In preparation for Indy’s upcoming local elections, IndyHub’s running YP Perspectives: The 2015 Indy Election Series. These articles explore important community issues that will be directly impacted by this election. We serve as a platform for these conversations. We care that you vote–not how you vote.
One of the top concerns for residents or would-be residents of a city is always the opportunity to make a living there. How does Indy stack up against peer cities for starting a career or a business?
Forbes has praised the city for being in the top ten for business and careers nationwide. And a recent survey by IndyHub showed that almost half of millennials in the city were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with employment offerings.
With new apartments going up it seems every day, and large companies like Cummins choosing Indianapolis for new development, business looks to be booming in Indy.
But in other ways, the picture isn’t so rosy for the city. Michael Huber, CEO of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, points out, “High end jobs in Indianapolis are largely filled with people who do not live in Indianapolis.” Instead, top positions often go to residents of surrounding counties who commute into the city.
Even though opportunities for employment are good for educated applicants in the area, statewide our earnings lag behind other states – and our low cost of living doesn’t always make up for the difference. On top of that, low rankings for quality of life somewhat tarnish the state’s reputation as an attractive place to live and have a career.
Cities rely on businesses and employees to thrive. As the largest city and an economic hub for the state, when Indianapolis succeeds for businesses and workers, it also helps move the whole state forward. How can the next mayor ensure that Indianapolis is an attractive place to both work and live? How can the city help current residents reach their career potential?
What are the biggest industries in Indianapolis? What’s the employment outlook here?
The Indianapolis area isn’t dependent on just one industry to power the economy. The top ten largest employers, though, are either healthcare or education organizations.
Compared to the rest of the US, Indianapolis has a lower rate of unemployment (4.7% versus 5.2%). But next to the rest of the state, we’re slightly higher – the rest of Indiana has 4.4% unemployment.
When we look at Indianapolis and some of the immediately surrounding counties, the gap is wider.
About half of the surrounding counties had lower unemployment rates than Indianapolis as of May 2015.
Within Indianapolis, the job outlook varies depending on where you live in the city. It’s important to point out that unemployment levels are a result of many factors. Lack of education and unemployment correspond with each other pretty clearly as you can see in the maps below.
While we give a lot of attention to attracting talent and employers here from peer cities, making sure that current residents are being provided with the resources needed to participate successfully in the workforce is just as important.
*township maps and map keys, courtesy of savi.org.
Furthermore, earnings and employment gains aren’t shared equally across the population, and when the economy takes a hit, minorities are affected disproportionately. What can the next mayor and the city do to help make sure certain groups don’t get left out of the job opportunities that come into the city?
Why is the city concerned with attracting more workers as residents (especially millennials)?
A little over half of the city’s budget comes from income taxes and property taxes. Property taxes are limited to a certain level statewide, so to increase the amount of money the city is working with, they look to income tax. The tricky thing is, income tax is taken out in the county that you live in, not the county where you work.
So even though Indianapolis is host to many companies that generate a lot of income and economic activity in the state, we’re not bringing in the income tax for our budget because so many Indianapolis employees live in the surrounding counties.
Huber explains, “We’re the only city we know of where 18 billion dollars earned within our county is not coming in as taxable revenue, because it’s going to the surrounding counties.” Those 18 billion dollars in taxable income are part of why the city cares so much about getting people to choose Indy as the location for both home and work.
As for the millennials in particular that so many cities seem to be chasing after, according to the Census Bureau, we make up more than a quarter of the population and a third of the workforce. We’re projected to stay the largest segment of the working population for quite some time.
Furthermore, college-educated millennials are increasingly choosing mid-sized cities like Indianapolis as their homes. So, the city sees the opportunity to appeal to higher income individuals as potential residents of the city, ensuring increased revenue to work with.
What’s the environment for an entrepreneur in Indy?
Statewide, Indiana is looked upon pretty favorably as a place to open a business (though it should be noted we rank dead last for quality of life). Business property taxes are capped at 3%, but additional state taxes affect all types of businesses differently.
Tajuana Hill, an entrepreneur and owner of Mimosa and a Masterpiece on Mass Ave, believes the city offers her a lot as a business owner.
When she looked for a space for her business (which offers guided art classes and cocktails for parties and events) she wanted something ready to use and in a reasonable price range. She found it in a small space off of Mass Ave, and has gradually expanded over the past several years.
New and more walkable development downtown and features like the bike share have boosted Hill’s business. “Mass Ave has changed drastically in the past four years,” she says. “The walk-by traffic from the restaurants and bars has been good for me.”
Being in a popular location downtown is great, but doesn’t come without its drawbacks. Hill cites lack of parking and congestion as a concern for her. She knows that comes with the territory of being in a booming district, but isn’t happy with the decision of the city to take away more parking for Blue Indy cars.
“Mass Ave is congested and they took those prime parking spaces away,” she says, “If you have a class and you’ve spent 45 minutes to park and you can’t find it, that hinders the business I have. I’ve had customers get so frustrated they go home and ask me for a credit back.”
She thinks that better communication and public education efforts by the city when changes like Blue Indy or the new parking meter system go into effect would help businesses like hers serve more happy customers.
How can the mayor help the city attract more workers and businesses? How can the city maximize the potential of current residents in their careers?
The Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce has several priorities for the next mayor that they believe will be good for business and for employees in Indianapolis. Huber explains that they want the focus to be “looking at long term changes and addressing systemic challenges.”
Among these systemic challenges are improved public transportation and public education. Improvements to both of these services can help provide current residents with the tools and preparation to be a part of the workforce and build their own career. Having multiple options for transportation also appeals to millennials in choosing a place to start their career.
In terms of ensuring equality of opportunity and access for more individuals living in the city, the next mayor can also continue to support diverse business ownership through the Department of Minority & Women Business Development.
This city office helps promote businesses owned by minorities, women, veterans, and disabled persons. Expanding this effort could help address some of the gaps in economic opportunity that exist in Indianapolis.
Another area of focus, especially in the next year, will be adding statewide civil rights protections for sexual orientation, in response to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) controversy and backlash in the spring of 2015.
High profile Indianapolis employers like Eli Lily, the NCAA, and Salesforce spoke out against the legislation, with some even threatening to pack up and take their business elsewhere. Working with legislators at the state level, the next mayor can ensure that added civil rights protections make Indianapolis a welcoming place for all employees.
In the end, Huber believes that being a bold and smart risk-taker is an important quality for the next mayor. “Mayor Ballard wasn’t afraid to take on his own party or the other party when it was right for Indianapolis,” he says. “The worst thing we could do is not be willing to take measured risks.”