Examining Indiana: A Roundtable Discussion

A team of Indiana experts in transportation, infrastructure and economic development sit down to discuss what’s special about Indiana, where it’s heading, where it has some hurdles to jump and what to look out for to capitalize on its momentum.

Meet the SEH of Indiana Experts

Kerry Keith

Kerry Keith
President SEH of Indiana with a 30-plus year career in helping cities and development associations transform their communities

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Tom Cicero

Tom Cicero, PE, MBA
Relationship Manager/Professional Engineer who has dedicated his career to making Indiana better on the public and private side

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Dan Botich

Dan Botich
Sr. Economic Development Professional who has helped many communities realize economic growth

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Shakeel Baig

Shakeel Baig, PE
Transportation Engineer who has helped design and engineer some of Indiana’s busiest roads and highways.

Contact Shakeel

It’s the 19th state in the Union. It’s where the classic film, “A Christmas Story” was based. What else makes the Hoosier state so special?

Kerry:
As Indiana residents, we are blessed with the incredible beauty of our natural resources in lakes and parks — as well as our mix of big city and small-town cultures. The strong work ethic and Midwest values really help round out what we know as being a Hoosier.

Tom:
That’s right. The reality for most Hoosiers is one of civic excitement and hopeful economic times. We’ve seen increased partnering between our state and local governments, businesses, and our citizens — to create opportunities and to work together to improve our quality of life. We are consistently ranked as one of the top states, if not the best state for businesses. Our economy is strong. Indiana enjoys a budget surplus with almost $2 billion in our rainy-day fund and provides benefit of low taxes. That’s a huge advantage when attracting and expanding businesses.

Our economy is strong. Indiana enjoys a budget surplus with almost $2 billion in our rainy-day fund and provides benefit of low taxes. That’s a huge advantage when attracting and expanding businesses.
Tom Cicero

Shakeel:
As Tom said, Indiana is lucky with respect to its fiscal health. Indiana has a surplus budget and not many other states enjoy this same position. Plus, what makes us special is that our leaders took action and allocated extra funding to take care of outdated infrastructure in Indiana. This funding, which will be distributed based on needs, will help communities build bridges, bike paths, trails and pedestrian walkways. All things that will make Indiana better than it already is.

Dan:
Indiana is the crossroads of America. Road, rail, water and air transportation systems and telecommunications networks from the east coast to the west coast and from Mexico to Canada, generally run through the State of Indiana. Our access to Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes as well as to Ohio and the Wabash Rivers offers not only water-related shipping opportunities but also natural beauty. The State of Indiana is a confluence of transformational networks and connections joining to a number of large market metropolitan areas in the United States. Our state is ripe for economic development and industry profitability. We have a favorable tax rate compared to adjacent states. We can access 50 percent of the United States. population within a one-day drive. And our State’s bond rating is AAA.


What kind of opportunities exist, specifically?

Tom:
Well, what’s really worth noting is the increase in high-tech jobs and businesses in the Indianapolis area. Since 2010 we’ve added more high-tech jobs than neighboring Cincinnati, Columbus and Louisville. Combined! We have a really diversified economy with contributions from education, health care, finance and tech companies.

Kerry:
As the “Crossroads of America,” we have to recognize the importance our transportation infrastructure has on our own economy and on the economy of the Midwest as a whole. The state passed legislation that nearly doubles the level of funding for bridge and road projects over the next six years. That’s a big commitment to renewing our infrastructure. There are also programs for local municipalities to meet their growing road maintenance and reconstruction needs.

SEH of Indiana Transportation Services
Transportation infrastructure is economically important to the state of Indiana because of its central United States location.

