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Northwest Indiana Forum State Chamber

Indiana Chamber of Commerce representatives Greg Ellis, left, and Bill Waltz discuss the chamber's 2018 legislative agenda Monday during the Northwest Indiana Forum's monthly luncheon. 

PORTAGE — Ensuring the Region and state have enough workers and resources to attract and retain businesses is among the issues Northwest Indiana community leaders say needs attention.

Representatives from the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, the state's largest business organization, on Monday discussed its 2018 legislative agenda during the Northwest Indiana Forum's monthly luncheon. Speaking from a statewide perspective, the chamber's priorities for the upcoming state legislative session focuses on variety of issues from making computer science coursework a high school graduation requirement to raising the age to buy cigarettes from 18 to 21. 

Luncheon attendees acknowledged the program's time constraints prevented the chamber staff from discussing its agenda in greater detail but hoped conversations with state lawmakers would be more focused to get results. 

Bill Waltz, vice president taxation and public finance with the state chamber, said as it relates to labor, his organization supported a work-sharing plan that would allow employers to retain its workforce without layoffs during economic slowdowns. This proposal would allow businesses to reduce hours worked by their employees and supplement their incomes with unemployment. 

Waltz said there's no certainty the lawmakers would consider the plan.

"Our position when it comes to workforce isn't much different than what many other organizations support," he said. "It's a big issue and there's no silver bullet (solution)." 

Greg Ellis, vice president energy and environmental policy with the state chamber, said resources also should be directed to train those not going to college. 

"There needs to be some incentives for these students," Ellis said. 

Anthony Sindone, an assistant professor of finance and economic development at Purdue University Northwest, favored Ellis' suggestion and supports the idea of creating a mechanism where students develop a mindset of being lifelong learners.

"I'm less excited about dealing with today's (workforce) problems but am more interested in dealing with tomorrow's problems," Sindone said. "We can look at things like the skills gap, but by the time we narrow that mismatch, some new technology will come out that will widen that mismatch even more." 

Sindone said it's important to start instilling in children the importance of continual learning. 

"We need to focus on teaching kids going into adulthood how to learn new things, so that they're always eager to learn," he said. 

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Business Editor

Larry is the Business Editor of The Times of Northwest Indiana.