Economic development: Where Republican candidates for governor stand

The board of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation receives an update on the READI program. (Credit: Mark Curry)

Apr 02, 2024

Six candidates are seeking the Republican nomination for Indiana governor in the May 7 primary. State Affairs is providing looks at their stances on several issues. Jennifer McCormick is unopposed for the Democratic nomination. 

Business and economic development backgrounds have been key points as the Republican candidates for governor pitch themselves to voters. 

Brad Chambers and Eric Doden tout their years as real estate developers before becoming top officials of the Indiana Economic Development Corp. — the state government’s main agency seeking to attract business growth. Doden worked in then-Gov. Mike Pence’s administration, and Chambers was Gov. Eric Holcomb’s state commerce secretary. 

U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, meanwhile, talks frequently about his years growing a Jasper-based auto parts distributor into a national company before winning election to the Senate six years ago.

Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch cites business development experience by pointing to her work leading several state agencies, including the Department of Agriculture, the Office of Community and Rural Affairs and the tourism agency.

A central point of contention among the candidates has been the state’s role in attracting businesses to Indiana. Former Attorney General Curtis Hill and conservative activist Jamie Reitenour have joined other candidates in criticizing the LEAP Lebanon Innovation District, the planned 9,000-acre tech hub that Chambers spearheaded when he led the IEDC before stepping down last summer.

Here are the candidates’ views on how the state should be involved in economic development:

Mike Braun

“I can tell you most people don’t think [economic development] is being spread around the state. … It costs a lot less when you create an environment for all of us who have small businesses to nurture them. It gets very tricky when you’re spending a fortune to try to get the biggest in and everybody is trying to land it. You don’t rule that out categorically. But from everything I hear, we want something that’s working more broadly for the entirety of the state.”

Brad Chambers

His state economic plan includes completing the LEAP District. He argues having it available could help attract major investments such as the $20 billion computer chip factory that Intel is building near Columbus, Ohio. Chambers points to the IEDC’s tally of attracting a state record $51 billion of new business investment during his two years as commerce secretary. 

“We spread that to Kokomo and to Allen County, into New Carlisle in St. Joe County, and to Vigo County. And guess what? Those large investments are supporting small and medium-sized businesses. … Economic development is about lifting all tides, all boats, and we did that with abandon the last two years. We’re competing against North Carolina and Arizona and Texas and China and Ireland. We are competing against states that want our economic development. It’s incumbent on us to go play to win.”

Suzanne Crouch

“As governor, I will change the approach that we have to economic development, empowering our local and regional economic development organizations. We have a state-driven, paternalistic, top-down approach to economic development and have for the last 20 years. It’s time to have more collaboration with our local partners to be able to allow our economy to grow and no part of Indiana is left behind.”

Eric Doden

“The IEDC should not be acting like a developer, buying 10,000 acres and then finding out that we have a $2 [billion] to $3 billion water problem ... spending billions of dollars in one county. We need a 92-county strategy where all businesses can grow. … It’s very important to me that the IEDC be about being the Indiana Economic Development Corp., not the LEAP Economic Development Corporation.”

A centerpiece of Doden’s campaign has been a proposal for redevelopment projects in rural communities of fewer than 30,000 people.

“We have a plan for our small towns for 50 years. We’ve ignored our small towns and forgotten them, and we have a plan to put 10% of our economic development budget into our small towns and transform them all over the state of Indiana.”

Curtis Hill

“What’s going on with the LEAP project is a disaster because it’s a top-down strategy. … Boone County is one of the fastest-growing communities in the state, and so we’re spending billions of dollars to target an area that’s growing anyway. If the project was so wonderful, why don’t we take it to Gary or take it to one of the targeted communities that’s not doing well? … We should be assisting locals who have ideas on how to grow their own economies locally. … I think that the Economic Development Corp. certainly was well intended, but it’s become a shadow government. It’s basically taking control of the economy and wagging the dog, if you will.”

Jaime Reitenour

“The Indiana Economic Development Corp. needs to go away. We need to focus on the economy in a manner that requires the private sector to get involved without giving a whole lot of government money. … We want to maintain our status as a business-friendly state, not hindering growth with taxes and regulations. We can do this by promoting internship programs in our high schools and colleges/universities, giving the next generation an early start at impacting the economy for good.”

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Tom Davies is a Statehouse reporter for State Affairs Pro Indiana. Reach him at [email protected] or on X at @TomDaviesIND.

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