Indiana has made great progress in the past year. Unemployment has dropped below 7 percent, and we rank fifth in the nation in private sector job growth. Indiana is consistently recognized as a great place to do business. Site Selection Magazine recently ranked us as the most competitive state for business in the Midwest and second best in the nation. Our fourth- and eighth-graders recently showed the second best improvement in America in math and reading scores, and fourth-grade reading proficiency is the highest it has ever been.
But the climb is not over. Our progress is not even across the state, and we still have a long way to go to get more people back to work and to give our kids quality education that helps them succeed in life.
As we look to the future, Northwest Indiana holds enormous potential for the state’s future success. The region has world-class logistical access to national and international markets through a network of interstates, the Indiana Toll Road, first-class rail, airports and Port of Indiana–Burns Harbor. The new nonstop intermodal service from Indiana to Asia provides better shipment connectivity to the entire region. It is saving Hoosier companies millions by avoiding Chicago and saving six days in transit time.
Thanks to our low taxes and strong business climate in Indiana, companies can invest more into growing their operations, putting more Hoosiers to work. The Northwest Indiana Forum and Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority are great partners in our efforts to recruit new investment into our economy. The RDA has been a key partner in closing deals in Lake and Porter County, including the Pratt Paper and Tec-Air projects.
These efforts make a difference. Since the low point of the recession in 2009, Indiana has added the second-highest number of manufacturing jobs in the nation and ranks eighth in the number of trade, transportation and utilities jobs nationally. Northwest Indiana is a part of that success story.
Dedicated people are the true drivers of economic development, and both Lake and Porter counties prove this every day. The regional workforce is skilled and versatile, and economic development officials work tirelessly and collaboratively to bring communities and businesses together.
As part of our efforts to close the skills gap and prepare young people for high-wage, high-demand jobs, we have launched 11 Works Councils across the state. Northwest Indiana is home to the Region 1 Indiana Works Council. The council is working with employers and career and technical education providers to make promising new opportunities available to every area high school student who is interested.
Region 1 has been an active Works Council. It is exploring creating a new energy career pathway and is undertaking a review of options for offering the best possible STEM pathways for area students. The council is working hard to develop performance-based funding that is solely focused on outcomes, and it will ensure that its work is demand-driven, meaning certifications are available that matter to employers.
To keep us moving in the right direction, I have offered a number of proposals to the Indiana General Assembly, including pre-K programs for low-income children and phasing out the business personal property tax, which discourages companies from investing in growth. We are also working to reward innovative teachers and support them as they serve our most disadvantaged children.
We are moving in the right direction as a state, and working together, I’m confident we will continue to do so faster and to the benefit of more Hoosiers.