America, the Beautiful

7659613I love traveling. In fact, I am infatuated with traveling.

I’ve been to six different countries across three continents, and in January I plan on studying abroad in Europe for four months. It’s my greatest pleasure to seek adventure and experience culture, but something I often forget is just how awesome our home country is.

I found a list on BuzzFeed of the 29 most breathtaking places in the United States. You’ll want to check this out — and you might even need to update your bucket list.

Paige Ferise, a sophomore at Butler University, is interning in the Indiana Chamber communications department this fall.

Poll: Almost One in Four Americans Open to Separating from U.S.

CAlthough Scotland’s movement to secede from the United Kingdom fell a bit short at the ballot box, it appears it’s not just 45% of Scots who have separation on their minds.

And frankly, it’s no secret most Americans aren’t enthusiastic about the federal government these days. Between gridlock, behemoth budgets and trying to solve the health care puzzle, many have grown frustrated. Poll results explained in this Reuters article, however, are still a bit alarming.

Whoever takes the White House in 2016 may have his/her hands full in trying to unify the country. 

Texas/Oklahoma Saga Latest in U.S. Water Battles

We've discussed battles over water rights previously — and certainly will again. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court basically told Texas it has no right to claim billions of gallons of water on the Oklahoma side of the Red River. The Court reinforced an existing compact between those two states, Arkansas and Louisiana. Stateline reports:

The U.S. Supreme Court Thursday unanimously rejected a Texas water district’s attempt to tap river water in Oklahoma, settling a dispute that raised questions about state sovereignty and natural resources at a time when water is increasingly scarce and fought over.

The ruling found that the Texas authority had no right to the water in question, despite a four-state pact designed to ensure equal access to the water that flows in the Red River. The Tarrant Regional Water District had filed a lawsuit in 2007 saying Texas was entitled to some 130 billion gallons of water on Oklahoma’s side of the river basin.

As Stateline previously reported, the questions at the heart of the case have taken on increasing importance as drought and water shortages have strained water supplies and relations among many western states.

The dispute was seen as a potential test case for states’ rights over natural resources, but it’s likely the effect will be narrow, Marguerite Chapman, a law professor at the University of Tulsa, said.

“I think it affirms the integrity of an interstate compact as essentially a contract,” she said. “I don’t think it will disturb other compacts…the far-reaching effect would essentially be affirming the language that’s in the contract.”

The case centered on the Red River Compact that was signed by Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana and approved by Congress in 1980.

The compact grants the states “equal rights to the use and runoff” of undesignated, or unallocated, water that flows in the sub-basin where the Tarrant district is staking its claim — but only if flows to Louisiana and Arkansas reach a certain threshold.

“No state is entitled to more than 25 percent of the water,” the pact says.

The compact has been in place for decades, but Oklahoma lawmakers enacted a moratorium on cross-state transfers in 2002. When the original moratorium expired in 2009, the Oklahoma legislature overhauled the state’s permitting process to effectively exclude out-of-state applicants for water.

Gigerich: Indiana Business Climate is Good News, Bad News Scenario

Larry Gigerich of site selector Ginovus penned an informative column for Inside INdiana Business about Indiana's business climate. While we have come a long way and are currently envied by many states, there is still work to be done. He writes:

A few weeks ago, the Kauffman Foundation and Thumbtack.com released an annual ranking of states for their friendliness to small businesses. Indiana ranked 15th for 2013. The study analyzed several factors including items related to tax climate, work force development and regulatory issues. Eight-thousand small businesses were contacted for feedback regarding the study's criteria. Here is how Indiana ranked in each category.

1. Overall Friendliness: B+
2. Ease of Starting a Business: B+
3. Ease of Hiring: F
4. Regulations: C
5. Health and Safety: D
6. Employment, Labor and Hiring: C-
7. Tax Code: D
8. Licensing: A-
9. Environmental: D
10. Zoning: B-
11. Training and Networking Programs: C-

The grades given to Indiana are not surprising. Work force development and job training have been a focus of Governor Mike Pence and the legislature since the beginning of the year. Indiana's educational achievement, continuing learning for adults in the work force and availability of certification/credential programs have not been where they need to be. While progress has been made, there is still much to be done by government, educational providers, not-for-profits and the private sectors.

Indiana has been recognized as a relatively easy place to start and grow a business. This report points to that in terms of licensing, zoning and other factors affecting the launch of a new business.

