Legislative Testimony: Bill Will Aid Talent Retention

The Indiana Chamber’s Caryl Auslander testified today in support of House Bill 1054 – Higher Ed Co-Op and Internship Programs, authored by Rep. David Ober (R-Albion).

The Indiana Chamber supports this initiative to tie together efforts from our universities, employers and students in a way to better support all three entities.

The program will incentivize students to stay in Indiana and have access to Indiana employers for potential employment after graduation. Ultimately, we believe this pilot program will help attract and retain additional bright future employees for our state, specifically in the much needed science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) areas.

On a related note, the Chamber has an affiliated program, Indiana INTERNnet, which is an internship-matching program. Since Indiana INTERNnet began a little more than a decade ago, the service has helped more than 60,000 students and 5,500 Hoosier employers access important tools and make connections with each other.

Drone Time: It’s Getting More Complicated

droneDrones were our BizVoice magazine cover story a few months back. Check out Rebecca Patrick’s interesting article.

A brief update, courtesy of The New York Times.

For the most part, flying a drone is legal for recreational purposes, as long as operators follow a few guidelines, like staying below 400 feet. Declining prices — a four-rotor model with a mounted camera can cost as little as $500 — have attracted more buyers. Teal Group, an aerospace research firm, estimates the global civilian drone market to be worth $450 million this year, up 45% from last year.

As the price of drones has fallen and sales have risen, the machines have emerged as central characters in stunts from the puckish to the criminal. In recent months, drone pilots have tried to smuggle contraband into prisons and disrupt sporting events at stadiums. Animal rights groups have turned to drones to stalk hunters as the hunters stalk wildlife. And in France, more than a dozen illegal flights over nuclear power plants have unnerved the authorities.

More from The Times.

100th Edition of BizVoice is Now Available!

Our 100th, and most comprehensive edition of BizVoice is now available. You can view the entire magazine online, as we investigate Indiana’s economy — as well as the rural/urban divide and workforce challenges. We appreciate all the positive feedback we’ve already received from readers about this issue.

An Energy/Environmental Issue Primer for the Start of Session

The 2015 legislative session began Tuesday and will adjourn no later than April 29. This “long session” will include the state’s $30 billion biennial budget and likely see more than 1,000 bills filed. Bill filing deadlines are January 13 and 14 for the House and Senate, respectively. You can count on the environmental and energy area to add its fair share of legislative ideas to the mix. In the environmental arena, we expect to see the following:

  • The Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s perennial laundry list of technical “clean-up” items
  • Rep. David Wolkins’ “No More Stringent Than” annual initiative
  • Something related to “brownfields” and clean-up efforts
  • Anti-harvesting of Indiana’s hardwoods
  • Above-ground storage tanks controls

In the “water resources” area, we expect to see the following:

  • Legislation to direct the Indiana Finance Authority to survey/examine the larger – and a few smaller – water supply utilities in the state
  • Establish an Indiana Water Resources Institute
  • Create incentives to promote water utilities to invest in infrastructure improvements

And it is likely that the electric power/energy area will really heat up (sorry) as multiple issues rise:

  • Legislation related to the Governor’s energy plan
  • Energy efficiency measures
  • Allowance to purchase electric power outside the current provider
  • Install a requirement that any new electric power generation be allowed competitive bids/procurement
  • Establish a rate case schedule for electric power utilities of XX (to be determined number of) years
  • Address the rural vs. municipal territorial/compensation dispute

Not all of these issues are ones that the Indiana Chamber will necessarily oppose or support – they will be part of the discussion but some may never get a hearing. This is like your friendly weather forecaster trying to tell you if it will rain, snow or be sunny in one month.

Postsecondary Pathways Help Students Achieve Success; Registration Opportunities Coming to Batesville, Muncie

wMaking connections. It’s important to do so in so many ways. I’ll spare you the analogies in getting right to the point that tying education to careers — in other words showing students how their time in the classroom can lead to workplace success — is one of the most critical connections.

The Indiana Chamber is pleased to part with a variety of organizations, led by the Indiana Youth Institute, in presenting regional Postsecondary Pathways programs in 2015. Two successful events took place in late 2014 at Subaru of Indiana Automotive and the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center.

Registration is now open for two February programs:

  • February 11 at Batesville High School, including  a tour of Hillenbrand, Inc.
  • February 18 at Ivy Tech Community College in Muncie with a tour of Magna Powertrain, Inc.

Educators, employers, youth-serving professionals and government leaders come together at each daylong event. The goal: Enhance the ability to educate and train students to successfully pursue the postsecondary careers that exist within the region and state.

