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February 20, 2014

MARK BENNETT: Healing Indiana's Achilles' heel

House bill authorizes study to assess metros' needs.

Illinois served as the easy target.

At that moment.

In another circumstance, it could be Indiana getting zinged.

In an interview after delivering the keynote address at the Terre Haute Groundhog Day Economic Forecast, Indiana Secretary of Commerce Victor Smith labeled neighboring Illinois “one of the worst states in the country for doing business and getting worse.” Smith cited Illinois’ fiscally beleaguered state government and its increased taxes as the basis for his blunt assessment. An economic-development counterpart in Illinois responded by not only listing some advantages present in the Land of Lincoln, but also acknowledging his state’s problems and detailing progress to address those issues. He added a reminder that Illinois possesses a much larger economy than Indiana and “so many more Fortune 500 companies.”

Not quite Richard Sherman and Michael Crabtree in trash-talking terms, but this is economics, not the NFL.

The exchange conjured reminders of Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s occasional digs at Indiana. In a 2012 New York Times interview, Kasich boasted about the Buckeye State’s competitive pluses, saying, “We have a lot of great cities. I mean, if you think of Indiana, you’ve got Indianapolis and then what?” Throwing up his hands, he added, “Terre Haute?”

In both scenarios, the jabs pointed out legitimate vulnerabilities. Illinois has begun the difficult work to fix its governmental messes, which Smith pinpointed, but what is the state of Indiana doing to make its cities more attractive to outsiders who are looking for a vacation spot or a new place to live? Not enough. That’s the Achilles’ heel Kasich targeted. His western neighbor has leaned on its low-tax, lean-government reputation, which has its corporate appeal, but the benefits haven’t trickled down to the aging hearts of most Indiana cities.

Smith, in his Terre Haute visit, gave a tantalizing description of a step in the right direction.

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