Eli Lilly and Co. announced Jan. 28 that it would invest more than $1 billion to create a new manufacturing site, and nearly 600 jobs, in Concord, North Carolina. The plant will manufacture injectable products and devices and increase the company’s manufacturing capacity, the Hoosier drug maker said in a news release.
Lilly Chief Executive Officer David Ricks acknowledged during an April 20 talk before the Economic Club of Indiana that the North Carolina project and other recent announcements of new factories and laboratories outside of the Hoosier State spurred calls from state leaders. They wanted to know why the Fortune 200 company would invest outside of Indiana.
“I give them this speech that I gave you today,” Ricks told his audience.
The Lilly CEO, whose firm employs 11,000 Hoosiers and 58,000 across the globe, told the Economic Club that to compete for jobs – principally in technology, life sciences and engineering – Indiana must improve its education system, train its workforce, cut health care costs, embrace diversity and move to greener energy sources.
Ricks also advocated increasing spending on public health, reducing Indiana’s dependence on coal and increasing Indiana’s diversity through immigration, which can help address the needs of businesses for skilled workers.
State legislators such as Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, have heard these sentiments before.
“I think we can learn a lot from the business community, certainly,” Holdman said Monday. “If it goes towards engaging the General Assembly with the business community, I think that’s a helpful thing for us.”
Holdman said that while the legislature is in session, the northeast Indiana delegation meets each Wednesday for breakfast with representatives of the Northeast Indiana Regional Chamber “just to stay on top of the issues and provide some communication channels for business views and issues that are brought to us through the regional chamber.”
“I think there you had some good points that were made (by Ricks), but sometimes you just can’t throw money at some of the problems we’ve got, some of the issues facing Indiana or any state,” Holdman said. “It takes kind of a change in attitude, so communication and collaboration between all the parties to make things work best sometimes is the solution to getting the problem solved.”
Indeed. At the core of Ricks’ argument is Indiana’s year-in, year-out focus on its tax climate and regulatory structure. And the results speak for themselves: a rank of ninth by the Tax Foundation’s 2022 State Business Tax Climate and a first-place among Midwest states.
But Ricks says a focus solely on taxes isn’t enough. His speech to the Economic Club should be a wakeup call to Indiana legislators to focus less on cultural issues and more on lowering health care costs, and improving Indiana’s air and water.
The Lilly CEO’s comments, likewise, should spur business leaders and local and regional chambers of commerce to speak up for the issues that affect their facilities, workers and communities and against those that don’t.
“I think the communication channels are there,” Holdman said Monday, “and it may be that we have a sort of reinforcement of those until large employers know, and the more critical employers know, that they have a voice and a lot goes through the regional chamber. We’re always open to communicating back in our districts.”
Lilly’s CEO spoke the truth for many Indiana businesses. Will lawmakers listen or will they remain convinced – against all evidence to the contrary – that tax cuts alone are enough to attract and retain jobs and businesses?