Additional program partners include: the Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning at the University of Indianapolis, Indiana’s Education Roundtable, the Indiana Works Councils, Ivy Tech and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Legislative Session Begins; State Budget Will Dominate

statehouse picHow will the money be prioritized? That’s the overriding question as lawmakers return to the Indiana General Assembly today to start work on a new two-year state budget.

The Indiana Chamber will be pushing for substantially more dollars for an expanded education-based preschool program for low-income families.

Prudent financial decisions are necessary in budget sessions but so too is investing where it makes great sense. The current five-county preschool pilot program is inadequate. Indiana has too many children entering kindergarten unprepared to learn. The need is further underscored by the 1,800 applicants for the 450 slots in the pilot program.

The Indiana Chamber will also will be advocating for the state budget to include funding for workforce training with increased designations for high wage career areas, like those in science, technology, engineering and math.

In other education matters, the Indiana Chamber has a longstanding policy of making the state superintendent of public instruction an appointed position and will be seeking to start that on course to becoming reality.

While the political challenges are obvious, we are encouraged that legislative leaders recognize that something has to change. At a minimum, there is consensus for some level of surety that the State Board of Education will function more smoothly and stay on task.

The Governor’s proposal of letting the State Board of Education elect its own chair is a concept the Indiana Chamber can endorse and would be a good starting point if making the superintendent an appointed position is unable to prevail this session.

In the tax arena, there appears to be strong interest among the General Assembly to provide relief to small business personal property tax filers. Indeed, the Commission on Business Taxation has voiced its support for getting rid of the tax for these users. And that’s what the Indiana Chamber wants to see happen.

The current process is time-consuming and ineffective. All sides would come out ahead with a small business exemption. Much effort is spent by small businesses and their local governments on these returns. And for what? The tax liability often averages between only $10 and $50 per small business. In total, these returns come to a mere 1% of the overall business personal property tax collected.

Read about the Indiana Chamber’s top legislative priorities as well as additional areas of focus for the 2015 legislative session.

Needed: Energy Academy Participants, Sponsors

The Duke Energy Academy at Purdue University is looking for a few good students and teachers (as well as additional sponsors). Applications for the free week-long summer program are due by January 18.

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Why is this important?

By 2030, the global demand for energy will have increased by 50% based on the predicted human population increase. A secure energy future, both in the United States and abroad, needs solutions that come from a diverse energy portfolio. Unfortunately, we face a national crisis in the number and quality of students entering the STEM disciplines that will have a future impact on our nation’s ability to lead the world in the energy sector.

To address these issues, Purdue University has launched an Energy Academy to inspire high school students and teachers in energy sciences and engineering. Participation is provided free of charge to the 42 participating students and 42 teachers. Teachers also will receive a $400 stipend.

The Energy Academy at Purdue will:

  • Conduct a week-long course (June 21-27) on STEM-related energy topics areas of power generation, transportation, power transmission, energy efficiency and new research frontier
  • Lectures: Guest speakers from Purdue, industry, and government will address energy-related topics of current interest and actively engage participants in open discussions
  • Tours: Examples include visit to a wind/solar farm, nuclear reactor and fossil energy power plant
  • Projects: A few student teams will work on energy-related research projects (hands on) based on STEM disciplines while others will participate in a team-based energy policy discussion. Teachers will develop STEM-based energy lesson plans that may be used as teaching modules for their classrooms
  • Hands-on and demonstration: Examples include wind turbine and solar challenge, energy storage, electricity distribution and transmission

Full details and registration available here.

Growing Strong at Noblesville’s SMC

10295185_649652505143607_8886419329462044533_oSMC Corporation of America is the U.S. subsidiary – based in Noblesville – of a Japanese-based company specializing in the manufacturing of pneumatic devices. Think actuators, valves, connectors, temperature control equipment and more.

Business is good. So good that the organization is looking to expand its sales force – in a serious way. During a recent conversation with the Indiana Chamber member, I was told the company is planning a dormitory on campus to educate and train those new salespersons over a six-month period.

SMC looks to expand on its 800 employees already in Indiana. In addition, the company is heavily involved in a promising internship program that places Noblesville High School students into the workplace to gain hands-on experience.

Congratulations on all the good work at SMC and continued success.

