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Commentary: Steele: The state and the region

Updated: October 10, 2012 9:42AM



Governor Mitch Daniels has been quite successful in achieving a number of goals he set for himself upon entering office almost eight years ago. He’s dramatically reduced government employment and balanced the state budget; he’s relaxed the state’s regulatory environment and made substantial efforts to reduce the power of labor unions; he’s embarked on school reforms that nudge education toward the retail service sector Through all that, he’s been successful in creating an image of a fiscally conservative, business friendly state.

I’m sure there are other accomplishments he or others would add to that list. And, there are those who would judge all his accomplishments to be negative.

Leaving aside the polarizing particulars of each of those, there is one very broad goal that Daniels had — and that all his successes were meant to help accomplish — that has been illusive: an increase in the disposable income of Indiana residents.

You can find various statistics for this, depending on exactly what’s being calcluated and how, but generally Indiana’s position has deteriorated in that area, and lags behind even most of the Midwest.

Raising income is a tough task — actually it’s not a “task” at all, but rather a fortunate outcome of countless actions by persons, businesses, and on the margin, governments. And obviously the economy’s been bad everywhere, and is recovering in different ways and different rates in different places.

(It’s funny to listen to commentators talk about state economies in the context of the presidential election — if the economy in a particular state is performing relatively well, it’s to the governor’s fault and president’s credit, or vice versa, or both are at fault, or both are worthy of credit, depending on the commentator’s political leanings.)

At any rate, to even talk about an “Indiana economy” poses a lot of difficulties. In a way we’re a “southern state” — gaining low-paying service jobs, farm jobs, non-union manufacturing. That seems to be something the plans and efforts we hear these days want to perpetuate.

But up in our corner of the state, things are more complicated. In Indianapolis, if someone from Indiana graduates from college and moves to Chicago, it’s “brain drain.” In Northwest Indiana, if someone does the same, is it? Not really. Our area is so much part of the Chicago region that economic activity there is in many ways more important than economic activity in Indianapolis.

If a Subaru plant in Lafayette announces significant job hirings, and if a Ford plant in the south suburbs announces the same, which is “economic development” for Indiana, and which is for Northwest Indiana? In real ways, both are economic development for each. But that’s not necessarily the way policy makers and statewide politicians look at it.

And when it comes to increasing personal income for the northwest corner of the state, its placement in the Chicago region is at least as important as its place in Indiana.



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