The tax code ranking is a bit surprising, but the survey asked small businesses if they were paying too much in taxes for their locations. The elimination of the state inheritance tax, which impacts small and family-owned businesses, could help improve this ranking.

Indiana continues to struggle with rankings where health and environmental issues are considered. In particular, the state's obesity and smoking rates are unacceptably high. These items impact healthcare costs, number of missed days of work and quality of life. In terms of the environment, Indiana's long-term large manufacturing presence has impacted water, air and soil quality. While important steps have been taken in the areas, there is much left to be done.

The top five states for small businesses are (in order): Utah, Alabama, New Hampshire, Idaho and Texas. The bottom five are (in order): Illinois, California, Hawaii, Maine and Rhode Island.

In summary, Indiana's ranking relative to the rest of the country is good. Policymakers in the state should focus on ways to improve our weaknesses in order to move Indiana into the top 10. Due to the fact that Indiana has never been a location for large headquarters for companies, small businesses are and will continue to be the lifeblood of the state's economic growth.

Enlow: Other States Trying to Emulate Indiana on Vouchers, Charter School Law

The following guest blog is part of our weeklong celebration of National School Choice Week:

Around this time last year, the national spotlight was on Indiana because of a battle in the state capital. No, not right-to-work – the Super Bowl. But in the absence of that spectacle, the nation continues to keep a watchful eye on Indiana for the transformative changes made to its education system – particularly in the area of school choice.

Our state continually ranks at the top in the educational opportunities it provides Hoosiers. With vouchers, Indiana has the largest eligibility window of the other 11 voucher-providing states: 530,000 low- and middle-income students statewide, 9,324 of whom opted for vouchers in the program’s second year. The state has the sixth-best charter school law in the nation, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. And in the Center for Education Reform’s “Parent Power Index,” which compiles a number of education reform measures that empower families, Indiana ranks number one.

Hoosiers should know that other states have tried for years to adopt pieces of the package Indiana approved. And make no mistake, other states need to pass those measures because our country has been woefully lagging, and overspending, in attempting to prepare our young people for college, careers and life.

In 1966, the federal government provided $2 billion for public education (using 2006 dollars). In 2005, that number increased to $25 billion. In 2010, total federal spending on K-12 education reached $47 billion. Meanwhile, data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show a history of education outcomes not keeping pace with those increased expenditures. In 1971, the average score for eighth graders on NAEP’s reading exam was 255 (on a 500-point scale). In 2011, that number stood at 265. For fourth graders over that same time period, the average score bumped from 208 to 221.

School choice, on the other hand, has proved its positive effect on increasing student outcomes at around half the cost. Of the 10 random-assignment studies – considered research’s “gold standard” – conducted on school vouchers, nine showed they positively impact student performance; one found no effect. And among the empirical studies examining school choice’s effect on other schools, all but one found competition improves traditional public schools; again, one found no effect. None concluded there is a negative impact.

That’s why states – this year’s list includes Alaska, Maine, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas – are trying to emulate Indiana. And they must. Such policies may not be as fun as the Super Bowl, but their effects are certainly game-changers for taxpayers, schools, parents, and those who matter most: students.

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Robert Enlow is president and CEO of the Indianapolis-based Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, which is participating in National School Choice Week, January 27-February 2. More than 100 Indiana schools are holding events during the weeklong celebration for school choice.

Economic Energy? Look to Local Leadership

I read a recent post from the CEO of Gallup, who provided a good reminder that, like politics, ultimate business success is often locally driven. Yes, policies from Washington and state capitals make a big difference — but so does leadership in communities and companies.

A few highlights from Jim Clifton:

Throughout this year’s long election season, I was often asked: “Who will be better for jobs and the economy, President Obama or Governor Romney?” My reply most surely disappointed partisans from both sides: The president of the United States doesn’t make as much difference in terms of creating economic energy as you’d think, according to Gallup data.

In fact, if the president mattered that much, why is it that cities and states have such extreme variation in their local GDP and job growth? Shouldn’t they all go up or down together with each president?

Instead, Austin, Texas, and Nashville, Tenn., are booming, while Albany, N.Y., and Stockton, Calif., are failing. Texas is prospering while California is almost surely going broke. Austin’s jobless rate is around 5%, while the unemployment rate in Stockton is above 13%.

The difference, in my view, is that Austin has deeply caring, highly engaged business, political, and philanthropic leaders with principles, policies, beliefs, and values about human nature that work. They understand how to build a thriving, growing economy — one that welcomes business and entrepreneurship. Albany has the opposite, as I see it: Leaders with principles, policies, values, and beliefs that discourage business and entrepreneurship, if not outright scaring them away.

