VIDEO: A Look at the Latest Indiana Vision 2025 Report Card

Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar discusses the latest Indiana Vision 2025 Report Card, which was just released this month.

The state’s highlights include improved reading and math test scores for fourth and eighth graders, progress toward a long-term water resources plan and promising research and development rankings. Struggles continue with postsecondary credentials and a dearth of entrepreneurial activity.

See the full report card.

Employer Survey Results: Companies Anticipate Growth, Lack Workforce Needed

An annual Indiana Chamber of Commerce statewide workforce survey reinforces a common theme: Indiana companies are prepared to grow, but nearly three-quarters of the 526 respondents report that filling their workforce is challenging.

Economic prospects are bright. Fifty-eight percent of respondents expect the size of their workforce to increase in the next 12 to 24 months and another 38% anticipate stable employee counts. These mirror 2014 numbers (57% and 39%, respectively) and reinforce a shift from 2013 when just 36% foresaw growth and 59% looked at no changes in employee numbers.

As far as finding those employees, 74% note the challenge – with 24% reporting that “filling our workforce is our biggest challenge.” These results are a slight increase from 2014 findings of 72% indicating a challenge and 19% labeling it their biggest issue. Forty-three percent report they have left jobs unfilled in Indiana due to under-qualified candidates (a 4% increase over 2014).

“The continued positive outlook from Indiana employers is encouraging,” contends Indiana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar. “But despite various programs and local examples of strong education-business connections, it’s clear that much more work remains to provide workers with the skills they need for today’s and tomorrow’s jobs.”

The survey, in its eighth year, is provided to Indiana Chamber members and customers throughout the state. The largest respondent groups were organizations with between 50 and 249 employees (40%), 1-49 employees (36%) and manufacturing/advanced manufacturing industries (38%). The 2015 effort was sponsored by WGU Indiana.

“It’s important to hear the voice of Indiana employers – and for educators and workforce development professionals to partner with businesses to help meet their needs,” confirms Dr. Allison Barber, chancellor of WGU Indiana. “Addressing the skills gap and preparing both students and current members of the workforce for the next phase of their careers is an essential role for all involved in this profession.”

Additional key results from the 2015 survey:

  • Critical thinking skills and personal qualities (responsibility, work ethic, willingness to learn) were cited as the most challenging to find among job applicants and new hires at 56% and 55%, respectively.
  • While business-education partnerships have increased, a large gap remains. Of the respondents to a question asking about different types of engagement with local K-12 and postsecondary schools, 99 (28%) organizations indicate they are not involved currently but would like to be.
  • Despite an increasing state and national focus on experiential learning opportunities for students, more than 200 respondents said they do not have an internship program. Lack of time to hire and manage interns (36%) and the need for more information on starting an internship initiative (19%) were the top reasons given.
  • A full 80% (45% definitely and 35% probably) indicated they would value a work ethic certificate issued by high schools that would demonstrate a student’s commitment to attendance, discipline, teamwork and other “soft skills.”
  • More than three-quarters (77%) of those responding say they have no issues with job candidates expressing concerns about Indiana business locations or quality of life issues.

View the survey results at www.indianachamber.com/education.

The Indiana Chamber and its Foundation, focused on providing research and solutions to enhance Indiana’s economic future, have tools to assist employers, job-seekers and students.

IndianaSkills.com provides job supply and demand information both statewide and regionally. It utilizes current labor market data to help companies, prospective workers and students understand Indiana’s workforce landscape. Salary data, required skills and certifications, and creation of effective job descriptions are among the featured tools.

Indiana INTERNnet has been connecting students and employers for internship opportunities for nearly 15 years. The easy-to-use web site, informative Intern Today, Employee Tomorrow guide and regional partnerships will be supplemented by additional outreach programs.

“These resources are available for everyone throughout the state,” Brinegar says. “The importance of enhancing our workforce and allowing companies the opportunity to succeed at the highest levels cannot be overvalued. Outstanding Talent remains the key driver in the Indiana Chamber’s Indiana Vision 2025 economic development plan.”

