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January 17, 2014

MARK BENNETT: What is Indiana's image in the eyes of the world?

Statehouse must consider impact of repealing personal property tax.

A bus pulled up to the curb near the riverfront in downtown Chicago. An unusual advertise-ment was painted on its side.

Its slogan read, “Indiana: We’re not only a workforce, but a force that works.” A smiling woman was pictured inside a logo shaped like a cog.

I spotted the ad on a visit to the Windy City last month with my wife. It seemed peculiar, like a Burger King poster inside a McDonald’s restaurant. Indiana and Illinois are economic rivals, right? Hoosier officials enjoy deriding their western neighbor state for its fiscal calamities and embattled former governors. Beyond that duel, though, the ad poses a deeper question.

What is Indiana’s image in the eyes of the outside world?

The “State That Works” marketing campaign aims to “draw attention to the numerous reasons Indiana is a state that works for business,” according to the Indiana Economic Development Corp., which launched the promotions last year.

The ads tout, as Indiana Commerce Secretary Victor Smith said then, “a low-tax environment that glows vividly with America’s best-skilled workforce, a triple-A credit rating and all the ingredients needed to grow a world-class business.”

The multimedia ads target corporate executives in “high-tax” states, such as California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and, yes, Illinois. In addition to the Chicago buses, 15-second pro-Indiana ads — “Integrity is our complexion, innovation is our currency” — flash on jumbo screens on Times Square. The hope is the execs will see the pitch, think twice about Indiana, and locate a business here.

The IEDC spent $65,000 on the promotions in 2013, and spokeswoman Katelyn Hancock stated in an email to the Tribune-Star, “The IEDC’s ‘A State That Works’ campaign continues to be very successful.” Online ads drew 218,300 clicks from May through September, she reported, exceeding industry standards. Hancock couldn’t speculate yet on expenditures for the ads this year, but pointed out the Indiana Legislature appropriated $3 million for IEDC marketing in the two-year budget.

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