KPC NEWS SERVICE
KENDALLVILLE — Gov. Eric Holcomb couldn’t have guessed at his path to Indiana’s top job just a year ago, he told a gathering of Noble County’s Republicans Friday night.
Exactly a year ago, he was just taking the oath of office as lieutenant governor.
Now, he’s selling Indiana to prospective businesses, figuring out how the state can rebuild its roads and bridges, battling back against a rising drug epidemic and finding ways to bridge a skills gap among the Hoosier workforce.
“Had I known a year ago what my future would entail, this is something you could have never scripted,” Holcomb said as the keynote speaker during the Noble County Republicans’ annual Lincoln Day Dinner event.
In a casual sit-down Q&A with Republican party chairman Randy Kirkpatrick, Holcomb talked equally about policy ideas and personal changes since being elected governor.
Roads — an annual topic of conversation in the Crossroads of America — is one of Holcomb’s top priorities in his freshman year as governor and he is working with state lawmakers to find a way to increase funding for infrastructure.
“This is the $20-$25 billion question that is front and center on so many minds in the statehouse, including mine,” Holcomb said. “I agreed with House and Senate members. There was a real need both from a state perspective and local level. We get what we pay for and we get what we don’t pay for.”
Lawmakers are currently working on a plan that would increase gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees among other changes. Finding the right mix of new money is key, since Indiana is blessed compared to other states with its location and highway system as a major economic advantage.
“Borrowing, tolling, taxing, fees, I view all of these as dials and some could be dialed up, some could be dialed down and some could be dialed off,” Holcomb said. “The only option I was opposed to is doing nothing.”
Indiana’s strong financial standing helps attract business, but now the state needs to work on improving working skills and making regional improvements that will make people want to live and work in Indiana, he said.
For example, 55 percent of Indiana’s tech jobs are located outside the Indianapolis metro, Holcomb said. Initiatives like Regional Cities, which is funding big projects in northeast Indiana, are important. Business prospects want to know what a region has to offer for their employees before locating there.
“We have to make sure we’re doing everything we can in our economy that is pulling the population here, and that’s one of our greatest threats, population scarcity,” Holcomb said.
Holcomb also is attacking drugs, especially the rising heroin epidemic in the state, head-on. One of his first moves as governor was to create a new executive position in Indiana to work on drug abuse issues.
“We have to do everything we can to attack, attack, attack this drug epidemic that is ripping families and communities apart,” he said.
The governor also touted the effort that’s ongoing to help residents of lead-affected properties in East Chicago in the northwest corner of the state. He’s begun a collaborative effort with the Environmental Protection Agency, federal housing authorities and state agencies to get people moved to safe homes and get the contaminated site cleaned up quickly.
Kirkpatrick also lobbed some personal questions at the governor, chatting about his wife Janet, his collection of presidential autographs, some inside info about how Vice President Mike Pence is adjusting to his new role, and how his personal life has changed since being elected.
Most of all, he said, he’s found tragedies in Indiana, such as the murder of two Delphi girls or people who talk to him about their struggles with drug abuse, have made a much deeper impact on him.
“I cannot look away from those things,” Holcomb said. “I believe I have to show up every moment of the day.”