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First Person: The Indy Region Is Getting Its Story Out

The Indy region offers great diversity when it comes to lifestyle and the pillars of the business community.

Q2 2018
Editor’s Note: This interview was commissioned by the Indy Chamber, which approved and paid for this posting. The Indy Chamber is a sponsor of Area Development’s upcoming Consultants Forum to be held in Indianapolis, June 4–6, 2018. Maureen Donohue Krauss, the Chamber’s Chief Economic Development Officer, discusses the region’s strong industrial sectors, history of entrepreneurship, educational assets, talented workforce, and more in an effort to “tell its story.”


AD: How are the region’s existing industries incorporating new technologies?

Krauss: The Indy region has historically had multiple very strong sectors, and these sectors are now evolving with the introduction of technology.

Logistics is an interesting industry to look at because the traditional feel for logistics is moving product around. I get this question frequently: Is that going to be changed with automation? But the reality is, the automation has to be managed and run by people who understand the culture of the logistics industry. We need to make sure our talent is upskilled to manage the technology and to design the technology that supports that industry.

The other industry that I think people don't fully understand in the Indy region is agriculture. In the middle of those farms, technology is being developed to produce better yield on crops, for better seed capacity. That combination of science with our traditional, strong agriculture sector is how we've been able to grow the ag pillar
Interview with Chief Economic Development Officer Maureen Donohue Krauss about the Indy region's advantages for the businesses that operate here.
AD: What role do entrepreneurs play in the Indy region’s growth strategy?

Krauss: Entrepreneurship is a key part of any economy; but for ours, in particular, it's the foundation of innovation and growth. We have a great history of building entrepreneurs into successful businesses here. Look at our largest employer now — Eli Lilly and Company. He started here as an entrepreneur and built from there. A support infrastructure in your community [can] take great ideas from bright people and turn those into larger-scale operations.

Supporting entrepreneurship for growth is important, but it's also important because our smaller businesses create the most jobs. Not everyone has to turn into a Lilly or a Cummins, so I think providing the education and the opportunity for talent to succeed here, whether it's a one-person operation or 1,000 or 10,000, is really important. We try to encourage and educate people to understand that entrepreneurship is really another career option. It's not a fallback; it really is a path to great success here.

AD: What steps is the Indy region taking to ensure a pool of skilled/educated workers is available for businesses?

Krauss: Talent is the key to success no matter what community you're in. We have to look at talent not just from who is coming out of our high schools or our universities. The whole path starts at a much younger age, including working with our K-12 systems [to introduce] our children to opportunities.

Our community college system and universities provide many different types of talent, but the key is to keep [the talent] here, to make sure they know about the opportunities in our local companies, as well as to educate the talent that may have touched us at one point and then left…[to let them know] that there's great innovation and technology and career paths here. [And] you can have any lifestyle you want within 30 minutes of the downtown area, whether it's living in the city or a quaint little village or a lovely suburb or a rural horse farm.

AD: Let's talk about some specific programs in industries or companies providing worker training or apprenticeships.

Krauss: Our region has been really strong in looking at different niche markets for talent. Ascend looks at four-year-degree talent and what other skill sets they need to upgrade. EmployIndy and programs in other counties throughout the region are more localized, based on the needs of local companies.

But [other programs] come from our private-sector employers. And that's really a key component because you never want to fall into the trap of training people for jobs that don't exist. When you have that marriage between the talent and the employers, you're going to have greater success.

One program we work with very closely is the Career Choice program from Amazon. Amazon employs over 9,000 people in Indiana, and it has a unique program that helps existing employees upgrade their skills whether it's on the path to another job at Amazon or perhaps a path to a different job somewhere else. It's a great model for other large companies in the area; they can understand that exchanging talent sometimes isn't a bad thing because, in the end, your most productive employee is going to be the one that's in the right spot. By sharing the resource of the talent base, all of our companies will be more successful.

Maureen Donohue Krauss serves as the first Chief Economic Development Officer at the Indy Chamber, where she oversees Accelerate Indy, a regional economic development plan announced by the Indy Chamber in September of 2016.
AD: How does quality of life figure into the region's talent-attraction strategy?