The Indiana Vision 2025 Report Card update for 2015, measuring Indiana’s progress on metrics related to the 33 goals in the plan, will be released on June 18. Both the Report Card and workforce survey results, along with Outstanding Talent best practices, will be the focus of six regional forums. Five of those sessions take place between June 22 and June 30 with visits to Fort Wayne, Evansville, Indianapolis, Merrillville and Elkhart. The sixth forum will be in July in Sellersburg.

Highway Trust Fund Has Some Potholes

36601064The Congressional Budget Office asserts the national Highway Trust Fund would need $3 billion in ADDITIONAL revenue to keep funding transportation projects through the end of September. And it would need $8 billion if Congress chose to extend funding authority until the end of 2015. Read more via The Hill.

Obviously, there are serious challenges facing America’s road infrastructure.

Cam Carter, the Indiana Chamber’s vice president of economic development and federal relations, outlines the main problem.

“Congress needs to get its act together and summon the political will to fashion a long-term solution to the insolvency of the highway trust fund,” he asserts. “We’ve had our fill of short-term patches. Some will say that the highway fund is insolvent because today’s vehicles are more fuel efficient and that is depressing revenues going into the fund – and there is some truth to this. But, the greater truth is that Congress hasn’t raised fuel taxes to keep up with inflation since 1993 and that, more than anything, is the root of the problem.”

A Look Back at the Legislative Session: Some Major Accomplishments and a Few Missed Opportunities

statehouse-picMeaningful long-sought accomplishments mixed with a few missed opportunities and one highly unfortunate detour quickly tell the tale of the 2015 legislative session.

The Key Victories
The state’s common construction wage statute has unnecessarily cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars on public construction projects over many decades. With the repeal finally in place, there will be open and fair bidding among all contractors for these projects.

Also gone: The hassle of filing personal property tax returns – or paying to have them filed – for what amounted to a very small tax liability for many small businesses. This will positively impact over half of all businesses in the state – some 150,000 in total. The throwback rule – really an unfair and inappropriate tax – is eliminated, too. It allowed for Indiana to tax whatever portion of your business income that wasn’t already taxed in Indiana or elsewhere.

Other Good Outcomes
We have a balanced two-year budget that puts as much emphasis as the revenue forecast would allow in prioritizing K-12 education, higher education and expanding funding for career and technical education – all Indiana Chamber priorities.

Another focal point of ours is water resources. The General Assembly took heed of our study last summer and passed two important next-step pieces of legislation that center on getting better data on what water resources exist throughout the state.

The Governor’s Regional Cities initiative recognizes and puts an appropriate focus on the important concept of quality of place. It acknowledges that population within our state and elsewhere is shifting from rural and less populated areas to urban and suburban areas. Similarly, we are in an era where young adults are increasingly choosing the place where they want to live and then looking for employment instead of letting the job dictate their location.

We were also satisfied that a reasonable conclusion was reached regarding the property assessments of “big box” retail stores. As it was initially introduced, it would have been devastating for many businesses by putting far too much specificity into law.

Missed Opportunities and One Detour
Conversely, there are a few decisions that stand out as particularly unfortunate that more or anything wasn’t done.

A work share program that would benefit employers and their workers as well as repealing the smoker’s bill of rights for new hires are still facing resistance from key individuals, which is preventing the issues from even getting a committee hearing. Likewise, regulating the practice called lawsuit lending, which translates to prolonged litigation and more costs for employers, continues to be stymied by two legislators.

An issue we hoped was going to be properly addressed was the dysfunction between the state superintendent and the State Board of Education. The best solution and one we have advocated for the last 30 years would be to let the Governor appoint the state superintendent like he does all other agency heads. But we ended up with something not even a middle ground. Instead, Senate Bill 1 is a rather convoluted piece of legislation that does nothing in the immediate term to remedy the situation in the least.

And then there was the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the historical fallout and the “fix”. We were pleased by the legislative response to specify that in no way could that statute be used to discriminate against individuals or different groups of Hoosiers. We anticipate there will be efforts by legislators to further strengthen that stance next year.

