INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
Factory work dwindled as companies moved operations overseas. Indiana, a
manufacturing powerhouse where you once could get a good-paying job even
without a high school education, was falling behind.
Yet when Subaru
started building a plant here, it wasn’t celebrated as a coup for the
Republican candidate for governor. Instead, a Democratic challenger was
swept into office after running attack ads highlighting that the automaker
In a state where
resistance to change is often touted as a virtue, historians say the
xenophobic-tinged opposition to the Subaru factory was no exception.
Now, nearly 30
years later, Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb says Indiana’s prosperity relies
on rethinking that approach.
a moat around yourself, filling it and saying, ‘We’re good,’ would be
retreat from not just competing, but having the opportunity to win.” Holcomb
said in an interview with The Associated Press.
“There’s a lot of
good about ‘the good old days,’ but there’s a bigger windshield than
rearview mirror,” he later added.
In recent months,
Holcomb helped persuade India-based outsourcing firm Infosys to establish
offices in Indianapolis, bringing a projected 2,000 jobs; got skeptical
Republicans in the Statehouse to fund a direct flight between Indianapolis
and Paris with hopes of luring European business; and signed an agreement to
deepen economic ties with Japan.
On Friday, he will
be leading a trade mission to India, his third such trip since taking office
It’s not yet clear
whether Holcomb’s efforts will amount to more than baby steps - or if
change-averse Indiana is willing to go along.
If history is any
guide, Holcomb is likely to face resistance. His vision of Indiana
outcompeting larger commerce centers on the world stage also comes when
nostalgia for the past and hostility to foreign trade are powerful political
currents that helped elect President Donald Trump.
“Change in Indiana
has always been evolutionary - moderate, slow, sometimes very slow,” said
James H. Madison, an emeritus history professor at Indiana University who
wrote the state’s definitive history, “Hoosiers.” “When someone does try to
move outside of the comfort zone, often they are slapped back down.”
Around the turn of
the 20th century, those who embraced scientific agricultural advances in the
agrarian state were often ridiculed as “book farmers.” In the 1920s,
anxieties about immigrants and the loose morals of the Jazz Age fanned a
surge in Ku Klux Klan membership, including among government officials.
Then there was
former Lt. Gov. John Mutz’s race against Evan Bayh in 1988, in which Bayh
attacked Mutz for his support of tax incentives that went to Subaru.
And just two years
ago, Indiana - under then-Gov. Mike Pence - again found itself resisting
change, as lawmakers, amid increased acceptance of same-sex marriage,
created a legal defense for business owners opposed to serving gay people.
The Legislature made changes to the law, but only after the state’s business
community revolted and outsiders threatened to boycott Indiana.
come as experts say the Rust Belt state needs to develop a skilled workforce
for jobs of the future while improving quality of life to make it a more
attractive place to live. A 2015 Lumina Foundation report found only 42
percent of central Indiana residents have the education needed for most
“We are at an
inflection point, like when we moved from an agrarian economy to an
industrial economy,” said Jason Kloth, president and CEO of Ascend Indiana,
a policy advocacy group supported by some of the state’s largest employers.
“It’s going to differentiate the communities that thrive in the next
who control state government celebrate the low-tax and limited-regulation
environment they’ve helped establish, critics say lawmakers’ enthusiasm for
conservative social causes could turn off businesses.
The Indiana Chamber
of Commerce, Indianapolis-based drugmaker Eli Lilly and Columbus-based
diesel company Cummins have pushed unsuccessfully for statewide gay rights
While Holcomb has
largely tried to avoid that issue, he wrote a letter in June welcoming
visitors to Indianapolis’ gay pride festival. “Hoosier hospitality means
that all are welcomed and valued” regardless of their gender identity or
sexual orientation, he wrote.
Katie Blair, a
spokeswoman for the gay rights group Freedom Indiana, said Holcomb’s softer
tone means little without action.
Blair said. “A good way to make Indiana welcome all would be to update our
state’s civil rights law to include sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Blair also noted
that Holcomb signed laws this year targeting immigrants and abortion rights.
On the other end of
the spectrum, such talk worries conservatives.
“We have a whole
body of Republicans who are acting like Democrats and they will face
consequences over that,” said Monica Boyer of the conservative Indiana
Mutz, for his part,
says he’s encouraged by Holcomb’s efforts to move the state forward.
“Hopefully, it will
be good for his political career,” Mutz said. “I won’t say it derailed mine,
but it certainly didn’t help.”