AT&T Indiana: Maximizing Its Investment Through Advocacy

attBill Soards is passionate – and proactive – about enhancing the state’s business climate.

The AT&T Indiana president is a member of the Chamber’s board of directors and serves on the Indiana Business for Responsive Government (IBRG) Policy Committee. IBRG is the Chamber’s non-partisan political action program.

“Without a doubt, the Indiana Chamber is the premier voice for the business community in Indiana,” he declares. “Every year, when elected leaders in our state start thinking about establishing an agenda (for the General Assembly session), the Chamber’s agenda (reflected in its legislative priorities) becomes a central focus of where the state should move.

“The Chamber allows business leaders to network, share ideas and concerns, and work together to help improve the business climate in Indiana. It boldly sets a vision for the state that’s future focused.”

The value of AT&T Indiana’s investment hit home when Soards accompanied Chamber president Kevin Brinegar and membership director Brock Hesler to a meeting with a prospective member.

“I wondered what I would talk about,” he recalls, “and through the course of that meeting, I found myself advocating for Chamber membership and realizing just how critical the membership was to my own company.”

AT&T has been an Indiana Chamber since 1922. If your company is also interested in membership, send us a note and we’ll be in touch about how we can benefit you via advocacy and other benefits.

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.

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. 

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

Indiana Chamber Earns National Honors at ASCP Event in Oklahoma

ascp awardsThe Indiana Chamber earned the prestigious President’s Award for overall excellence at the recent Association of State Chamber Professionals (ASCP) meeting in Oklahoma City. ASCP is comprised of membership and marketing professionals from state chambers of commerce throughout the country. Its annual meeting is in conjunction with a gathering of the Council of State Chambers (presidents and CEOs of the same organizations).

The Indiana Chamber competed against 11 other states in the large Chamber category. In addition to the top honor, three second-place membership awards were also earned: highest market share, highest non-dues growth and highest retention in dollars. None of the 22 states competing in two categories won more than the Indiana Chamber’s four awards.

Chamber membership director Brock Hesler accepted the awards on behalf of the entire staff.

Chamber Names Bloomington 2014 Community of the Year

The city of Bloomington was named the 2014 Community of the Year today by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. The announcement came at a city hall press conference attended by local government, civic and business leaders.

“This is a tremendous honor for the greater Bloomington area and I proudly accept it on behalf of our citizens and businesses,” said Mayor Mark Kruzan. “Our philosophy is that quality of life is synonymous with economic development. If this is a place that you choose to live, work and play, it’s the kind of place you want to do business.”

Bloomington’s quality of life and amenities along with its emergence as a major high-tech sector for the state were cited as primary factors in its winning the award.

Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar on the selection: “Bloomington is truly unique for a city of its size; it boasts so many cultural, arts, recreational and entertainment offerings. It has big city options with the comfort that comes from living in a close-knit community.”

Brinegar also noted the economic impact Bloomington’s life sciences arena continues to have on the region and emphasized the impressive focus on technology by public and private entities.

“The work of the Bloomington Technology Partnership has been first rate, fostering growth of the city’s emerging high-tech economy through talent recruitment, networking opportunities and technical assistance,” he stated.

“A key part of that effort has been driving technology through education, both at Indiana University and Ivy Tech. This has contributed to seeing an 80% growth in tech sector employment in recent years.”

Among the other impressive technology endeavors highlighted by the Indiana Chamber:
• The 65-acre Bloomington Certified Technology Park with the 12-acre core property currently under development
• The progress of IU’s School of Informatics, the first of its kind in the U.S., which has produced a steady stream of high-quality technology professionals
• Establishing the Cook Center for Entrepreneurship at Ivy Tech and the Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at IU
• The coding school program that addresses a skills gap need in the technology sector

The 2014 Community of the Year award will be presented to Mayor Kruzan and Bloomington during the Indiana Chamber’s 25th Annual Awards Dinner on November 6 at the Indiana Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis. The 2014 Business Leader of the Year and Government Leader of the Year recipients will be announced at that time.

More than 1,400 business, political and community leaders are expected to attend. “Saturday Night Live” alum Dennis Miller, whose current focus is political commentary on Fox News and a nationally-syndicated talk radio program, will headline the event. Tables of 10 and individual tickets are available for the reception (5 p.m. EST) and dinner (6:30 p.m. EST). Reservations can be made at (800) 824-6885 or at www.indianachamber.com/specialevents.

Media interested in covering the event should contact Rebecca Patrick at (317) 264-6897.

Past Community of the Year recipients:

2013: Bedford
2012: Indianapolis
2011: Kokomo
2010: Terre Haute
2009: Valparaiso
2008: Noblesville
2007: Anderson
2006: Evansville
2005: LaPorte
2004: Muncie
2003: Warsaw
2002: Marion
2001: Greater Lafayette
2000: Jeffersonville
1999: Fort Wayne
1998: Rochester
1997: Batesville
1996: Elkhart
1995: Indianapolis
1994: Kendallville
1993: St. Joseph County
1992: Columbus
1991: Muncie
1990: Bluffton

Chamber Releases New Study on Indiana Water Supply

A new study from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce Foundation warns that without planning and proper management, the state’s water supply – a longtime natural resource strength – could become a challenge for both businesses and citizens.

While Indiana is not facing the dramatic shortages of California or other states in the West and Southwest, its current economic advantage – plentiful water supplies – will dry up, according to Water and Economic Development in Indiana: Modernizing the State’s Approach to a Critical Resource.