Complimentary Chamber Series Features Energy-Saving Tips, Member Benefits

in chamberRising electric bills unfortunately appear on the horizon due to new federal regulations. To help prepare the Hoosier business community, the Indiana Chamber will highlight timely energy-saving tips at its complimentary 2015 Connect and Collaborate series.

“Ten Tips to Manage Your Organization’s Energy Costs” will feature Vince Griffin, vice president of energy and environmental policy at the Indiana Chamber. Griffin is one of the leading voices on all energy topics as a result of his 17-plus years at the Indiana Chamber and previous industry experience.

Griffin will be joined by Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar and a local business/community leader in each of the eight Connect and Collaborate stops throughout the state. They will share guidance that can be applied for organizations of all types. Each session will also include a moderated panel discussion featuring questions and comments from attendees.

What’s more, these events offer a free lunch and introduction for non-Indiana Chamber members about the organization’s benefits, as well as act as a reminder for existing members about how to take full advantage of the membership services.

“Connect and Collaborate luncheons are a great way to gain simple tools to improve your workplace,” remarks Brock Hesler, director of membership with the Indiana Chamber. “This will be an excellent opportunity to learn what others are doing and bring some new ideas back to your office or production floor.

“In addition to inviting all of our members, we encourage those not currently part of the Indiana Chamber to attend and learn more about the organization,” he says.

There is no cost for the luncheons, which take place from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. local time. The schedule kicks off in Indianapolis on May 11 and wraps up in Muncie on August 25. In between are stops in Fort Wayne (May 19), Lafayette (June 2), Merrillville (June 8), Elkhart (June 9), Evansville (July 28) and Bloomington (August 20).

Details and registration are available online or by contacting Nick Luchtefeld at NLuchtefeld@indianachamber.com or (317) 264-6898.

Child Adult Resource Services: Maximizing Its Investment Through Compliance Resources

Teri King

Knowledge is power – and empowering. Just ask Teri King, HR manager at Child Adult Resource Services (CARS), a Chamber member since 1991 that has around 250 employees. CARS provides Head Start, group homes, employment and other services to people with a variety of needs. Headquartered in Rockville, it covers 40 Indiana counties.

“I count on the Chamber to keep me up-to-date and out of trouble,” she declares.

King shares how an email from the Chamber helped keep CARS in compliance with Indiana’s smoking ban law, which went into effect on July 1, 2012. As part of the law, businesses are required to post signage at public entrances indicating that smoking is prohibited within eight feet.

“I had missed that (component of the) law,” King recalls. “Had it not been for her (the Chamber’s Rhea Langdon, manager of business resource marketing and sales) email telling me there was new signage available, I would have been out of compliance.”

King also is a fan of the Chamber’s ePubs (“I’ve enjoyed the forms and links to different topics,” she remarks) and completed the Chamber’s human resources and safety compliance certificate programs by attending a variety of training events.

“Being a nonprofit, training dollars are very tight. Whenever I’ve submitted a training (request) to go to the Chamber, it’s always approved. Other trainings may not be,” she emphasizes.

“In HR, you get all kinds of sales calls. You get all kinds of flyers from companies that are trying to sell their stuff. I always tell them, ‘I’m getting it from the Chamber. I know I have the right stuff that way.’ ”

Brinegar: RFRA Law is Unnecessary, but Indiana Remains Open for Business

16891298Indiana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar comments on SB 101, the Religious Freedom Restoration bill, becoming law today and the reaction to that:

“In our eyes, the law is entirely unnecessary. The reactions to it are not unexpected or unpredicted; passing the law was always going to bring the state unwanted attention.

“Yet we are optimistic that the public overall will continue to look to Indiana as a place to come to do business, attend a convention or enjoy a sporting event. Indiana has shown time and time again – whether it’s hosting the Super Bowl or working with companies to bring new jobs to the state – that it’s full of individuals and businesses who are truly welcoming and hospitable.

“Businesses are open for business and want to continue to serve customers in Indiana and throughout the country. That’s the message we are hearing from our members and want to communicate.”

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.