March 28, 2003
Can Energize Indiana Run on Just One Battery?
The best thing about Governor O'Bannon's Energize Indiana economic development initiative is the fact that it is being rolled out in the midst of a budget crisis that has most politicians simply running for cover. What better way can there be to communicate the urgent need for us to confront the issues that limit our long-term economic growth than to push them to the top of the agenda when the tax cupboard is bare?
We all know that extravagant plans made when the sun is shining have a way of being quickly abandoned at the first sign of rain. And if there is one thing we need most of all to attract the kind of new investments to the state economy that will make a meaningful difference, it is commitment. We're in a race to attract new capital and new residents to spread their roots in our communities, and you don't make that happen by reneging on promises and changing the rules.
The worst thing about Energize Indiana is that it isn't enough. That's not quite fair, of course. No one has ever said that carrying out the plan's various initiatives is all we have to do to get the state economy on a higher growth trajectory. But in a state noted for its frugality, its ten-year horizon, wide scope of initiatives, and $1.25 billion price tag stand in sharp contrast to the more ordinary legislative deliberations on roads, prisons and schools.
Regardless of what stand you take on the merits of Energize Indiana, you have to admit that $1.25 billion in new spending over a ten year period for an economy the size of Indiana is not an awfully large amount of money. Personal income in 2000 for just one of the state's 92 counties -- Hamilton County -- was almost six times that amount, and that's just for one year.
If you tally up the total value of what the entire state economy produces, or what the Bureau of Economic Analysis calls Gross State Product, you get more than $192 billion in year 2000. That means that over the course of the next decade, spending on a fully funded Energize Indiana would be almost imperceptible next to the $2.7 trillion in output the state economy can be expected to generate.
In considering the kind of commitment we must make to address Indiana's declining relative standards of living, we must address another unpleasant reality. That is, in order to regain our standing among our competitors we must do more than simply keep up. We can only close the gap that separates employment and earnings growth here from that of our peers by growing faster.
Government can't be expected to do that, of course. But we can and should expect it to take a lead role in getting the process started. And just doing that stretches the Energize Indiana dollars mighty thin.
We say that we want to become a recognized leader in the fast growing health-related industries collectively known as life sciences. But funding just one part of this dream -- upgrading the facilities of the IU medical school -- would quickly exhaust the funds that Energize Indiana devotes to new buildings for every research university in the state. That leaves nothing for nanotechnology, advanced manufacturing, or countless other worthy causes.
The solution to this problem isn't just finding more money, although more will certainly be needed. It's more a question of priorities and focus. Whatever form Energize Indiana takes as it makes its journey through the legislature, these issues should be kept in mind. And whatever happens, it's safe to say that the need for bold, new steps to rejuvenate the Indiana economy will be still be great.
About the Author
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