, a phone call I made to the Indiana Chamber would change my life forever.

I inquired if there were open positions. There was one. And on June 26, I began my 14-year journey.

What a ride! I’ve honed my craft. I’ve learned from peers about the business world and – equally as important – about friendship. Beyond these doors, I’ve relished my role as a mentor to my nephews and niece as they’ve grown and now to my children.

So when I read an article today titled Five Mistakes College Grads Make When Starting Careers, it inspired me. I didn’t expect it to. After all, it was written to guide workforce rookies. But this veteran gleaned wisdom from each tip.

Do you tend to stay in your comfort zone? Do you always follow the rules? Are you intimidated by senior management? Don’t be, says the author. His anecdotes add a personal touch.

I for one will try to stop worrying so much about failing (mistake No. 5) whether it’s at work or at home (you never know, I could be the next Master Chef). It’s never too late to put fear in its place.

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):

Internships: A Taste of the ‘Real World’

I’ve now been interning at the Indiana Chamber for four weeks. I’ve settled in, evidenced by the papers strewn across my desk, the calendar tacked to my cubicle marked with deadlines and meetings and the way I’ve found my daily routine when I’m at work. I can now even wake up at 6 a.m. (which I confess was an adjustment after my second-semester schedule of afternoon classes) without the same amount of incredulity that people do in fact do this every day.

Then again, that’s kind of the point of an internship. It’s answering that big question: Can I do this every day? Or, even better: Can I do this every day and be happy? It’s glimpsing the infamous “real world” and finding what you could wake up at 6 a.m. every day for.

This is my second internship, and though the nature of the work I’m doing here is very similar to what I did previously, I’ve realized that work environment is a significant factor for me — and probably most other people, as well. I’ve genuinely enjoyed being at the Chamber this past month and getting to know and learning from the great people in my department.

And I’ve learned a substantial amount already. I appreciate all of the constructive criticism and feedback I’ve received, and I know that it will be valuable to me in any career path that I choose after graduation.

I know that I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to do internships before I graduate next spring. Not only am I gaining practical experience, but I’m discovering different factors that I want in a future job. Additionally, I’m getting the chance to test my compatibility with a career field I’m interested in.

I think that’s what is so beneficial about internships. As someone who has previously struggled to lay out a clear post-graduation plan (except, of course, working hard to find a job of some sort), my internships have helped show me a viable option to pursue, one where I could come to work every day and derive a sense of accomplishment from what I’m doing. But had I not done any internships, I’m certain I would be feeling pretty lost standing on the cusp of my senior year.

All of that being said, I’m not yet halfway through this internship, and I’m excited for the experiences and learning that await.

A Day at the Farm: Planting Memories, Exploring a Legacy

Pictures will speak a thousand words in the upcoming issue of BizVoice® in my feature story on twins Ted and Tom McKinney. For me, images of my day at the family farm in Tipton where they grew up are etched in my mind. The experience was among my most enjoyable memories – professionally and personally.

I visited the farm to interview them for an article that will appear as part of our agriculture series in the July-August issue. Why the McKinneys? That’s the question Ted humbly asked as we met and shook hands.

First, the family history is deeply rooted in farming. There’s the strong Purdue University connection (they’re third generation graduates of the College of Agriculture). And like their parents and grandparents before, both Ted and Tom are dedicated to making a difference in their community.

Tom is a seventh-generation Indiana farmer (he guides operations at the Tipton farm and another family farm in neighboring Clinton County). Ted is director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture.

Touring the farm, which spans a few thousand acres, brought the McKinney legacy to life. Their passion for agriculture was contagious. Their childhood memories were rich. I could almost see the old yellow barn that served as a clubhouse of sorts in their youth before it was destroyed by straight line winds and made way for a modern shop.

I could picture them working alongside teens in the 1970s detasseling seed corn (the McKinneys were just 16 years old when they started managing their own crews) as they cultivated a strong work ethic and spirit of camaraderie. Tom operated the business for more than three decades.

“It was more than a money-making business. It was about transforming people’s lives,” declares his brother Ted.

Both have spent their lives trying to do just that.

Ted, among other causes, has been heavily involved in FFA and was instrumental in bringing both the organization’s national center and its convention to Indianapolis. Tom is president of the Indiana 4-H Foundation and has donated his time to a variety of other state and local initiatives. Each has brought his leadership to a variety of roles at Purdue.

Check out our memorable afternoon with one of Indiana’s first farming families in BizVoice when the July-August issue debuts on June 30.