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Indiana Chamber Offers Economic Report

Published Wednesday, June 7, 2017

One way to boost competition is to start keeping score.

At least, that’s the philosophy of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber released its Indiana Vision 2025 Report Card, a report released every two years that details the health of Indiana’s economy, compared with the other 49 states in the country.

According to the data in the 2017 report card — which measures 62 metrics of economic health — Indiana improved its rankings relative to other states in 36 metrics. Areas where the state shines are in early education test scores and one of the best business regulatory environments in the country.

However, the Chamber of Commerce also highlighted two major areas of concern within the data of the report card and an accompanying annual employer workforce survey.

The first concern is Indiana’s continued high rates of smoking and obesity. Indiana ranks 39th nationally in smoking rates, with smokers making up just over 20 percent of the adult population.

Indiana also ranks 36th in national obesity rates with 31.3 percent of adults 18 and older are identified as obese, according to the report card.

High rates of smoking and obesity in the workforce lead to higher health care costs for employers, Kevin Brinegar, the president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, said. According to Brinegar, the Chamber is working through the advocacy group Alliance for a Healthier Indiana and has proposed state legislation they say would reverse this trend.

The Alliance for a Healthier Indiana has recently pushed for a bill, sponsored by Rep. Cindy Kirchhofer, R-Beech Grove, that aims to curb smoking statewide.

The bill hopes to accomplish four points:

• Increase the state tax on a pack cigarettes by $1.50 (the current tax on cigarettes is 99.5 cents).

• Raise the legal age of smoking to 21.

• Increase spending to state cessation programs from the current $6 million to almost $35 million, paid for in part by revenue raised from the increased tax.

• Repeal the Smoker’s Bill of Rights, a 1991 act that gives legal protections to employees who smoke.

The bill passed the state House in March, but appears unlikely to pass through the Senate, even after the proposed tax was cut to $2 per pack.

“We started with smoking because that is by far the single most preventable activity that leads to a variety of diseases,” Brinegar said at a news conference Tuesday.

According to Brinegar, smokers cost employers 40 percent more on average in health care costs.

Another area of concern for the Chamber is that, according to the workforce survey, 47 percent of employers across the state reported leaving a position vacant because of a lack of qualified applicants. That number is up from 39 percent just four years ago.

Brinegar said the number of qualified employees could be increased by more sustained efforts to encourage students with degrees in science and technology to stay in Indiana after they graduate college.

“We’re generating a lot of degrees in this areas, but we have to do a better job of keeping those graduates here in Indiana and putting them to work for our economy,” Brinegar said.

Source: South Bend Tribune

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