Dan:
Our location and available infrastructure are our biggest assets and opportunities to meet industry needs. I believe access to transportation systems will grow a logistics economy. And in the future, the fresh water of Lake Michigan will transform our economy beyond heavy manufacturing toward cooling for microchip technology. On a local level, if communities take the opportunity to develop a solid economic development strategy, they can set themselves up for taking advantage of their unique assets, whether geographic or human resources. Financial incentives like tax-increment financing or tax abatements can really help promote economic growth to stimulate new industries. These types of incentives really help to drive economic development. A good example is Burns Harbor. They’re putting in place a business incentive program geared toward identifying a balance between the heavy manufacturing of the steel industry and the geographic location of the National Park Systems National Lakeshore.


To contrast that, what can Indiana improve upon?

Tom:
We have seen the state loosen up the requirements for infrastructure funding and quality of life improvements, whether the funds are federal administered by Indiana or actual state funds. Recent success of the Community Crossings Matching Grant Program through INDOT is a great example of this effort.

Shakeel:
Infrastructure is in need of improvement here in Indiana. In fact, the infrastructure in the entire country is in dire need of reconstruction. We can improve on attracting new businesses, not just from within the United States but also from overseas. When we improve and renew our roads and bridges with this new funding it will play a role in attracting new businesses. Roads and bridges play a vital role in mobility and are a good indicator of economic growth. Indiana government has shown they will take action to upgrade the infrastructure for our investors and businesses.

Dan:
I believe the most critical issue to overcome is the perception of Indiana as a secondary market to the Chicago metropolitan region — as the south coast of Chicago and its residential development. The quality of life and the beauty of Indiana is underestimated by too many.


How about infrastructure? What are Indiana’s greatest needs?

Kerry:
Like a lot of states, Indiana will have to address aging water and wastewater infrastructure. According to a recent American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) report, Indiana will have $5.9 billion in water infrastructure needs and $7.18 billion in wastewater infrastructure needs over the next 20 years. In northwest Indiana, cities like Hammond and East Chicago are proactively addressing their water treatment systems while at the same time renewing their infrastructure.

SEH of Indiana Water and Wastewater Services
Experts believe Indiana will need to address agining wastewater infrastucture needs in the next 20 years.

Tom:
While the road and bridge funding legislation is well-known in Indiana, I believe it’s critical that a funding system be set up for our water infrastructure as well. At the same time, it’s important for our lawmakers to help ensure funds are available for road and bridge infrastructure, our drinking water systems also have to become a priority. As part of his 2018 agenda, Governor Holcomb established a multi-agency group to develop strategies to manage the state’s water resources and infrastructure. The agenda also supports the development of asset management plans for water and wastewater utilities.

Shakeel:
I agree our water infrastructure needs attention. Yet, another area of concern is bridges. Indiana has a low safety ranking in the bridge area, which needs to be taken care of as soon as possible to help ensure safety for everyone. Most of these bridges were constructed over 70 years ago and either need to be replaced or rehabbed. Over the last few years, Indiana has spent a good amount of funding on road rehab, reconstruction, or preventive maintenance to extend the life of infrastructure. This doesn’t mean that more work isn’t needed; but rather there is a need to spend comparatively more funding on bridges to fix the rating and make bridges safer for travelers. 

Related Content: How 5 Cities Fought Aging Infrastructure and Won

Dan:
Preparing our capital improvement infrastructure for new industries and technologies. This includes assuring redundancies and telecommunication capacity to meet growing data transfer needs.


What’s the single most economic development challenge facing Indiana right now?

Dan:
A financial incentive tool box requiring resources and programs to be made available on a local level by local decision-makers. In addition, bringing together the correct individuals and parties to close an economic development deal. We also need address challenge of implementing sustainable features in projects to create a better environment for up to three generations of Hoosier employees. Lastly, identifying alternative funding and delivery methods. Whether it’s a P3 or a lease purchase project (LPP), municipalities (counties, townships, cities and towns) need to develop alternative ways to put together capital improvement plans designed to meet the needs of the future economic engines of our state, our regions and our communities.

