Chamber Convenes Infrastructure Leadership to Discuss I-65, Long-Term Solutions

10049160The Indiana Chamber recently brought together a trio of the state’s top leadership on infrastructure issues to discuss Indiana’s current maintenance and funding challenges, including the closure of Interstate 65 near Lafayette due to emergency bridge repairs, and long-term solutions to an estimated $1 billion annual road and bridge maintenance funding gap.

Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) Commissioner Brandye Hendrickson, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Tim Brown M.D. (R-Crawfordsville), and House Roads and Transportation Committee Chairman Ed Soliday (R-Valparaiso) appeared before the Chamber’s Infrastructure Policy Committee to share their views and hear the viewpoints of the state’s business leadership.

INDOT Commissioner Hendrickson stated that the I-65 closure represented significant logistical and engineering challenges and economic costs, but that the bridge repairs should be completed and the interstate back online by mid-September. She stated that INDOT was doing all it could to expedite the process, but that the bridge failure pointed to the state’s maintenance needs. A statutorily required study of potential funding mechanisms has been underway and will be made public at a legislative interim study committee this fall, most likely in October.

Both Brown and Soliday agreed that the state needs to commit for funding to road and bridge maintenance – and that was the case prior to the I-65 bridge incident. Brown suggested that revenue projections look pretty good for the $200 million appropriated to the 2020 fund to be deployed later this year, but acknowledged that more needed to be done – most likely in 2017, the next budget-writing session of the General Assembly. He also said he was open to using the $500 million in the Next Generation Trust Fund for immediate infrastructure maintenance needs. Brown would like to see a “consistent funding stream on an annual basis for transportation infrastructure” enacted in the future, but left all options on the table pending review of the INDOT study.

Soliday praised the INDOT study and described it as a “tool to look at a number of funding mechanisms and options”; he plans to hold a study committee hearing in October to review the tool and various options. Soliday said that the average Hoosier driving 12,000 miles/year pays about $108/year in taxes for transportation infrastructure and described that as a “bargain” compared to the average monthly cell phone or cable TV bills consumers pay. Both legislators were supportive of public-private partnerships and progress on existing road projects; they expressed frustration that county wheel taxes had not been more fully utilized to address local funding needs for local and county roads.

It was clear from the panel discussion that it is a question of when and how the transportation funding gap will be addressed, not “if” it will be addressed. Most likely, these issues will begin to be discussed in-depth in the 2016 legislative session with some supplemental funding being found, but that a longer-term solution will be waiting until the budget-writing process in 2017.

Video Matters Now More Than Ever

rebeccaThis commentary, written by Indiana Chamber VP Rebecca Patrick, originally appeared on Inside INdiana Business.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, exactly what is a video worth? That’s a question more and more organizations have been asking in the last few years.

We’ve all seen something “go viral” on YouTube and make its way around social media and even the traditional news. And the frequency of business emails with video content continues to rise – and with good reason: Consumer surveys reveal those emails are noticeably more effective.

The list goes on and on about the emergence and power of video messaging, whether it’s used for external marketing or rallying the troops inside your company. The population in general – thanks to continued technology advances – is increasingly more visual in how it wants to receive information.

In 2014, the Indiana Chamber opted to devote space in its office to a video studio. We built it with three types of communications in mind: 1) messages to our 17,000 members and investors; 2) public policy advocacy to a broad, public audience and 3) media-ready footage.

The studio was possible for us – and for other businesses our size – because the equipment prices have come down to meet the demands of the masses who want to film videos for webcasts and more. So a suitable video camera, lighting equipment, teleprompter and accessories for our studio were quite affordable.

But before we made that leap, we did our homework. We talked to member companies in the communications/marketing field and to videographers to make sure our studio would be capable of doing what we wanted.

Over the last 18 months, the Indiana Chamber has produced more than 50 videos – ranging from legislative calls to action and television commentaries to event promotions and membership testimonials.

Tom Easterday, our current chairman of the board of directors who is executive vice president at Subaru of Indiana Automotive Inc. in Lafayette, believes video messaging is “effective for communicating with a lot of different generations; it can be used as part of social media, as part of your web site and direct communication.”

At Subaru, Easterday films various videos – many for internal use.

