(INDIANAPOLIS) – The Indy Chamber held its annual membership meeting today, electing new leadership for its 2018 Board of Directors and endorsing an ambitious agenda for the upcoming session of the Indiana General Assembly. Connie Bond Stuart, PNC regional president of southern and central Indiana, will chair the state’s largest metropolitan business group, joined by Vice-Chair Lisa Schlehuber (Elements Financial), Treasurer Rafael Sanchez (IPL) and Secretary Jim Birge (Faegre Baker Daniels). Current Chair Brian Sullivan (Managing Partner of Shiel Sexton) was named ‘Life Director’ and will continue his board service.
This Executive Committee will work with Indy Chamber President & CEO Michael Huber, Chief Policy Officer Mark Fisher and the Chamber advocacy team to pursue a number of legislative proposals at the Indiana Statehouse next year, releasing a policy agenda with the theme “Indy: Open for Business.”
“Indy has a competitive business climate and appealing quality of life,” said Huber. “But we can always do better. To be ‘Open for Business,’ we have to be open for talent – welcoming a diverse workforce with protection from discrimination, investing in education from preschool through adult vocational training, and elevating ‘livability’ as an economic issue.”
Connie Bond Stuart, who will continue to chair of the United Way of Central Indiana as she takes the helm of the Indy Chamber board on Jan. 1, has been an outspoken advocate for early childhood education, which continues to be a legislative focus of both organizations.
“The Indy Chamber is rethinking economic development, focusing on today’s opportunities and tomorrow’s challenges,” she noted. “We’re pushing specific policies – supporting microloans for small businesses, applying the state sales tax exemption to software companies – that will pay dividends quickly. We’re also pursuing a longer-term agenda for upward mobility and growth, which includes making pre-K more accessible and affordable for underserved residents.”
In addition to continued expansion of publicly funded pre-K focused on children and families in financial need, the Indy Chamber’s priority issues for 2018 include:
- Creating an inclusive climate for a diverse workforce, through statewide anti-discrimination law that encompasses sexual orientation and gender identity, bias crime penalties and restoring in-state tuition and financial aid for foreign-born graduates of Indiana’s K-12 system;
- Reforming the distribution of local tax revenues to reflect a regional workforce and support regional growth by allowing equitable investment in infrastructure and other public services;
- Creating a healthier, more productive workforce – and reducing healthcare costs – by raising the state cigarette tax (using the proceeds to tackle pressing public health issues), raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21, and allowing employers to screen prospective workers for tobacco use;
- Exploring regulatory reductions, state grants and tax incentives to encourage new development on brownfield sites – vacant or unused properties, often former industrial facilities with environmental issues.
“We know that 90 percent of the manufacturing jobs lost from our region over the last 25 years were from Marion County, leaving the city burdened with brownfields where factories once provided employment opportunities,” noted current board chair Brian Sullivan of Shiel Sexton. “There’s market demand for residential and commercial development in our urban core – we can unleash significant new investment and bring jobs back to neighborhoods by reducing the barriers involved in finding new use for these properties.”
Among other issues identified in the Indy Chamber Legislative Agenda, the organization continues to advocate for local government flexibility on tax and budgetary policies, streamlining of township government, support for local transportation priorities and public transit options, and non-partisan redistricting reform.
The Indy Chamber represents thousands of employers representing more than a quarter-million workers, and also leads regional economic development. In this role attracting new business investment and employment, the Chamber agenda also calls for incentives to encourage high-tech investment, innovation and entrepreneurship, along with redevelopment opportunities (such as its brownfield proposals).
Chamber Chief Policy Officer Mark Fisher also noted that much of the legislative agenda dovetails with recent work with the Brookings Institution on inclusive growth – addressing issues of high poverty and neighborhood decay that isolate a growing number of Indianapolis residents from economic opportunity, ultimately limiting the region’s overall potential for growth.
“Our agenda is ‘Open for Business,’ but we also have to open up opportunities for the people and neighborhoods that have been left out of our economy,” Fisher explained. “We’re seeking policies that help ex-offenders get back into to the job market, continued investment in transit options to connect people with employment and education, finding creative solutions to bring healthy food and jobs to urban neighborhoods by tackling food deserts and brownfields – by helping more of our people become productive workers and taxpayers, we support our business community and the community at large.”