On Tap in ’15: Road Funding, Sunday Alcohol Sales and 21st Century Fund

Republican supermajorities and the biennial budget will be the context for all issues during the 2015 Indiana General Assembly, as a two-year budget must be passed and any caucus with 71 members (e.g., House Republicans) inevitably will have its internal disagreements. But, in the areas of economic development and infrastructure, another contextual factor will be a major road funding study by the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) due in summer 2015 – after the Legislature has adjourned.

This INDOT study will examine existing fuel excise taxes, their future revenue potential and alternative funding mechanisms and revenue streams, such as vehicle miles traveled (VMT) or tolling. The study will provide a tool to address an acknowledged $750 million annual funding gap between current revenues and identified maintenance needs, let alone any new projects (such as third lanes on congested portions of Indiana interstates).

Legislative leadership and fiscal and transportation policy experts within the General Assembly seem content to await the results of the INDOT study before pursuing any significant changes to the way Indiana funds its roads, bridges and highways. Nevertheless, in the 2015 session we expect issues such as fees for electric or alternative-fuel vehicles to be addressed; examination of using more revenue from the 7% sales tax on gasoline for the state’s highway fund; and a discussion of indexing fuel taxes for inflation.

The INDOT study follows a report by the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Transportation Infrastructure identifying a set of priority projects and laying out a long-term vision for surface transportation infrastructure across Indiana. This report includes recommendations for waterborne, air and rail commerce that may be taken up by the General Assembly, including the creation of dedicated funds for these important modes of transportation.

Likewise, while the final segment of Interstate 69 has yet to undergo regulatory review and be announced, current law prevents it from running through Perry Township in Marion County as an option; we expect legislation to remove that prohibition to be introduced. We also expect investment in next-generation telecommunications infrastructure to be addressed through legislation that streamlines zoning and regulatory approvals, seeking to make them less cumbersome and more consistent across different political jurisdictions within the state.

In the area of economic development, many items will be discussed. Along with continued reform of Indiana’s business personal property tax, other anticipated issues include: examination of tax increment financing (TIF) districts; repealing Indiana’s ban on the Sunday sales of alcohol; increasing production limits on craft breweries; renewal and reform of the state’s 21st Century Fund; film production incentives; and review of both the existing patent-derived income tax exemption and the state’s venture capital tax credit.

Indeed, we expect a major thrust for fiscal leaders this session to be a re-examination of many of the state’s existing economic development programs and tax provisions, as well as discussion of a new Regional Cities Initiative by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation and the Pence administration.

Given mixed economic signals and the continued emphasis on job creation, we anticipate it will be a very busy session.

Pence’s Education Agenda to Take Center Stage — Should Include More Investment in Preschool

The Indiana Chamber’s Executive Committee recently voted to support Governor Pence’s education agenda in principle. The agenda represents an important first step in increasing the focus in Indiana’s K-12 education system to our state’s young people and allowing them to prosper through high-performing teachers and schools.

The list below represents the Governor’s education goals:

  • Increase the base funding per pupil
  • Build on the successful performance funding in the last budget
  • Support efforts by the Commission for Higher Education to expand the performance-based model of funding for universities
  • Allow schools to choose to become “Freedom to Teach Schools – whereby they can improve educational performance by providing more flexibility to superintendents, principals and teachers by easing laws, policies and regulations through waivers granted by the State Board of Education
  • Adjust funding for public charter schools that will allow more communities to offer more choices for families and their kids, and attract more investment for education innovation in Indiana
  • Improve Indiana’s school choice program by lifting the cap on the dollar amount for vouchers and support efforts to raise the cap on the choice scholarship tax credit program
  • Work with legislators to act on the State Board of Education’s recommendations to develop a new, strategic approach to turning around failing schools
  • Increase the amount of money, public and private, to give students more career and technical education opportunities
  • Change how the state funds career and technical education courses, basing funding on performance and relevance instead of enrollment alone
  • Give the State Board of Education authority to elect its own chair

The last bullet item would be a good step if the longstanding Chamber priority of making the state superintendent an appointed position is not enacted. There needs to be, at a minimum, some level of surety that the State Board of Education will function more smoothly and stay on task.

The one area where the Indiana Chamber differs with the Governor’s education agenda is on preschool; he is seeking $10 million a year in this next budget to fund pre-K scholarships for the five pre-K pilot counties.

The Chamber believes the pilot program is not adequate. Indiana has large numbers of children entering kindergarten unprepared to learn. This ultimately impacts all Hoosier students as schools are forced to deal with wide gaps in achievement levels.

The state needs to provide robust funding that will help all low-income parents access education–based preschool programs. Prudent financial decisions are necessary in budget sessions but so too is investing where it makes sense, like in statewide preschool.