“Frequently we will have messages we will need to get out to our associates before it breaks in the press or before the rumor mill starts. We’ve found that having our own in-house closed-circuit television system and utilizing video allows us to get the same message out to all of our associates at the same time. It’s a very valuable communications tool in that regard,” he explains.

“It helps us be more effective in getting associates to understand what is happening, and gets their buy-in and cooperation regarding whatever the next move is we need to make as a company… It’s a very clear message instead of hearing it second or third hand, or via written communication, which may or may not be read.”

Subaru has also used video to maximize the time of its dealers and suppliers. The company produced a five-minute video introduction on the plant when dealers from across the United States were arriving with limited time on their hands. A virtual tour of the facility is also available on the company web site.

Easterday says videos are a welcome option for material that is “very difficult to put into print or would be tedious to read on a web site.”

He also encourages companies to not dismiss video production out of concern over price.

“There are a lot of companies out there that do them so you can shop around, or we have our own internal videographer. That can definitely cut the cost down,” Easterday shares. “But if you shop around and ask the communications companies to provide you samples of their work, they will do that.”

Ontario Systems: Maximizing Its Chamber Investment Through Talent Recruitment

Lehman_JillGreat minds think alike.

Jill Lehman, vice president of administration and chief people officer at Ontario Systems (an Indiana Chamber member since 1992), views its collaboration with Indiana INTERNnet – an internship-matching program linking employers, students, high schools, colleges and universities – as a perfect fit.

Based in Muncie, Ontario Systems is a leading accounts receivable technology and services provider.

“Indiana has great students. It has great talent. We believe in trying to find that talent, keep that talent and grow that talent,” Lehman emphasizes. “Our mission is very similar to the mission of Indiana INTERNnet. It’s definitely something we want to be a part of.”

During a telephone conversation in July, Lehman raved about the 12 students participating in Ontario Systems’ summer internship program. Three were EARN Indiana-eligible. EARN (Employment Aid Readiness Network) is a partnership between Indiana INTERNnet and the Indiana Commission for Higher Education that allows employers to be reimbursed for up to 50% of their interns’ wages from the state.

Lehman’s take on the initiative? “It’s phenomenal.”

Ontario Systems’ summer interns included mainly college juniors, seniors and recent graduates. They gained experience in areas ranging from software engineering, client support, legal, human resources and marketing.

“We’re getting great ideas generated from the students as we look at different ways to approach how we do work and solve problems,” Lehman declares. “We’re really excited that our interns are wanting to continue their careers with us – whether it’s through part-time employment or full-time employment depending on where they’re at (college student vs. graduate). And we’re able to have quality jobs for them right here in Muncie, Indiana.”

Knox County ARC: Maximizing Chamber Investment Through Helplines

ODell_AmyKnox County ARC has 36 locations across the county, including five group homes, 25 waiver homes and several plants. Amy O’Dell, director of human resources, leverages Indiana Chamber membership to make sure HR operations are running smoothly.

The organization, which has been an Indiana Chamber since 1992, works with people who have developmental and intellectual disabilities, providing jobs/skills training, housing, and even school and preschool programs to the community.

To help O’Dell stay on top of industry regulations, she calls the Chamber at least once a quarter with HR questions.

“(I call when) I need to bounce ideas off someone else who understands where I am coming from with the HR laws and regulations,” O’Dell explains.

O’Dell notes that she has used the Chamber’s HR Helpline for everything from ordering posters to handling difficult staffing situations. She says Michelle Kavanaugh, human resources director at the Chamber, is like “an extension of the HR department.”

“I would recommend it because Michelle is very knowledgeable and has a lot of experience in HR, and I trust the feedback she gives me,” O’Dell remarks. “She is very willing to get on the phone and listen to all the details. She always has time to help.”

O’Dell has also used Chamber membership to attend conferences, at a discounted rate, that helped her gain additional training, including a workshop on the Family Medical Leave Act and the annual HR conference.

The Chamber’s helpline, though, may be a “best kept secret” for HR professionals, says O’Dell.

“It is something I use instead of calling an attorney right off the bat,” she explains. “It is definitely a huge resource to companies, so I hope they know it’s there and they utilize it.”

