Governor talks economic development, business at Aspire luncheon

Gov. Eric Holcomb speaks while presenter Eric Prime listens during an Aspire Johnson County luncheon at the Valle Vista Golf Club Tuesday in Greenwood.

Noah Crenshaw | daily newspaper

Gov. Eric Holcomb spoke on economic development, attracting talent, his agenda for 2023 and more during a special chamber dinner Tuesday in Greenwood.

He was the celebrity guest at a special Aspire Johnson County Legislation Matters Luncheon at the Valle Vista Golf Club in Greenwood on Tuesday. He discussed economic developments in a Q&A format with moderator Eric Prime, a lawyer with Van Valer Law Firm.

Preview 2023

Prime requested an outlook on Holcomb’s next-level agenda for 2023.

Holcomb said he expects to release the agenda later than usual to see what the state’s revenue forecast is for December.

“We’re going into a very strong position now, but we’re paying attention to what’s going on around us and things we can control and things we can’t control,” he said, citing inflation.

With next year being a fiscal year for the state legislature, Holcomb hopes to secure funding for several priority issues before leaving office. These include mental health, state health commission recommendations, READI grants, workforce development programs and the adoption of a balanced budget, he said.

He also hopes to help the Indiana Economic Development Corp. Provide more state modernization tools to attract business.

International orientation

Prime asked about Holcomb’s recent international forays.

That includes the state’s first-ever Global Economic Summit, held in May. Over 800 guests, including some from Johnson County, and 30 international delegations attended, Prime said.

Holcomb told business leaders that the state’s economic traction didn’t start with the summit. The state has a rich history of global activities and engagements. With this foundation, the state has started to consciously be in the right spaces around the world to grow together, he said.

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“I’m very picky and picky and we have the luxury of being in this position but it’s not by accident it’s on purpose and with a plan,” Holcomb said. “That’s why we held this[summit]to talk not just about Indiana’s place in the future, but Indiana’s place in the world and our future together.”

This common future includes mobility, energy, human resource development, jobs and employees. The state learned a lot of good things from the summit, although Holcomb underestimated the power of the side talks, he said.

“It was a diplomatic corps; it was a business corps,” Holcomb said. “…It was a cross-section of people making decisions with decision-makers from the Eastern to the Western hemisphere. This was a very productive use of time and of course topped it off with the Indy 500 which is also a very international race.”

Holcomb also spoke about his recent international travel. In the past month he has been on economic development trips to South Korea, Taiwan, Switzerland and Germany.

International travel is a reminder that there is no substitute for showing up, Holcomb said. Officials show respect when they’re on someone else’s ground and learning about their culture, he said.

Officials also learn about other countries’ problems and common challenges. For example, South Korean officials are just as concerned about their birth and death rates as US officials, he said.

“You’re learning these things and you can (not only) try to refine problems or challenges, you try to solve them, and you can usually solve them faster together,” Holcomb said.

READI and MARKETING of the state

Holcomb was asked about the Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative or READI grant and how the state can leverage initiatives like this for economic development.

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Holcomb said the READI program is about addressing population shortages and recruiting talent because officials recognize that now more than ever, people want to work where they want to live, he said. The program helps communities create plans that help attract and retain residents with things like quality of life projects, housing, and talent attraction programs.

Holcomb said he plans a second phase of READI grants because the program could have a larger impact on the state’s regions. The program works because priorities come from the local level and because it connects decision-makers at all levels, he said.

“We’ve already heard from some of these regions that companies are coming back and saying this is really helpful,” Holcomb said. “…I think that’s the secret most people don’t know that we really do in Indiana…we have it all, but we have to share this story.”

Innovation is a big part of Indiana’s history, Holcomb said. For him, innovation means making things better, faster, more efficient and cleaner. Indiana sits high in the middle in terms of trade and is a big advantage, he said.

The state’s resources — including advanced manufacturing, energy sources and water abundance — are a credit to the state, along with higher education institutions like Indiana University, Purdue and Notre Dame, Holcomb said.

“We’re in this game and I think we’re going to win,” he said.

Housing, employee retention

Prime asked Holcomb about affordable housing and its appeal to talent.

Holcomb said housing, childcare and transportation are obvious areas officials need further work on. Local governments and the federal government have been partners to help the state expand its infrastructure, he said.

Tackling supply chain issues is one area that could help with infrastructure, he said. Access to concrete is a problem state officials are seeing. If officials were able to grow this sector, supply chain issues could be addressed, Holcomb said.

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The supply chain is an issue at the trade skills level as well as at the product level. It’s a problem in multiple industries, he said.

“We have the same problems, and so are the challenges of growth and managing growth,” Holcomb said. “…We’re a net exporter of a lot of these products, so how can we keep more to ourselves and really keep making hay while the sun is out?”

Holcomb predicts officials will address supply and demand issues for the foreseeable future. Scaling up and upskilling the state workforce is part of this, as talent is a demand issue, he said.

“We’re going to try to push that forward, especially during this transition period,” Holcomb said. “I have a sense of urgency anyway because I’m legally leaving a couple of years so I’m in a better position to look back and say we’ve thrown everything we’ve got at it.”

I’m looking forward to

Before leaving office in 2024, Holcomb said he looks forward to seeing major infrastructure projects like Interstate 69, the North Split project and the Double Track South Shoreline project finally complete.

He wants to make sure the state has enough momentum to move in the direction he wants, he said.

“We move to the front and where do we fall short demographically?” said Holcomb. “Probably on my last day I’ll be thinking… what kind of dynamic do we have?”

During his tenure, he was inspired by the ingenuity and tenacity of the Hoosier corporations. Regardless of the size of the company, their innovations are inspirational and help the state unlock its future potential.

“Our best days are really ahead of us because we know what to focus on,” said Holcomb. “We focus on this community for community.”

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