Editorial: Tax-friendly isn’t enough for Indiana to compete

Indianapolis Business Journal

Eli Lilly and Co. CEO David Ricks sparked conversation recently when he said during a talk at a meeting of The Economic Club of Indiana that the state needs to do more to be attractive to business.

Ricks wasn’t talking about tax incentives and reduced tax rates (although he certainly didn’t complain about those). Instead, he means that Indiana’s schools, its public health system, its overall quality of life and more need to be better.

He argued that Indiana must do more than simply be a low-tax state if it wants to land big investments and attract top-tier talent.

We think he’s absolutely right. Certainly, we have supported efforts to make Indiana an affordable place to do business. But affordability has many layers, and we worry the Legislature’s near obsession with cutting taxes has been at the expense of investments that might reduce costs elsewhere.

We are not advocating simply throwing money at schools or universities or training programs. Nor are we suggesting that the Legislature implement hospital price controls or make any radical regulatory move that would likely have unintended consequences.

Instead, we suggest a more comprehensive approach to making Indiana the best place in the U.S. to do business. That means more intense focus on why workers would want to be here, how we can keep more college grads in the state, and how to encourage greener energy sources.

Certainly, Indiana has made moves in those directions, and we’re encouraged by Indiana Commerce Secretary Brad Chambers’ focus on alternative energy in particular. We expect to see more efforts pointed at talent attraction and quality of life.

But there’s no time for dawdling. The same work is underway in states across the country, and Indiana is already behind on some of those efforts.

Ricks said as much when explaining why Lilly has chosen to put some of its new research and manufacturing facilities in other places. And it’s why the city and state need to pay attention to the questions Ricks has raised — and the responses of other business leaders, many echoing his concerns.

Still, we also agree with entrepreneurs Bill Oesterle and John Thompson as well as Cook Group CEO Pete Yonkman, who, while agreeing with Ricks about the problems Indiana is facing, are also focused on how the business community can be a catalyst for change.

We hope state officials are paying attention — and that they heed warnings that a continued focus on social issues might be the worst possible way to create a hospitable environment for business. And we urge business leaders to see how they can do their part to make Indiana a place other companies will want to call home.