By Scott Smith
Gov. Mike Pence said the state can’t afford to “come off the accelerator” Friday, as the latest jobs report indicated Indiana’s unemployment rate increasing to 8.2 percent.
Pence, who was in Kokomo to meet with about a dozen business leaders, outlined the education and employment goals he’s likely to reiterate during Tuesday’s State of the State address.
Increasing private sector employment, supporting vocational education and improved elementary math and reading skills are among Pence’s six stated goals, and the governor spent the meeting suggesting ways those goals coincide with the concerns raised by the panelists.
But Pence also gave his first outline Friday of what he plans to discuss in his first statewide address as governor, saying he intends to stay optimistic.
“The fact is, Indiana’s made great progress. We’re the fiscal envy of the country,” Pence said. “At the same time, we’re at 8 percent unemployment. There are a quarter million Hoosiers out of work. So now is the time to be bold, and lean into the challenges.”
Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight said Indiana’s lack of direct flights hurts our standing with the outside world. Indiana University Kokomo Acting Chancellor Sue Sciame-Giesecke lamented the lack of math skills in incoming freshmen. AndyMark co-owner Andy Baker discussed the need for project-based learning.
The newly-sworn governor, on his first road trip since taking the oath Monday, said he was a believer in “servant leadership.”
“A servant always listens before they take the lead,” he said. “In my framework, we begin with the end in mind. The thought is that if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will do.”
Friday’s event was bracketed by a morning roundtable in Anderson, and a late afternoon roundtable in Greencastle.
Present were representatives from Kokomo Opalescent Glass, General Motors Components Holding and Delphi Automotive & Safety, and Haynes CEO Mark Comerford introduced Pence.
“We have a lot of expensive equipment, and it’s important to us to have a workforce which is capable of operating the equipment, and is interested in doing so,” Comerford said.
Giesecke said 70 percent of IUK’s incoming freshmen need math remediation. She said there is a “crisis” going on among young males, who now comprise only 30 percent of IUK’s students.
Baker said he wasn’t as concerned about “whether someone knows calculus” as he is whether workers can thrive in a project-based environment. GMCH’s Kent Eaton said the number one challenge was simply finding workers who can “show up and play nice with others.”
Pence praised vocational education, singling out State Rep. Heath VanNatter, R-Kokomo, a homebuilding contractor who is a graduate of the Kokomo Career Center.
“I firmly reject the idea that one [career] pathway has no ceiling, and the other has a ceiling,” Pence said.
Pence’s budget, unveiled Tuesday, doesn’t provide extra funding for vocational education, apart from $6 million to fund vocational curriculum development.
During remarks after the session, he made it clear he’ll continue to push for the centerpiece of his budget, a $790 million cut in the state income tax, along with a call to limit the increase in K-12 education spending to 1 percent.
He vowed to complete the U.S. 31 corridor between South Bend and Indianapolis, and is proposing to re-route some of the automatic tax rebate funding to put an additional $347 million into infrastructure work. House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, has been critical of that idea, saying that method of funding is too reliant on the ups and downs of the economy.
Pence also indicated he isn’t likely to bring up the proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage when he speaks Tuesday, saying only that he intends to “take issues one at a time, as the Legislature sends them to me.
“Where it’s appropriate, we’ll express ourselves,” he added.
Scott Smith can be reached at 765-454-8569 or at firstname.lastname@example.org