Kerry:
I think that many local jurisdictions struggle to meet the speed of decision making in the private sector. For businesses, time really is money. And the better a community is at responding to private sector requests for information, submission of documentation and those types of things, the more successful these communities will be with closing deals. Take for example the Amazon request for proposals for its second headquarters. The communities that were prepared in advance are going to have a better chance to land the deal. Those are the communities that tend to be the winners in the economic development game.

Tom:
I think the single biggest challenge to future economic development is our ability to be brave and take risks. Traits of successful people are often the ones who take risks and make difficult decisions. But if you’re not making those difficult decisions and taking risks, you’re going to be left behind. Indiana does have a good track record of transforming Indianapolis into a center for technology — and that brings in a lot of people with different perspectives who are willing to take risks. There are mayors who are taking risks too — flying overseas to attract businesses to the state. A good example is Carmel. Their mayor has taken ideas from all around the world and implemented them. They’ve built roundabouts at all major intersections, used European development and construction standards to build thriving communities and businesses. A new addition to the parks and the downtown area of Carmel is called “Christkindlmarkt.” It brings the old-world charm of Christmas in Germany to the City, with traditional German foods and gifts, surrounding a beautiful outdoor ice skating rink. That is the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that will drive the state forward.

Related Content: 9 Economic Development Concepts Every Official Should Know

Shakeel:
I believe we have to start at the macroeconomic level to talk about economic development. Indiana is one of the fastest growing economies in the United States. According to USA Today and figures published by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), 24/7 Wall Street reviewed the 10 states with the fastest growing economies — Indiana is 8th in the whole country and still growing. On the other hand, at the microeconomic level, many smaller cities and towns are growing at the fastest rate. This growth is presenting lots of opportunities not only just infrastructure but also in the private sector, especially in commercial and residential growth. A major economic challenge, or opportunity, is for those representing small towns to understand how to strategically pursue and secure funding to grow and create more jobs at all levels. According to the latest statistics these smaller Indiana communities have had some of the more significant growth in recent years: The cities of Kokomo and Noblesville; and the towns of Zionsville, Avon, and McCordsville.


Let’s talk regulations. What are some you’re watching?

Kerry:
For us around the Great Lakes, the Asian carp issue is critical. There’s also a big concern with the Mercury variance and the Clean Air Act as it relates to clean air car emissions testing. Another big issue is lead levels in drinking water — it’s been getting a lot of attention locally and nationally lately.

Tom:
Yes, the last wave of regulations regarding clean water were the combined sewer overflow regulations of the 1990s. As those improvements are winding down, the next big thing to address is the drinking water systems in our state. My expectation is that new regulations surrounding safe drinking water systems are forthcoming and will mandate our systems be improved. In the future, being able to piece together the funding mechanism for these improvements will be the greatest challenge facing our elected officials.

Shakeel:
Many state and federal regulations have changed over time and are still changing. I believe one of the most observed and sensitive areas is environmental safety. A big push toward environmental safety has encouraged people and businesses to pay extra attention to different regulations that government is putting out there for clean air, clean water, preservation of wild life, etc. Knowing and understanding these old and new regulations and how they can affect people and businesses will be key to achieving success and staying ahead in the game.

Dan:
Federal and state regulations can stimulate or stymie economic development. It wouldn’t be fair to identify just one regulatory area because each is critical to economic development, whether environmental, finance, interstate commerce, etc. The key is to develop an economic development program that is as immune to regulation as possible and will sustain economic growth. Key areas to keep in mind will be the regulation of cryptocurrencies, drones and logistics/shipping industries.

The key is to develop an economic development program that is as immune to regulation as possible and will sustain economic growth.
Dan Botich

Wrapping it up

From roads and bridges to drinking water and wastewater to attracting more businesses, Indiana is making many of the right moves to position the state for prosperity for its residents and businesses. There are opportunities to seize as well as challenges to overcome to propel the state into the future. It’s important to join the conversation — get in touch with one of us to discuss how we can build a better Indiana.

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