I had the distinct privilege to spend Tuesday afternoon at the Governor's mansion this week.
If you've ever driven north on Meridian, you may have passed it-it's at the intersection of Meridian and 46th. No one lives in it now, and it is primarily used for conferences and receptions.
I was there as part of a new economic development initiative that pulled together industry leaders, elected officials, and others to determine the best possible strategy for growing Indiana's national security job sector.
The stated purpose was "to collect input from Indiana's defense industry leaders on how a proposed Indiana Center for Complex Operations would further leverage Indiana's defense assets to support growth in the industry."
In other words, at a time when there is so much political strife at the national level and economic hurdles to overcome at the state level, this was a group of people all interested in one thing: bringing excellent, high-tech, high-paying jobs to Indiana- and continuing to grow Indiana's reputation as a defense industry destination.
We started off with six different speakers: Chad Pittman, the Executive Vice President of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation; Bruce Menshy of the Northeast Indiana Defense Industry Association; Brigadier General Omer C. Tooley from the Indiana National Guard; Don Schulte, Deputy Director of NSWC Crane; Paul J. Mitchell, President and CEO of Energy Systems Network; and Victor Lechtenberg, Vice Provost for Engagement at Purdue.
These men all spoke about the needs and opportunities of Indiana's defense industry.
However, my favorite part of the afternoon was the roundtable discussions. At each of six prepared tables were representatives from Purdue and other higher education officials, military, defense contracting, and economic development personnel in Indiana.
We discussed the opportunities for defense industry growth and ways to enhance interaction with private industry around the table for about an hour, and then shared each table's insights around the room. This was really the meat of the day, in my opinion.
So what would it mean to "strengthen Indiana's defense industry"?
Many people aren't even aware of the unique military programs that are already here. For example, Camp Muscatatuck has a training program that doesn't exist anywhere else: they can actually recreate a city in the Middle East.
They can train & do ground opportunities in that environment which allows them to test equipment in almost the exact conditions in which it will eventually be used around the world.
At Camp Atterbury are many testing and training operations, including a long-range weapon test facility for testing special weapons systems. Crane has been, and will be, instrumental in finding ways to disable improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on the battlefront, along with many other electronic warfare programs.
Programs like these not only boost the economy and help reduce brain drain, but they also give Indiana military bases an edge over other bases in other states when competing for defense manufacturing business.
Senator Mike Young and I were present to represent Indiana's legislature. Senator-elect Dan Coats also dropped by around 4:00 to listen to recaps, address the group and mention some of his own goals for this area.
He served previously on the Defense Appropriations committee, and would like to be back in that position-as, I'm sure, would everyone else present at the meeting.
Having a Hoosier on this crucial committee would mean that Indiana's blossoming defense industry sector would be well-represented before other legislators from across the country, and before military leaders around the world.
It would be a huge bonus for all Hoosiers, for our economy, and especially for job seekers in southwest Indiana. U.S. Senate committee assignments will be announced in the coming weeks, and I will certainly let you know when I hear anything.
As you can tell, this is a subject I'm pretty excited about, because I see the tremendous potential Indiana has to be a leader in this area.
If you ever wish to talk to me further about it, feel free to leave a message with my new legislative assistant, Jason, and I will get back to you. He can be reached in my Statehouse office at 1-800-382-9841.