Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence became the first to visit LaGrange County for the 2012 election Saturday when he stopped at the Cruiser RV manufacturing facility at the former Dutch Housing complex north of LaGrange.
Pence took a tour of the facility that is currently turning out five travel trailer units a day and received some background on the plant and its operations from Dave Fought of Cruiser RV.
Joining Pence at the facility were members of the LaGrange County Economic Development Corporation (EDC), County Commissioners George Bachman and Larry Miller, Council President Jac Price, County Auditor Kay Myers, and several area businessmen.
Following the tour, the group sat down for a round table discussion with Pence, who began by discussing some of his views, especially those directed at helping businesses. Pence noted that the government should continue to focus on reforms that are helping businesses compete and are getting results. “The answer for what ails us won’t come from D.C.,” Pence added. Pence told the group he favors limited government and asked them what they see as obstacles to business growth and investment.
Fought noted that the government needs to recognize barriers the government has placed in front of businesses that are trying to move ahead. “The risk (of investment) feels heavier than at any time,” Fought said.
Mike Sutter from Michiana Laminates agreed, saying “All of these regulations continue to grow and grow.” He pointed out it didn’t matter if it was the Department of Labor or the EPA.
One point that was greeted with agreement from those at the round table was the idea that some employers are finding it difficult to find and keep skilled workers, as the potential employees tell manufacturers they can make more on unemployment. It was agreed that government needs to break the cycle of benefits.
Another theme that came up throughout the discussion was that state government has a hard time seeing anything beyond I-465 around Indianapolis. “They don’t understand that there’s a world outside of 465,” noted Farmers State Bank President Joe Pierce. He said state government was clueless on how regulations passed there actually affect businesses in LaGrange County. “Get government out of our way,” Pierce said.
Council member Jac Price has been part of the state’s Workforce Development Board for a number of years and told Pence that, in 3½ years as vice president on that board, “I might as well have stayed in LaGrange County when they had their meetings.” The decisions, he said, were made by those in Indianapolis.
Pence agreed with the group that there needs to be a connection between area schools and area industry. He recalled the vocational programs in Columbus, Ind., when the town had several major manufacturers and the skills students graduated with out of high school. “We need to work with business and schools to create that pathway,” Pence stated. “There is a need for training prior to graduating high school.” More vocational and apprenticeship programs could be beneficial to the area, it was noted.
At the same time, there is the challenge of keeping workers in the area. EDC Director Keith Gillenwater commented that the money to train incumbent workers in the area has gone away over the past few years.
Pence also noted that the changes that insurance is currently going through is taking its toll on businesses and he forsees the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the individual insurance provision in the health bill, calling it “unconstitutional.” He compared forcing Americans to buy insurance whether they want it or not to forcing everyone to buy a car when Detroit is faltering.
Pence also told the group he would like to create an ombudsman office in the state that would help lead businesses through the system.