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Holcomb reflects in final State of the State, announces historic economic development investment

Eric Holcomb looks out over the Indiana House chamber during his State of the State address. Holcomb is a White man with white and gray hair and beard, wearing a suit and tie.
Brandon Smith
IPB News
Gov. Eric Holcomb reflected during his final State of the State address on Jan. 9, 2024 on what he calls the “Indiana Model,” which he described as not being content with mediocrity and seeking excellence with giant leaps.

Gov. Eric Holcomb spent most of his final State of the State address reflecting on Indiana’s accomplishments in his seven years in office.

But he did have a big announcement for his final year in Tuesday’s speech.

Holcomb reflected on what he calls the “Indiana Model,” which he described as not being content with mediocrity and seeking excellence with giant leaps.

To back up that argument, he cited some numbers.

“Since 2017, our GDP has grown by over $150 billion,” Holcomb said. “Our private sector employment is up by 200,000 to an all-time high, while our unemployment rolls remain at historic lows.”

Holcomb stressed that his work isn’t done. And he announced that his economic development initiative, READI 2.0, will receive a boost from the single largest grant award in the history of the Lilly Endowment.

“$250 million to support READI 2.0 projects focused on blight reduction, redevelopment, and arts and cultural initiatives throughout the state,” Holcomb said.

Lawmakers of both parties applauded the historic investment.

Senate Democratic Leader Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) said it’s great news. But the agency that runs READI 2.0, the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, has faced questions about accountability in recent months. And Taylor questioned whether the program’s dollars will be spent in a transparent way.

“And we’re just not giving it to the private sector to create jobs that Hoosier taxpayers won’t see any benefit from,” Taylor said.

House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) waved aside those concerns. He pointed to the success of the first round of READI funding in 2021.

“I mean, you turned $500 million into over $12 billion worth of investment,” Huston said. “The details are out there.”

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The next round of READI funding will be awarded in April.

And while Holcomb touted Indiana’s giant leaps forward in his final State of the State address, Democrats said when it comes to one of the most pressing issues the state faces — access to child care — those leaps are lacking.

Holcomb and Statehouse Republican agendas this year are focused on reducing regulations for child care facilities and lowering the age at which caregivers can work at those facilities.

Sen. Shelli Yoder (D-Bloomington) said that does nothing to address the core issue: Indiana faces a child care workforce shortage because of low wages.

“That’s where we should be tackling this problem,” Yoder said. “Do we value this work?”

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) said focusing solely on wages isn’t the solution.

“If you raise the wages for those employees, you’re going to raise the cost of child care, unless it’s just fully subsidized by the state government,” Bray said.

And Bray stressed that he doesn’t want Indiana government to get into the child care business that way.

Disclosure: The Lilly Endowment also provides funding for Indiana Public Broadcasting News.

Brandon is our Statehouse bureau chief. Contact him at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

Brandon Smith has covered the Statehouse for Indiana Public Broadcasting for more than a decade, spanning three governors and a dozen legislative sessions. He's also the host of Indiana Week in Review, a weekly political and policy discussion program seen and heard across the state. He previously worked at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri and WSPY in Plano, Illinois. His first job in radio was in another state capitol - Jefferson City, Missouri - as a reporter for three stations around the Show-Me State.