Indiana's new Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb delivered his first State of the State Address Tuesday night. Holcomb opened by thanking state lawmakers, and praising Indiana's attractive business environment.
"Our secret weapon is the Hoosier pioneering spirit itself," said Holcomb. "Thanks to that spirit, Indiana today stands as one of the top five states in the country for doing business and there are more Hoosiers working today than at any other time in our history."
Holcomb credited a low cost of living and doing business, and a high quality workforce for making the Hoosier state a "magnet" for new businesses.
"Businesses and jobs that a dozen years ago were going to Austin or Boston or the Silicon Valley are now coming to Indiana," said Holcomb.
However, Mike Pence's former running mate also acknowledged a widening workforce gap.
"Too many Hoosier businesses are having trouble finding the skilled workers they need to grow," said Holcomb. "Too many Hoosiers are not properly prepared for the jobs of the future – not just potential scientists and engineers but also coders, machinists, mechanics and welders."
Specifically, Holcomb said in the next 10 years, Indiana employers will need to find 1 million new skilled workers to replace 700,000 retiring baby boomers, and fill an expected 300,000 new jobs.
In order to tackle the workforce gap, and to "lead Indiana into our third century," the governor laid out a five-point plan.
1) Cultivate a strong and diverse economy
Holcomb highlighted two things that he says sets the state apart for businesses - a balanced state budget and a low cost of energy. In that light, the governor pushed for passing a balanced budget amendment, and supporting coal.
"Indiana runs on coal," said Holcomb. "Let’s apply technology and innovation to find new ways to unleash this abundant source of power by burning coal cleanly while keeping Hoosiers employed and factories humming."
Holcomb also wants to invest $4 million more in Regional Cities Initiatives, and name-dropped the city of Fort Wayne when making his case for the investment.
"I’ve talked with leaders in the three regions we’ve funded so far – including Mayors Buttigieg of South Bend, Henry of Ft. Wayne, and Winnecke of Evansville – and they’re all huge believers," said Holcomb. "It’s bringing local officials together, regardless of political persuasion, to coordinate and align their planning efforts as they’ve never done before."
The governor also plans to dedicate 1 billion dollars over the next 10 years for grants to support entrepreneurship and innovation initiatives and education at the county level.
2) Fund a long-term roads and bridges plan
Holcomb promised to complete pending road projects - two of them involve Fort Wayne:
In addition to roadwork, Indiana's Commander in Chief wants to double track the South Shore Line between Northwest Indiana and Chicago, incentive more direct flights out of Indiana airports, and add a fourth water port in Southeastern Indiana.
As expected, Holcomb asked for approval to find a way to pay for all the infrastructure improvements and maintenance - though he wouldn't specify if he will back a hike on the gas tax or tolls - saying only that he was open to "a menu of options."
"The fact is," said Holcomb. "Existing sources of revenue are just not keeping up."
3) Develop a 21st century skilled and ready workforce
Developing that skilled workforce, said Holcomb, begins with our youngest generations.
"We must make sure that our resources are properly aligned to produce the skill sets our businesses crave," said Holcomb.
It's estimated there are 30,000 unfilled jobs in Indiana. Simultaneously, approximately 2 million Hoosiers do not have the education or skills needed to fill them.
With that in mind, Holcomb proposed several measures impacting Hoosier education:
Holcomb's concluded his third pillar with his controversial proposal to change the historically elected position of state superintendent, to one appointed by the governor - beginning in 2021.
"As the state’s chief executive," argued Holcomb. "The Governor should set education priorities and be held accountable for the results... regardless of party, the Governor should be able to choose his or her key education partner."
4) Attack the drug epidemic
Since the year 2000, deaths from drug overdoses have increased 500 percent, and we are 15th in the country in overdose fatalities.
"This epidemic causes ripple effects with devastating impacts on our children and families, our cities and towns, our schools and government agencies, our health care system and health care costs for each of us, and our economy," said Holcomb.
To combat those ripple effects, Holcomb outlined four action items:
In sharp contrast to his predecessor, former Gov. Mike Pence - who many criticized for a slow reaction in approving a needle exchange program at the peak of an HIV outbreak - Holcomb praised a public health nurse who runs a needle syringe exchange program in Fayette County, who he invited to the State of the State Address.
5) Provide great government service at a great value to taxpayers
Holcomb's fifth and final pillar focused on caring for men and women in uniform.
"One fundamental obligation of government is to take care of those who serve and protect us," said Holcomb.
To that extent, Holcomb called for a "well-deserved" pay raise to the Indiana State Police, and to exempt veterans pensions from the state income tax.
The governor ended his speech by quoting "one of the greatest Hoosiers and greatest Americans who ever was, Abraham Lincoln," - a man Holcomb says he has long studied and admired.
"It was Lincoln who said, 'The best way to predict your future is to create it,'" said Holcomb.