Cities across the country with great leadership are filled with booming startup companies, and those cities have thriving economies that create authentic, organically grown good jobs. These cities are saving America, while the others are letting the country down.

Great city leadership has never been so needed. Nationally, business startups are currently growing at under 400,000 annually. If this rate doesn’t double soon, in my view, absolutely nothing will fix our current nightmare of joblessness.

Of course good policy for small businesses is better than bad policy, but in my opinion, the estimated 10,000 business, political, and philanthropic leaders of all shapes and sizes who drive the performance of America’s top 100 cities are the most important people in our country right now. 

Poll: We’re Striving to Thrive But Falling Short

Gallup is certainly one of the kings when it comes to the polling world. Its latest effort, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, seems to require a bit more interpretation than most.

Respondents were asked to rate their lives today and their expectations for their lives in five years. The answers lead to classifications of ‘thriving," "struggling" or "suffering." Indiana finds itself on the bottom 10 list of states with the lowest percentage of residents thriving.

Biggest improvement from 2011 to 2012: South Dakota, third overall; biggest drop over the last year: Alaska. In somewhat of a contrast, South Dakota was also among the four states (with Wyoming, West Virginia and Vermont) that are "least optimistic" about five years from now compared to today. In the "most optimistic" category for five years hence, honors go to Louisiana, Georgia, Texas, Florida, Ohio (breaking the Southern monopoly) and Hawaii.

Top 10 "thrivers" in 2012: Hawaii, Utah, South Dakota, Maryland, Texas, New Hampshire, Nebraska, New Mexico, Colorado and Minnesota. The bottom 10: West Virginia, Maine, Delaware, Nevada, Oregon, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Florida.

What does it mean? In Gallup’s words:

Gallup’s research has shown that people take a variety of factors into account when rating their lives. While this thriving measure doesn’t always align perfectly with macro-level trends on economic indicators such as economic confidence and job creation, it is known to correlate with personal factors in one’s own life including career, social, physical, financial, and community wellbeing. To that end, the states that do best overall in "thriving" are similar to those best positioned for future livability based on a variety of factors encompassing economic, workplace, community, and personal choices. As such, it remains clear that a broad-based approach will likely fare best in terms of improving how residents rate their lives and their level of optimism for the future.

 

Gigerich Breaks Down U.S. Chamber Enterprising States Report

Larry Gigerich of the highly respected site selection firm Ginovus penned a column for Inside INdiana Business, in which he relays and analyzes a recent report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (to whom we have no direct affiliation) listing the top enterprising states. Interesting stuff:

The Chamber breaks policies down into five major areas.

1. Exports and International Trade
2. Entrepreneurship and Innovation
3. Taxes and Regulation
4. Talent Pipeline
5. Infrastructure

The report combines metrics for the different policy areas to measure performance, which has allowed the Chamber to evaluate the top states based upon quantifiable measurements. Please find below a list of the measurements used to rank the states.

1. Long-term job growth
2. Short-term growth
3. Overall expansion of gross state product
4. Productivity – state output per job
5. Productivity growth – growth in output per job
6. Income growth – growth in per capita personal income
7. Livability – median income of four-person households, adjusted for state cost of living

Based upon the metrics used by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here are the top performing states and a brief summary of why they rank in the top 10.

1. North Dakota: The state ranked in the top 10 in six of the seven measurements. The state ranked first in short-term jobs, long-term jobs, gross state product and per capita personal income. The energy boom in the western part of the state has led the growth of the economy in the state.

2. Wyoming: The state ranked in the top 5 in five different categories. The state is second on long-term job growth and gross state product and third in productivity growth and income growth. Energy, chemicals and metals helped drive the performance of the state’s economy.

3. Virginia: The state has the highest income in the nation, after adjusting for cost of living. In addition, Virginia ranks in the top 25 in all seven categories. The state’s growth in professional services and information technology jobs has helped led to excellent results.

4. Alaska: The state ranked in the top 8 in three key areas: overall productivity, long-term job growth and gross state product. Alaska’s economy has been driven by energy, mining and tourism activities. The growth of these sectors has led to the significant growth of retail support entities in the state.

5. Maryland: The state ranked in the top 25 in all seven measurements. Maryland ranked the highest in adjusted family income, followed by productivity growth. The growth in government jobs in the Washington D.C. area, high technology growth and corporate headquarters helped to propel the state.