“This is definitely a jobs and economic development issue,” says Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar. “Our state’s economy is growing more diverse, but we always will make things. And it often takes large, reliable supplies of water to do so.

“We experienced a seasonal drought just two years ago and at previous times in our state’s history. The goal is to ensure those droughts and more prolonged shortages do not negatively impact our state in the future,” he explains.

The importance of this issue is underscored in the Indiana Chamber-led Indiana Vision 2025 economic development action plan, which lists the development and implementation of a state water strategy as one of its 33 goals. What’s more, a recent report out of Michigan found that Indiana is the most water-dependent state in the entire country as it pertains to its impact on the economy.

The Indiana Chamber study was commissioned in late 2013 and conducted over the first half of this year. It was led by Bloomington-based Jack Wittman, Ph.D., principal geoscientist with INTERA Incorporated; Wittman has frequently consulted with water providers throughout the state. A water advisory council, comprised of key water users and producers, provided insight and guidance through a series of regular meetings.

Among the findings:

• In Southern Indiana, local water resources are not always able to meet anticipated future needs. For example, there are few aquifers or perennial streams immediately south of Bloomington – a prime area for business development with the expansion of Interstate 69 and the continued work at the Crane Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center.
• While water supplies in Central Indiana are diverse and utilities are making plans, continued population growth leads to projections of an additional 50 million gallons per day to meet the needs of the region by 2050.
• North of the Wabash River, water is relatively abundant. The area, however, is seeing significant increases in water usage for irrigation. These seasonal fluctuations require additional monitoring, in part to determine impact on other water users.

“Not only does water matter today,” according to Wittman, “but management of water will be even more essential in the future.”

Wittman says a separate study conducted earlier this year found that Indiana ranks first in the nation in the percentage of its economy that depends on water. He also notes various agencies (state, federal and local) and universities already do work in the areas of water management and analysis, but that one entity must be designated to lead the way. Among the specific recommendations:

• Creating widespread awareness about the need for water supply planning
• Coordinating current efforts, including the funding of additional water research
• More robust monitoring of water resources
• Standardized systems for data analysis and water resource management

“What this study does is set the stage for creation of a long-needed, long-range water plan for the state,” offers Vince Griffin, Indiana Chamber vice president of energy and environmental policy. “While a credible plan may take three to five years, legislators – from the Senate and House, as well as both parties – understand the importance of this issue and are prepared to lead on the next steps.”

Brinegar adds, “Additional financial investments will be needed to ensure a reliable water future. That’s why we commissioned this study now and why we encourage all involved to take these results and use them as a playbook for development of a long-range water plan.

“Indiana should be taking advantage of its current water supplies to help attract and retain businesses – and jobs. If we plan properly for the future, those resources will continue to be an economic advantage.”

Additional comments from four members of the water advisory council:

“The release of this study is a good first step in starting the important dialogue about water use in our state. Even though agriculture is a small user compared to other sectors, a stable and abundant water supply is crucial to growing the crops and livestock that feed Hoosier families. Indiana Farm Bureau looks forward to continuing our participation in this important project that will ensure an adequate water supply for all of Indiana.”
– Don Villwock, president of Indiana Farm Bureau

“This report, and the efforts of the (Indiana) Chamber’s Water Advisory Council, are a call to action for Indiana to prepare for meeting the broad range of water needs that form the foundation of the economic future and quality of life for all Hoosiers. By improving the understanding of our current water resources, we can be better prepared to assure their continued availability for the state’s businesses and residents.”
– Thomas M. Bruns, president, Aqua Indiana, Inc. and representing the Indiana Chapter of the National Association of Water Companies

“Indiana corn and soybean growers realize that water is a critical resource needed to produce our crops and for our industry to flourish. This report gives us all a starting point to ensure that our state thrives while our farmers continue to provide food for their families, neighbors and the world.”
– Mike Dunn, director of production research, Indiana Soybean Alliance and Indiana Corn Marketing Council

“The Indiana Section of the American Water Works Association believes this study is an important step toward ensuring an uninterrupted supply of water for Indiana. The availability of water is vital to the continued growth of business and industry and to the quality of life for all Hoosiers. Congratulations to the Indiana Chamber Foundation on its foresight in taking a long-term approach to addressing the importance of water to Indiana’s future.”
– John A. Hardwick, chair, Water Utility Council, Indiana Section American Water Works Association

Indiana Chamber Endorses Four Members of Congress for Re-Election

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce is endorsing four members of the state’s congressional delegation from Central Indiana:

U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN, 4th District);
U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN, 5th District);
U.S. Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN, 6th District); and
U.S. Rep. Todd Young (R-IN, 9th District).

“Good public service deserves to be recognized. These members of Congress continue to demonstrate sound fiscal policy and prudent decision-making on issues that are vital to jobs and economic growth,” says Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar.

The Indiana Chamber’s nonpartisan congressional PAC determined the endorsements.

At both the state and federal levels, Indiana Chamber support is driven by vote scores on pro-jobs, pro-economy issues. For state endorsements, the Indiana Chamber relies on its Legislative Vote Analysis report. Congressional support is based on the vote tally conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Representatives of the U.S. Chamber, which also is supporting these candidates for re-election, joined the Indiana Chamber in downtown Indianapolis for today’s press conference.

The Indiana Chamber has been the state’s leading business organization for more than 90 years, representing over 800,000 Hoosier workers through nearly 5,000 member companies across Indiana.

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.