INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Eric Holcomb declared Tuesday night in his second State of the State address that "people, people, people" will be his focus over the next 12 months.
Whether it's workforce development, education, the opioid drug abuse crisis, water infrastructure, infant mortality or the Department of Child Services, the Republican said due to the state's strong financial condition lawmakers have an opening to enact policies that make things better for Indiana residents.
"We have an unprecedented opportunity to take Indiana to the next level and, along the way, help transform the lives of more Hoosier children, more Hoosier students and citizens than ever before," Holcomb said.
At the top of his priority list is developing a skilled workforce that meets the current and future employee needs of Hoosier companies.
Holcomb sees this as "the defining issue of the decade," and cautioned that "we don't have a day to waste," due to the anticipated 1 million job openings over the next 10 years as baby boomers retire and businesses continue to grow and expand in Indiana.
"Our greatest challenge is that too many Hoosiers lack the education and skills for the jobs that are here today and being created tomorrow — nearly all of which require a post-secondary education," he said.
The governor set a target that 25,000 Hoosiers who began college but did not finish will get back on track this year toward earning their degrees.
Altogether, 700,000 Hoosiers have "some college," but no diploma.
Likewise, he said the state in 2018 will help 30,000 of the 475,000 Hoosiers who did not graduate high school obtain the education and skills they need to get better jobs.
Holcomb also vowed to double the state's apprenticeship program to provide training to 25,000 workers, incentivize more companies to enhance the skills of their employees and enroll prison inmates in certificate programs so they're prepared to get a job when they re-enter society.
"Add this all up and we're talking about more than 1 million of our fellow Hoosiers that need and can be skilled up," Holcomb said. "Let's give them the tools they need to reach their true, full potential. Think of the value for them, to your communities and to our state."
At the same time, Holcomb said more needs to be done to prepare elementary and high school students for their future careers.
He called on lawmakers to require all schools offer at least one computer science course by 2021, with funding to train teachers as well, and he endorsed the graduation pathways recently approved by the State Board of Education that makes career training a requirement for high school graduation.
"Strengthening our workforce will be one of the most important things we've ever undertaken," Holcomb said. "But the results when we succeed will position Indiana for even greater economic gains for your children, your grandchildren and generations beyond."
While workforce issues made up the bulk of Holcomb's 30-minute address to the General Assembly, he also urged lawmakers to act on other key challenges facing the state.
For example, he said to combat the opioid crisis Indiana must limit distribution of the powerful painkillers, ensure nearly all Hoosiers live within a one-hour drive of a drug treatment facility and increase the prison term for drug dealers whose products kill their users.
He noted some of that may not be possible unless the federal government acts this month to renew permission and funding for the Healthy Indiana Plan before it expires Jan. 31.
Holcomb additionally recommended creating a process to address failing water and wastewater pipes in communities across the state, expanding efforts to reduce Indiana's infant morality rate and taking action to improve the Department of Child Services following the completion of an outside review of the agency's mission, practices and funding.
"When you think about our ongoing efforts to deliver great government service, this is what it's all about: providing the opportunities and tools for every Hoosier — from the very oldest to the very youngest — to live their lives to the fullest," he said.
Democratic legislative leaders were not impressed by Holcomb's address. They said it lacked direction and was short on specific details, particularly concerning his workforce development plans.
"I was hoping to really hear from the governor some bold leadership in terms of workforce development and workforce reform," said Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson. "It seems to me to be a sort of scattered approach."
House Democratic Leader Terry Goodin, D-Austin, observed that Holcomb spent nearly as much time talking about his proposal to establish Say's firefly as the state insect as he did about the DCS troubles identified by Mary Beth Bonaventura, the former agency director and past Lake County judge.
"If they come out with this report in April, and the Legislature is gone, and there's just a minute chance, a minute chance that one child's life could be in danger, then I will guarantee you this: I'm going to be calling for a special session to get back here and fix that problem, because no child's life should be in danger," Goodin said.