‘Positive momentum’: Indiana Gov. Holcomb talks final year in office, upcoming projects

INDIANAPOLIS — Heading into his final year in office, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb says the state hopes to continue and finish work on projects that will lead to more investment in the future.

The 55-year-old Republican has been Indiana’s governor since 2017, also winning reelection in 2020. He is term-limited, so he cannot run again for governor next year.

Several major projects remain on his agenda heading into 2024.

The year ahead

Holcomb says there are several projects the state is competing for and hopes to land during his final year in office.

He also hopes to complete — or at least make major progress on — projects already underway, such as new state police posts, labs and armories. Some of the projects are multi-year projects, such as the new Westville Correctional Facility and the new state archives building, he said.

“These are probably the projects that we need to make a lot of progress on,” Holcomb said.

Also on the docket is launching new programs that will continue to take the state “to the next level,” referring to the name of his agenda over the last eight years. Although he said this in a general sense, he also highlighted health and workforce development initiatives.

More specifically, how the state can educate, skill up and train citizens for economies and industries of the future. These industries could be energy, mobility and life sciences, he said.

“Making sure that Hoosiers have access and awareness of the programs that can get them on that path to realizing a high-wage career that may require college, may not. It may require a certificate or credential. There’s a pathway for that, too,” Holcomb said.

Holcomb also touted recent news where the state had a record number of capital investments through the Indiana Economic Development Corp. — $28.7 billion. This is on top of last year’s record high of $22.2 billion, he said.

The combined two-year period saw more capital investment than the first 12 years of the IEDC’s existence from 2005 to 2016.

“We have serious positive momentum that is increasing,” Holcomb said. “The most important thing is what does that capital investment mean to an individual that lives in Versailles or Vincennes, and that’s where the awareness and the access are so important. That’s where I hope we make a ton of progress and gain over the next 12 months because it’ll help all boats rise.”

Interstate 69

By the end of next year, Indiana’s multi-million-dollar expansion of I-69 will be completed. Section 6, the leg from Martinsville to Indianapolis, had initially been set to be completed by 2027, but under Holcomb, this timeline was expedited.

Knowing it’s so close to competition makes Holcomb feel sentimental, as he has been “up close and personal” to the I-69 conversation for decades, he said. Before he came to the Indiana Statehouse, he lived in Vincennes.

Conversations about the expansion from Evansville to Indianapolis had been happening for years, but progress wasn’t made until former Gov. Mitch Daniels figured out a way to get the first segment coming out of Evansville funded. This set the state on the path it’s on today, Holcomb said.

“There were tears of joy. I remember being at that groundbreaking,” he said. “And then we’ve had progress along the way since then.”

Now, the state is at the point where, because the state’s economy has grown and was able to do creative things such as renegotiating a toll road lease, officials were able to move $600 million to the final section, shaving off three years, he said. Pressure has been put on a new bridge crossing the Ohio River with the state seeking federal support, he said.

The final section from Evansville to Indianapolis will not just connect the two cities or the states of Kentucky, Indiana and Michigan. It also will connect Mexico and Canada — two of the nation’s largest trading partners, Holcomb said.

“This will have a huge positive impact when that straight line is completed,” he said. “I couldn’t be more excited to be the one of the three governors who have worked on this project and even the predecessors who were working on routes and alternatives. But once we started allocating dollars, we were committed to finishing it, and we will.”

Innovation districts

The LEAP Lebanon Innovation District in Boone County could bring hundreds of new jobs and become “the next location of global innovation,” according to the IEDC. LEAP has also been mired in controversy as residents are concerned about a possible pipeline taking water from the Wabash River and purchases of farmland by the state.

As for whether similar projects could come along interstate corridors in other counties, including Johnson, Holcomb says it’s possible. One of the state selling points is there are several ready-to-go sites for development in various counties.

“What’s always important is what are you in between? And then how do you build an ecosystem that is attractive to investors?” Holcomb said.

While it’s very important to have sites ready to go, it takes community desire and involvement for big projects. LEAP was born out of the necessity of industry looking to create talent density through a “hard tech” corridor from Purdue University to Indianapolis, Holcomb said.

“Lebanon just happens to sit on the 50-yard line so to speak, and so that kind of formed up,” he said. “Companies, life science companies like Eli Lilly, decided that is a perfect place to be part of that talent density.”

The same could be said for other corridors in the state, whether it’s on Interstates 65 or 69. This includes Morgan and Johnson counties, he said.

The I-65 south corridor from Indianapolis gives access to a capital city, an airport and FedEx, Holcomb said. While this is a Cummins corridor, it’s also “much larger than that” and the state has a lot of interest and attention in both directions, he said.

Child care

The lack of child care and affordable child care have been issues brought up over the last few years. A consensus of experts say the state needs a more comprehensive child care system if the state wants to bolster its workforce.

Holcomb says tackling child care gaps has always been a priority and continues to be into next year. Indiana is operating in a situation where there is a high private sector workforce, a historically low unemployment rate, a higher than national average labor participation rate and virtually full employment, he said.

All of these things put pressure on people not in the workforce, Holcomb said. Some will say they want to work, but because child care is so expensive, they can’t.

“They will say in surveys, ‘We want to work, but we can do math, and it may not be financially smart to get the job that I can get right now,’” he said. “That puts the pressure on the state to make sure that they are aware of a number of things.”

One example is that the Family and Social Services Administration has vouchers for eligible families looking for daycare, along with daycare providers. The state also wants to look at how they can bring the cost of daycare down and if unnecessary regulatory barriers are contributing to this and are being passed down to the consumer, Holcomb said.

Last year, the state created an employer-sponsored child care fund, which allows businesses to collaborate and provide daycare for their employees through a state subsidy. This program is being rolled out now, he said.

It’s through working together that Holcomb hopes the costs can ultimately come down. Any time people say they want the state to do more for daycare, people are asking for tax dollars to be used for it, Holcomb said.

“We want to be very mindful of that responsibility and creative along the way,” he said. “So yes, addressing it from the private sector, addressing from the state, addressing from the regulatory perspective and then making sure people are aware of what’s already available right now.”