Gov. Eric Holcomb wants to create a new, regional development initiative that he says will help the state’s economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Holcomb unveiled the idea in his 2021 State of the State address Tuesday – which, due to security concerns across the country tied to the presidential inauguration, was pre-taped away from the Statehouse.
The governor began with a somber reflection on the toll COVID-19 has had on Indiana.
“It’s impossible to calculate the far-reaching ripple effect of the personal and community loss of lives and livelihoods,” Holcomb said.
After that, the usual talking points: his recently-announced budget proposal, which includes hundreds of millions to spend down state debt and a $377 million K-12 school funding increase; improvements in job creation and training; infrastructure investments; the state's COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan and more.
Then, the new announcement: a regional development program, through the Indiana Economic Development Corporation.
“The IEDC will work with regions that collaborate to develop strategies designed to improve quality of place, advance industry sector development, and grow workforce development initiatives among regions and educators and employers and our state’s workforce,” Holcomb said.
The program’s details – including funding – haven’t been decided. Holcomb said he'll consult with the General Assembly. The program is reminiscent of the state's Regional Cities Initiative, spear-headed last decade by then-Gov. Mike Pence.
Indiana Democratic legislative leaders say Holcomb’s State of the State fell short in addressing the needs of working-class Hoosiers.
Missing, said House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne), were any guarantees to increase teacher pay.
“This is the third State of the State in a row that I’ve heard the governor make promises to Hoosier educators that an increase in pay is on the way," GiaQuinta said. "I know Hoosier educators are tired of empty promises.”
Holcomb's Regional Recovery program is something Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) said could be positive, if it’s aimed at the right people.
“But it seems to me that that program has been left up to the corporations in those regions,” Taylor said.
Republican legislative leaders issued statements of support for most of Holcomb’s agenda, including proposals to expand broadband access and enhance telehealth.