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Op-Ed by Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross: U.S. Has Much to Learn from Indiana’s Workforce Programs

This week, the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board is holding its quarterly meeting in Indianapolis, thanks to a kind invitation from Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb, a champion of Indiana’s workers and an important member of the Workforce Advisory Board.

On Wednesday, the Advisory Board toured the Indianapolis Speedway to witness firsthand the ongoing importance of the Indy Car Series to the advancement of work skills and of new technologies used throughout the entire global automobile industry.

On Thursday morning, Workforce Policy Advisory Board members are touring the Indiana Women’s Prison and discussing second-chance reentry programs not only for the 2,300 women incarcerated there, but also for the 2.2 million people currently incarcerated throughout the country in Federal, State, and local prisons, and for the 70 million Americans who have a criminal record.

With its long-term focus on skills training, economic development, and investment from the private sector, Indiana is a unique state in that it is both highly industrialized and highly agricultural.

With output of $101 billion last year, manufacturing accounts for 29 percent of Indiana’s GDP, a far higher percentage than the nation as whole, at only 11.3 percent.

In fact, 17 percent of Indiana’s non-farm workforce is employed in manufacturing, the highest of any state in the nation.

It is the largest steel-producing state, accounting for 27 percent of the nation’s output of a metal that is essential for rebuilding the country’s aging infrastructure, for the automotive and other essential industries, and for our military.

And despite ranking 17th in population, Indiana ranks sixth in total manufacturing output.

The state is also an exporting powerhouse, shipping nearly $40 billion worth of goods to foreign countries last year.

That is a big percentage of the state’s $367 billion economy.

Indiana’s unique economic mix and dedication to manufacturing have resulted in an unemployment rate that is consistently below the national average.

It also means that Indiana would benefit more than many other states from the successful passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement.

This agreement would greatly stimulate Indiana’s most important industries, including auto assembly, components, machinery, metal fabrication, pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, and steel, among others.

Possibly even more important to Indiana’s economy is the work being done by the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board.

This group was established earlier this year by President Trump to provide the Federal Government with concrete plans to bring people outside the workforce into it via training and apprenticeship programs.

Our latest meeting is taking place at the Indiana Women’s Prison.

This is an appropriate venue because reentry training of those who have paid their debt to society is important both from a humanitarian point of view and in terms of providing industry with skilled workers who are in demand thanks to President Trump’s policies, which have resulted in a historic economic boom that has enabled millions of Americans to prosper.

Early results show that 70 percent of prisoners engaged in training programs such as The Last Mile and who are hired upon their release from prison turn out to be loyal and effective workers, about the same ratio as the population overall. That keeps our communities safer. We are better off when the formerly incarcerated can contribute as workers, taxpayers, and law-abiding citizens.

The recidivism rate is lower for these participants. These training programs are a win-win for everyone.  

Indiana is leading the nation in revitalizing our most important industrial sectors. It is doing this by creating the workforce of the future.

Every state in the nation has much to learn from Indiana.