A political observer says, while this year's Indiana legislative session could be more routine than past years, some major issues will be on the table. WIBC/Network Indiana Statehouse Bureau Chief Eric Berman says workforce development, alcohol laws and the battle against the opioid epidemic will be among the top topics on the legislative agenda. The session got underway Wednesday with some notable absences, including State Senator Brandt Hershman (R-7), who is resigning after 18 years and Representative Mike Braun (R-63), who is running for U.S. Senate. A successful session for legislators, Berman says, would take a "first do no harm" approach.

Crouch: Opioids are state's 'greatest challenge': Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch says Indiana continues to take steps to battle the opioid epidemic, which she calls "the greatest challenge we have before us." She believes an Indiana Family and Social Services Administration anti-stigma campaign showing addiction is a disease will encourage people to seek help, and says legislators can help by working to increase access to treatment. Crouch says businesses can help by educating themselves about resources available to employees who need help. Crouch says addiction is especially a problem in rural areas.

SnapShyft plans to add dozens of jobs: A tech company with a food and beverage industry staffing platform is expanding in Indianapolis. SnapShyft says it plans to invest $433,000 into establishing a headquarters at the downtown Indy location of The Speak Easy and add 40 jobs over the next two years. The company officially launched in 2016 after winning the inaugural Indy Startup Challenge. During an interview with Inside INdiana Business in September, co-founders Thor Wood and Stephanie Corliss discussed the need to connect employers with workers on-demand.

Fort Wayne, Allen County tout economic growth: Two high-profile Allen County organizations say new reports showcase significant annual economic growth. Greater Fort Wayne Inc. says companies invested $242 million in Allen County in 2017, resulting in 1,838 new jobs, the highest total in 12 years. CEO Eric Doden calls 2017 GFW Inc.'s "best year ever." Visit Fort Wayne says county visitor spending in 2016 grew 7.5 percent over 2015 to $619 million. Tourism figures for 2017 are not yet final, but Visit Fort Wayne CEO Dan O'Connell expects another big year.  

Project to accommodate Fort Wayne airport growth: The Fort Wayne International Airport has announced a $3.3 million project that will lay the groundwork for possible terminal and parking expansion in the future. Construction will involve reconfiguring the terminal entrance road, creating new entryways into parking areas and the demolition an existing hangar. In an interview with our partners at WPTA21, Airport Authority Executive Director Scott Hinderman says the changes would impact yet-to-be-determined growth that could be on tap "in the 2020s."

Ivy Tech unveils long-term plan: Ivy Tech Community College has launched a strategic plan that includes a target of 50,000 certifications, certificates and degrees a year in areas aligned with the needs of the state's workforce. The five-year initiative is a year-and-a-half in the making and involves seven goals that President Sue Ellspermann says align with comparable efforts of state agencies, industry groups, organizations and businesses.  

Indiana, Michigan manufactured home companies merging: Elkhart-based Skyline Corp. has announced a merger agreement with Champion Enterprises Holdings LLC in Michigan. The resulting company will be called Skyline Champion Corp., which will be headquartered in Elkhart with additional executive offices in Michigan.

Fort Wayne Metals acquires Ohio company: Fort Wayne Metals has completed its acquisition of Ohio-based G&S Titanium. Financial terms of the deal were not immediately disclosed, however the company says G&S will remain in its current facilities and operate under the G&S Bar and Wire LLC brand.

'Fabulous Facility' opens on Trine campus: The $13.7 million MTI Center is now open on the Trine University campus. The 3,500-seat sports arena is home to the school's basketball, esports and bowling teams. It also includes a clubhouse, banquet facilities and pro shop for the Zollner Golf Course.

RV shipments hit November record: The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association is reporting the highest shipment total for the month of November on record. The organization says the November survey results totaled 41,451 units, compared to 34,670 during the same month the previous year.

Manchester planning new home for business college: Manchester University has announced plans to build a new home for its College of Business. The university will break ground in mid-May on the $8.5 million Augustus and Lockie Chinworth Center, which is expected to open in 2019.

The Haute Initiative aims to bust perceptions: An effort designed to promote and grow Terre Haute and Vigo County has launched. The Haute Initiative Inc. President Mark Gibson says the effort brings together stakeholders in economic development, tourism, education and business to bolster a perception of the community he says is outdated. "We've got the goods, we just need a little swagger," Gibson said, adding he believes the payoff of the initiative -- which includes Tuesday's debut of TerreHaute.com -- could be immediate. In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Gibson discussed the long-term goal of positioning the city and the county as a "vibrant, dynamic place in which to live, work and play."

After big 2017, South Bend chamber CEO bullish on 2018: The CEO of the South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce says private investors are sharing his excitement for potential development in the new year. In a column recapping major projects in 2017 and previewing what's on tap for 2018, Jeff Rea discussed work continuing at high profile properties including the former Chase Tower in South Bend, now called Liberty Tower, the Mill at Ironworks Plaza in Mishawaka, the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi Indians' new Four Winds Casino in South Bend and phase one of the New Energy Center in New Carlisle.

Brackets for Good Indiana launches: A sports-themed fundraising organization has expanded with a new statewide version. Indianapolis-based Brackets For Good Inc. says selections for the first Brackets For Good Indiana tournament will be announced Jan. 28 and the tournament will begin March 2.

The Bee Corp. unveils new technology: An ag-tech startup is spreading its wings to attack another issue facing beekeepers: hive theft. Bloomington-based The Bee Corp. has developed the QGPS Hive Theft Tracking System which can be used to provide real-time information to commercial beekeepers and police via a discreet inner-hive sensor. The new technology can also be used to monitor work vehicles and equipment. During an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Chief Executive Officer Ellie Symes said the problem is growing and is hitting almond farmers — some who use bees shipped from Indiana — especially hard.

Sears, Kmart stores closing: Illinois-based Sears Holding Corp. (Nasdaq: SHLD) has announced plans to close a total of 103 additional Sears and Kmart stores throughout the country, including locations in Indianapolis, Bloomington and Evansville. The company says it is closing the unprofitable stores in an effort to transform its business model.

Macy's to close Indiana store: Cincinnati-based Macy's Inc. (NYSE: M) says its Honey Creek Mall location in Terre Haute will close along with 10 others as part of previously-announced cutbacks nationwide. Clearance sales are expected to start Monday and could last up to 12 weeks.

Arts Commission develops entrepreneurial 'On-Ramp': A new accelerator program aimed at boosting creative entrepreneurs in the state has launched. On-Ramp, an Indiana Arts Commission pilot initiative, offers business skills training and professional coaching, and will serve as a connection point for potential supporters, collaborators and funding opportunities. Anna Tragesser serves as program manager of On-Ramp. In an interview with Inside Indiana Business, she says the initiative will be responsive to the various stages of experience of each entrepreneur.

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