The slumping economy and high fuel prices have politicians on both sides of the aisle in Indiana frustrated and sorting through a complicated bag of solutions.
Monaco Coach Corp.’s announcement that it is closing three plants in Elkhart County and laying off 1,400 workers is the latest sign of difficult times, according to the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune.
“I’m heartsick about what’s happened at Monaco,” said Gov. Mitch Daniels in a phone interview on July 18, the day after the Coburg, Ore.-based company’s announcement.
He said the state is doing all it can to help workers with unemployment insurance benefits and job retraining. Daniels said unfortunately fewer people are buying recreational vehicles because of a stagnant economy and fuel prices.
Daniels said the state is working on some “live prospects” to bring jobs specifically to Elkhart County but declined to elaborate on the type of business involved or when an announcement might come.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jill Long Thompson blasted Daniels on Thursday, saying his lack of leadership has caused the state’s economic climate.
“Because of his leadership, Indiana is a less attractive state to do business in compared to other states,” she said.
Daniels said Long Thompson is wrong and that the statistics tell a much different story.
“Indiana has rocketed up the list in business attractiveness,” he said.
He said that in CNBC’s 2008 America’s Top States for Business Report, Indiana jumped 13 places to No. 13 and was the most improved state for business. The 2007 Forbes Best States for Business Index ranked Indiana first in the Midwest and fourth nationally for cost of doing business.
Asking for help
State Reps. Bill Friend and Jackie Walorski, whose districts overlap the affected communities, have both sent letters to Daniels to request any help that can be given to Wakarusa, Nappanee and Elkhart.
Both are also asking Ivy Tech and Workforce Development to provide accelerated retraining to help workers re-enter the work force.
“I realize that Monaco closing its doors is not a government issue, but it will certainly create problems for Indiana,” Friend said in a press statement. “It is important that assistance is provided immediately so affected Hoosiers can move forward as quickly as possible.”
Walorski said that she will author legislation to suspend the RV sales tax in January.
Daniels said he would be glad to look into Walorski’s proposal but cautioned that it may not have a big impact because the issues in the RV industry are more tied to the national economy.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released unemployment figures for June, which showed Indiana’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate at 5.8 percent. The unemployment rate in May was 5.1 .
“Indiana’s economy is being adversely affected by declining demand in the domestic auto and RV industries,” said Teresa Voors, Indiana Department of Workforce Development commissioner. “In addition, heavy June rains and flooding undoubtedly slowed activity in the construction sector.
“On the positive side, employment in the tourism and travel sectors has seen strong growth.”