Teachers Deserve (and Need) Our Support

This column by Indiana Chamber VP of Education and Workforce Development Policy Caryl Auslander originally appeared in Inside INdiana Business.

As we near the beginning of a new school year, what better opportunity is there to celebrate the people who make such a positive impact on so many lives.

I’m talking, of course, about teachers. That makes it all the more troubling to see recent stories about a dramatic decline in education school enrollment, as well as district difficulties in finding qualified teachers for available openings.

The all-too public disputes between the Indiana Department of Education and the State Board of Education are hopefully a thing of the past. There is no worse example, or bigger drain on morale, than adult battles that can – and should – be avoided.

As a wife, daughter and sister of teachers, I see firsthand the passion and commitment they bring to their work. As someone advocating in the areas of education and workforce development, I’m in constant contact with others who share that dedication to seeing all students have the opportunity to succeed.

I’m proud that my employer has a mission that calls for providing “economic opportunity and prosperity for the people of Indiana” and leads an Indiana Vision 2025 plan that boasts Outstanding Talent as its most important economic driver.

I’m pleased that our state has opened new doors for families through the introduction and expansion of charter schools and vouchers. These schools and these programs, like all others in education, however, must continue to demonstrate proven results. There is no room for underperformance in this critical enterprise.

I’m happy that the Indiana Chamber and its allies have helped deliver alternative routes for persons holding professional degrees to share their expertise by becoming teachers. The success stories of these career changers and the lives they impact continue to grow.

I’m encouraged that full-day kindergarten options are in place and that preschool pilot programs are taking off in a few selected counties. The expedient expansion of early education, especially for low-income and other disadvantaged population, is hopefully among the next steps. The results are proven and the need is great.

But what about those teachers? They are the MOST critical factor in each student’s ability to obtain the quality education that allows them to become productive members of society. There is no doubt that more needs to be done to attract, retain and reward the best teachers. “More” includes:

  • Increasing starting pay for teachers to attract the best and brightest to the profession
  • Paying our best teachers more money
  • Directing more than the 57% (as of 2013) of every K-12 dollar that reaches the classroom
  • Providing meaningful feedback and professional development for all educators
  • Celebrating teaching successes and lifting up those who have the greatest classroom impact

While teachers play that crucial role, discussions about public education need to focus on the students. Equal access to quality education and success in school for every child is the most important social justice issue of our time. That quality education is the surest way to break cycles of poverty, transform individual lives, lift up our communities and our state, and attract the best employers and jobs.

Thousands of well-paying jobs are going unfilled today and our future ability to secure the best jobs relies on what we do now to provide educational opportunities for all. Every child, every school and every community benefits when all children are learning and succeeding.

Education is not about public versus private or unions versus politicians. It’s about parents, educators, employers, communities and all others coming together and creating an expectation, opportunity and clear path to success for every child.

MDWise, Inc.: Maximizing Chamber Investment Through Employee Training

Lux_LindseyAre great leaders born or made? The answer is simple: Great leaders are “made” – and embracing learning opportunities is a key step.

The Indiana Chamber’s annual Human Resources Conference & Expo provides a variety of tools to boost leadership skills. Lindsey Lux, a regular attendee, enjoys the panel discussions, legal updates and collaboration with fellow HR professionals.

Lux is vice president of operations at MDwise — an Indiana Chamber member since 2007. Headquartered in Indianapolis, the Indiana nonprofit health insurance company is focused on giving uninsured and underserved Hoosiers the compassionate service and care they want and need.

“The legal presenters at the conference have given interesting presentations with real-world applicability,” she comments. “The conference is the best in Indiana to earn strategic recertification credits necessary to maintain my SPHR (senior professional in human resources).”

Lux participated in a focus group with other past attendees regarding ways to enhance the event.

“Most conferences ask you to complete a satisfaction survey once you are finished. This is the first time I’ve been asked to discuss (my input) face-to-face with attendees,” she emphasizes.

Reflecting on an especially memorable experience at the Human Resources Conference, Lux describes a session about leadership development.

“I walked away with a workbook full of information after having clearly identified my values, my company strategy, goals, etc.,” she recalls. “It’s nice to leave a session feeling empowered to improve in areas as an individual and as an organization.”

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.”