Getting Indiana more looks

INDIANAPOLIS | Dan Hasler, the new executive director of the
Indiana Economic Development Corporation, bleeds to bring
new businesses and jobs to Northwest Indiana.

Literally.

Earlier in 2011, prior to his Sept. 16 appointment by Gov. Mitch
Daniels, Hasler and former Indiana Commerce Secretary Mitch Roob
trooped through bushes and brambles around the Kirk Yard rail
facility in Gary, suffering numerous cuts and scrapes in the
process, to plot an access road that would make the site acceptable
for the Canadian National Railway Co. to relocate from the Markham
Yard in Homewood, Ill., bringing up to 250 jobs to the region by
2015.

“I was bleeding from thorns trying to get through,” Hasler said.
“And I don’t think we would have found it if he hadn’t been willing
to beat thickets to do it.”

Reflecting on that moment months later in an IEDC conference
room in Indianapolis looking out at the green dome of the Indiana
Statehouse and the blue glass J.W. Marriott Hotel, owned by White
Lodging of Merrillville, Hasler said that experience showed him he
has to be prepared to do just about anything to bring businesses to
Indiana.

After 31 years of leading marketing efforts for
Indianapolis-based drugmaker Eli Lilly and Co., the Paris, Ill.,
native said he’s now eager to similarly sell his adopted home
state.

“Indiana is a brand. Indiana is a product,” Hasler said. “Our
job here is to make sure we are communicating what that product is
well, finding potential customers that are in interested in a
product like we have and then helping them transact the
business.”

The IEDC already successfully attracts the companies it competes
for about 60 percent of the time, Hasler said. He said his goal
isn’t necessarily to improve that number but to get more companies
to give Indiana a look when they are considering expanding or
relocating.

“Why is it Indiana is not getting more opportunities to compete
and what can I do to get us more opportunities to compete?” Hasler
said. “That’s about awareness and it’s about branding and it’s
about outreach, which happens to be something I know a little bit
about.”

In an interview with BusINess, Hasler would not talk about
whether the goal of some Republican state lawmakers and the Indiana
Chamber of Commerce to make Indiana a right-to-work state would aid
his efforts to attract businesses. Right-to-work is a proposed law
exempting employees at an union company from having to pay either
union dues or fair share fees for collective bargaining services
and is expected to be a major fight in the upcoming legislative
session. 

Roob told lawmakers this summer that some businesses won’t even
look at Indiana because it is not a right-to-work state.
Hasler wouldn’t say if he agrees.

“There are a whole lot of elected people who are going to have
to decide if that is the right choice for Indiana,” Hasler said.
“I’m going to let them make that choice.”

But Hasler doesn’t similarly shy away from taking on his boss,
Indiana’s two-term Republican governor.

In his book “Keeping the Republic,” Daniels said Northwest
Indiana’s “reputation for governmental corruption and labor union
aggression” make the region “a place employers are more likely to
flee than invest in.”

“I would love to prove him wrong,” Hasler said. “I’m going to do
everything I can to help that region leverage the incredible jewels
they have in their crown.”

Unlike the rest of Indiana, which outside of Indianapolis and a
few other cities is mostly rural, Northwest Indiana has an
incredible network of highways, abundant railroad lines, a port
connection to the rest of the world and the Gary/Chicago
International Airport that could and should be a magnet for
development in the region, he said.

“When you see those kinds of assets sitting there that are just
crying to be leveraged for the good of an entire region and
community – it’s compelling. You want to dive in and see what you
can do to help, and that’s what I intend to do,” Hasler said.

That would be a shift from IEDC activity under Roob, when the
majority of businesses and jobs coming to Indiana ended up in
Indianapolis or northeast Indiana.

Hasler hinted Northwest Indiana could do more to get its
economic house in order to be even more attractive to companies
considering relocating.   

“When I talk to site consultants, it does matter in the purchase
decision if they’re seeing a collaborative environment that they’re
moving into,” Hasler said. “It’s like moving into a neighborhood –
you’re not too excited to move into a neighborhood that’s unable to
organize and always arguing and can’t agree on anything.”

But he said that’s not going to stop him from doing everything
he can to get businesses to give the region and the state a
look.

“If I think I can help them make a better life for their
business and their employees in Indiana, I’m going to compete for
them,” Hasler said.

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