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May 24, 2013

State called leader, laggard in new economic report card

Chamber finds biz climate better but poverty worse.

INDIANAPOLIS — A newly released report card on where Indiana ranks nationally in key economic measures shows the state is both “a leader and a laggard” in areas that signal potential for more prosperity.

The report, released by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, shows that while the state has made progress in creating an attractive business climate, it’s also seen the poverty rate rise significantly compared to other states.

Just more than a decade ago, Indiana had the 12th lowest poverty rate in the nation. By 2005, the state dropped to the 32nd lowest poverty rate. By 2011, about one million Hoosiers were living in poverty and only 15 states had a lower poverty rate than Indiana, according to the report.

Kevin Brinegar, the chamber’s executive director, said the change in the poverty rate is directly linked to the lack of skills and education needed to get well-paying jobs.

“The skills gap in Indiana is real,” Brinegar said.  “There are one million Hooisers who don’t have minimum basic skills to compete effectively in a global economy and we need to address that.”

The report posted on the chamber’s website, www.indianachamber.com, is part of the chamber’s Indiana Vision 2025, a comprehensive multi-year initiative launched in 2010 to guide the state’s development and the public policy that can impact its economic growth.

Contained in the report are 60 key economic indicators that reflect a decade’s worth of progress or loss in four areas identified in the Indiana Vision 2025 plan as essential to the state’s prosperity: Outstanding talent, attractive business climate, superior infrastructure, and a dynamic and creative culture.

Cam Carter, the chamber’s vice president of economic development said the metrics show a “decidedly mixed bag” for the state.

“Indiana is both a leader and a laggard as you look across the totality of the metrics,” Carter said.

On the up side: The state’s business climate is ranked high among all states on such measures as low taxes and regulatory reform.

But the state’s high obesity rate, at 42nd fattest in the nation, and the fact that we’re one of the heaviest smoking states—more than 25 percent of Hoosier adults are smokers – are troublesome because of the high health-care costs associated with both problems.

The report says Indiana has done well over the past decade in boosting the percentage of college graduates with science and technology skills. And it found that the state is closing the education “achievement gap” between affluent and at-risk students in some academic areas.

But Indiana now ranks in the bottom five states for the percent of population with an associate college degree or higher. Only Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky and West Virginia ranked lower on that metric.

Brineger said the state has “the most work to do” on boosting the education and work force metrics, and predicted it will be difficult.

“It is challenging to move the numbers in an absolute sense. But it is even more challenging to move the rankings in a relative sense, and that’s because other states are not just sitting still,” Brinegar said. “This is darn hard work. But it is incredibly important work.”

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

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