MERRILLVILLE | Gov. Mike Pence took shots at Illinois while touting Indiana's business climate and encouraging business leaders to go forth and sell the state.

Pence described himself as Indiana's salesman-in-chief, said he talked every day with business owners and CEOs about bringing jobs to the state and called Illinois companies "low-hanging fruit." He called upon Northwest Indiana business leaders to reach out to business owners outside the state and encourage them to relocate to or grow in Indiana.

He made the remarks Friday at the Northwest Indiana Business and Industry Hall of Fame induction at Radisson Hotel at Star Plaza in Merrillville. The Times Media Co. and its BusINess Magazine sponsor the annual awards ceremony. 

Pence praised first responders for their handling of the massive multi-vehicle crash during white-out conditions that killed three motorists and injured 20 more in January on Interstate 94 near Michigan City, saying they impressed America by rescuing stranded motorists in 30-below weather. He said Indiana is ready to begin work on the Illiana Expressway as soon as Illinois checks off a few more boxes, voiced support the South Shore Line expansion and indicated Northwest Indiana would be strongly considered for a trial five-county, pre-K program.

Much of his talk focused on Indiana's economy and competition with neighboring states for new jobs. 

"Indiana is a national leader in job growth, adding 50,000 new private-sector jobs last year," he said. "When I accepted duties as your governor, the unemployment rate was north of 8 percent. It is now 6.1 percent, which is the fourth largest decrease in the nation."

More work needs to be done because 200,000 Indiana residents are still out of work, Pence said. State officials are working to lure new business operations, including from neighboring Illinois. 

Pence cited the recently launched "Stillinoyed" campaign, which asks Illinois business owners to consider Indiana if they are annoyed by higher taxes. Online ads include "Admit it, you find me fiscally attractive," and "You had me at balanced budget."

Indiana just passed legislation that will lower the state's tax rate from 6.5 percent to 4.9 percent in 2021.

"We've been driving toward an objective," he said. "When all these tax cuts take effect, it will be official. Indiana will be the lowest taxed state in the Midwest. I'm probably going to put that on signs facing Michigan and Ohio and Kentucky and Illinois and Illinois and Illinois and Illinois."


Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.