“Economic development is an extremely competitive process. … It’s really about making sure that the incentives and tools that we have in our toolbox are as flexible as possible to ensure our state’s success.”
– Heather Ennis
President & CEO, Northwest Indiana Forum
Member, Indiana Economic Development Association
An Indiana economic development group is picking up efforts to improve childcare access and more support for Hoosier families.
The Indiana Economic Development Association, which is comprised of economic developers and professionals from diverse industries, is working with local and state leaders to improve childcare access across the state. The group has provided recommendations to the legislature and other leaders to improve government funding levels to rural daycare centers and expand eligibility for families to qualify for childcare programs. Last summer, the IEDA formed a study committee with economic developers and two legislators that resulted in childcare support legislation that is currently moving through this session of the Indiana General Assembly.
“We are seeing opportunities for partnership with the business community to be able to expand childcare access,” said Heather Ennis, president and CEO of the Northwest Indiana Forum who also is an IEDA member. “We’ve made some recommendations for the governor, the Indiana Economic Development Corp. and the state legislature to try to work together to improve the childcare issues.”
The IEDA collaborates with industry and civic leaders to foster business growth and investment in Indiana. The group also addresses workforce issues, which can hinder growth as companies hire and retain employees.
“Economic development is an extremely competitive process. We are competing in a global economy,” Ennis said. “It’s really about making sure that the incentives and tools that we have in our toolbox are as flexible as possible to ensure our state’s success.”
In the past, economic development efforts primarily focused on attracting businesses to a community, said Brian Anderson, director of economic development for Wabash Valley Power Alliance. In the last 20 years, economic development has broadened to quality-of-life issues to meet the needs of families and others in the area who are critical to employers’ success.
“Economic development, in essence, is trying to create a community where people want to and have the opportunity to live, work and play,” said Anderson, who also is part of the IEDA. “Economic development is to ensure all businesses and residents experience a strong quality of life.”
Some rural Indiana counties have limited licensed daycare options, which can challenge families with babies and young children who do not have alternative options, Ennis said. The IEDA’s recommendation of state funding level improvements for rural daycare facilities has been included in the childcare support bill moving through the Indiana General Assembly.
“I think that we’ve taken out-of-the-box approaches,” Ennis said of economic development efforts. “Workforce has become such a huge component for companies’ needs, both for businesses that are expanding and companies looking to relocate.”
Rural areas have been facing additional challenges, as young people move to different areas that offer more employment opportunities, Anderson said. That leads to rural communities with an older population that struggle to grow and attract a younger workforce, making it even more difficult to encourage businesses to invest in those communities.
“By encouraging and facilitating an economy where younger families have access to quality and safe education, and protection for their children, it will help attract and retain these families in the community,” Anderson said. “Rural Indiana is extremely focused on this issue. One of the biggest concerns many Hoosier communities have is growing their population and developing opportunities to create a future that benefits everyone.”