Krauss: Nowadays, with technology, many people can work wherever they want. So quality of life has become increasingly important for our companies to be successful. We need to do a better job of telling the story of the quality of life here. It doesn't come down to cost, although cost is a key factor. But it's also about schools, cultural assets — from the ballet to the symphony to the theater. It's about parks and recreational assets, from the cultural trail to going out to Grand Park, which is a large multi-sport venue that [draws] people from around the Midwest.

[It’s also about] the amount of time you have to spend on things besides your work. As excited as someone can be about work, if you're spending two hours a day commuting back and forth to your job, that impacts your quality of life as much as having a trail next door to your house.

AD: What assets does the Indy region offer with respect to proximity to markets and suppliers?

Krauss: Historically we have been known as the Crossroads of America because we're pretty much in the center of the national highway and rail system. We've been blessed with our geographic location and the investment we've made in the infrastructure to make that a strong asset. The national highway system, the rail system, and our international airport as well as the port system in this area [have] helped us to become very international when you look at global supply chain. Not every product that is produced here is a final product; it's part of a supply chain. And if we can move product around in a quick fashion, that gives us a huge competitive advantage in a global marketplace.

AD: Was the availability of certain sites and buildings a deciding factor in any recent company decisions to locate or expand here?

Krauss: I think that there's a misperception of what companies do when they're choosing a location. There are key drivers to a location decision. One is where customers are located. Two is supply chain, to provide a company with what they need. But the thing that's the most important is talent. While we are fortunate to have a decent amount of speculative real estate and buildings available for companies, that is really a secondary criterion. We have product that works, but most importantly, we have a talent pipeline.

AD: How are the Indy region's community leaders cooperating with the academic institutions and other organizations to enhance the region's growth?

Krauss: One of the best attributes of our region is the ability for the public, private, and philanthropic community to work together to not only solve problems but to take advantage of opportunities. We've seen this time and time again. One group that has really become strong in Central Indiana is CICEO — Central Indiana Chief Elected Officials, [comprised of the region’s] mayors and town managers who work together on issues that impact [the entire] region, not just one particular area.

Whether it comes to transit, land-use policies, [or] governance, having our communities meet on a regular basis to discuss issues of concern really points to such a strength in this area; we don't hand-wring over issues, we solve problems. And that makes things move quicker, providing more opportunities for growth and development…That cooperative working together puts us ahead of many, many other regions around the country.

AD: How important is foreign investment to the metro area's growth?

Krauss: We are living in a global economy, so whether it's talent or supply chain or technology being introduced into our traditional industries, we need to look beyond our region, beyond our state, and really beyond our country to be competitive globally. Helping our companies export around the world is key to expanding [their] markets. But then helping bring in new foreign investment from around the world is just as important. It helps to diversify the types of companies, it helps with the cycle of our economic stability. Innovation and new talent that come from around the world strengthen all of our companies and keep us competitive in a global economy.

AD: What have you learned from your peer cities?

Krauss: When we look at what other regions do, we're always looking at best practices. We were just looking at one of our peer cities today who does a really strong job on talent attraction to see if we can learn some best practices.

It's equally important to look at what some of our peer cities do that doesn’t work so well. We learn from other regions that are similar to us in size and in geographic attributes …not just for competitive regions in the U.S. but around the world. It's important to examine best practices based on similar assets.

AD: What are some specific challenges to the region's image, and what's the plan to overcome them?

Krauss: Some regions have to work really hard at overcoming a negative image. I would say the challenge for this region is a little bit easier in that people don't understand who we are. We don't have a negative image to overcome at all. Telling our story is the greatest challenge and opportunity that we have.

I've talked in the past about understanding our assets, understanding who needs them, and the connection is by telling the story. People like to listen to stories; they don't necessarily like to go through a hundred pages of data. So we need to talk about our strategic assets [and explain] “why this would make sense for you."

The Indy partnership represents a nine-county region of just over two million people that offers great diversity when it comes to lifestyle and pillars of the business community. Having that diversity of pillars is a strength that is quite unique for many regional economies, and we have it here. That’s the story we need to tell.
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