6. Texas: Texas ranked second in short-term job growth and fifth in long-term job growth. In addition, the state fared well in the growth of gross state product. Its energy sector, affordability, and business climate fueled economic growth throughout Texas.

7. South Dakota: The state ranked fourth in growth in gross state product and per capita income. Long known for its back-office finance operations due to its well educated workforce, South Dakota can credit growth in manufacturing and professional services for propelling its economy today.

8. Washington: The state of Washington jumped five spots from 2011 largely due to rapid short-term job growth. In particular, aerospace and transportation equipment manufacturing has been growing rapidly. Professional services and technology have also been growing significantly.

9. Iowa: The state ranked fifth in growth in economic productivity, sixth in per capita income growth and eleventh in gross state product. Iowa’s finance and insurance industries have grown by nearly 30 percent. Transportation and warehousing are also growing rapidly.

10. New York: The state ranked in the top 25 in six of the seven measurements. The state jumped eleven spots in this year’s rankings due to the rapid growth of gross state product and per capita income. The rebound in the financial services sector, coupled with the growth of educational entities have assisted New York in these rankings.

Governors Faced with Difficult Medicaid Decision

The Medicaid expansion decision for each state is one of several critical aspects of the Affordable Care Act, which was recently deemed Constitutional by the Supreme Court. Although federal dollars are at stake, it’s not a given that states (including Indiana) will agree to the changes to the program for low-income residents. Stateline offers a strong summary.

Although the lineup is shifting, more than a dozen Republican governors have suggested they might decline to participate in the Medicaid expansion. Governors in Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, Texas, South Carolina and Wisconsin have said they will not participate. GOP governors in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Nevada and Virginia indicate they are leaning in that direction.

Meanwhile, about a dozen Democratic governors have said their states will opt in. The rest have not declared their intentions.

According to data from the Congressional Budget Office, the federal government would spend $923 billion on a full Medicaid expansion between 2014 and 2022, and states would spend about $73 billion. But nobody is sure how many people will enroll in the Medicaid expansion. According to a 2010 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, states’ share of the Medicaid expansion could range anywhere from $20 billion to $43 billion in the first five years.

According to Kaiser, most states opting into the expansion likely would have to ramp up their Medicaid spending between 2014 and 2019, but four would spend less (Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont) and several others would have to boost state spending only slightly.

Mississippi’s Medicaid program, for example, cost a total of $4 billion in 2011—the federal government paid $3 billion, and the state paid $1 billion. Expanding that program to everybody at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line would cost the state as much as $581 million between 2014 and 2019, according to Kaiser’s 2010 study.  That’s a 6.4 percent increase in state spending compared to what Mississippi would spend without an expansion

The day after the Supreme Court ruled the Medicaid expansion was optional, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, a Republican, said: “Although I am continuing to review the ruling by the Supreme Court, I would resist any expansion of Medicaid that could result in significant tax increases or dramatic cuts to education, public safety and job creation.”

Power Producers: Texas Leads the Way

Who doesn’t love a good list? If you’re in the energy business or just have an interest in which states are leaders in various production categories, check out this information from the U.S. Energy Information Administration:

Coal production (2010)

  1. Wyoming (442,522 thousand short tons)
  2. West Virginia (135,220)
  3. Kentucky (104,690)
  4. Pennsylvania (58,593)
  5. Montana (44,732)

Natural gas marketed production (2010)

  1. Texas (6.7 million cubic feet)
  2. Wyoming (2.3 million)
  3. Louisiana (2.2 million)
  4. Oklahoma (1.8 million)
  5. Colorado (1.5 million)

Crude oil production (2011)

  1. Texas (49,233 thousands of barrels)
  2. Alaska (18,956)
  3. North Dakota (16,581)
  4. California (16,454)
  5. Oklahoma (6,584)

Total net electricity generation (2011)

  1. Texas (33,689 thousands of megawatt hours)
  2. Pennsylvania (19,161)
  3. California (17,167)
  4. Illinois (16,851)
  5. Florida (16,845)

And a few more natural gas numbers courtesy of a State Legislatures article:

  • 90 years: estimated supply of domestic natural gas at current consumption levels
  • 24 trillion: cubic feet of natural gas used annually in the U.S.
  • 26%: amount of the nation’s electricity generated by natural gas in 2011
  • 25,400: number of wells fractured or re-fractured each year to produce natural gas