As the school year comes to an end, how about a report card for Indiana?
Indiana’s strengths and weaknesses show up in the Indiana Chamber’s “Indiana Vision 2025 Report Card” and 10th annual workforce survey, released last week.
Not everyone agrees that the business-friendly chamber should be setting our priorities. However, it’s the most prominent organization rating our state’s performance. Equally important, our state legislators pay close attention to the chamber’s opinions.
Where does Indiana get “A” grades?
• Of the 50 states, we rank second in business regulatory environment. That freedom from regulations is a topic you’ll hear often when state leaders are blowing our horn.
• Hoosier elementary students tend to rank among the top 10 states on test scores. However, our smart young people don’t always stay home, as you’ll see in a moment.
• Indiana ranks 10th among the states in exports — a longtime strong point.
Before we get our chests puffed out about those qualities, let’s take a hard look in the mirror at where we need to improve.
Despite those bright young people, Hoosier employers can’t find enough workers in the important “STEM” fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Even though Indiana colleges and universities produce the third most science and technology degrees, we rank 42nd in the adult population with such degrees. We suffer from a serious brain drain.
Indiana is just beginning an attempt to make our state more appealing with the Regional Cities Initiative — spending tax dollars in northeast Indiana and elsewhere to build trails, parks and culture centers. We’ll have to wait a while to see if it works.
Hoosiers need to work on making ourselves more attractive as well as our parks. With 20 percent of us still smoking, we rank 39th in that department. We’re 36th in obesity, so we need to get hiking down all those new trails. The Chamber says our lousy health habits cost our employers $6 billion per year. That undermines efforts to make us look like a good place to start a business.
Cheap electricity has helped make us the leading state for manufacturing. However, our ranking in power prices has slipped to mediocre. It’s not entirely clear what Hoosiers can do to help that.
Despite all those happy statistics you hear about job growth in Indiana, we rank 44th in jobs created by new companies. Most jobs apparently are coming from existing companies as they bounce back from the recession. Some leaders think we need more tax credits for start-ups.
As a new crisis, the chamber’s research found growing problems of opioid drug abuse in the workplace.
The most persistent roadblock to a more prosperous Indiana seems to be that good jobs are going unfilled due to a lack of skilled workers. We need to make sure all those bright young people are steered toward education that matches Indiana jobs, and convince them that the grass can be greener right at home.