Indiana State University Newsroom

The view from Indy: Good things happening at Indiana State

April 10, 2015

As a lobbyist for the largest segment of the Indiana economy, Brian Burton hears it all, and the Indiana State University alumnus couldn't be happier when it comes to what he hears about his alma mater.

"We hear scuttlebutt," Burton, chief operating officer of the Indiana Manufacturers Association, said Thursday. "The limestone walls of the Statehouse are about insinuation, innuendo, rumors - false and true - and a slight smattering of truth thrown in there. You have a very successful campaign that makes me proud whenever I watch TV or pick up a magazine or any publication and that has turned around tremendously."

As keynote speaker for Indiana State's annual Strategic Planning Stakeholders Conference, the 1981 graduate said, "People recognize the (university's) unprecedented growth ... Good things (are) happening on campus and people are talking about that. Your image is changing and changing very fast. That was not the case for many years. I did not hear about ISU. There was not much being said."

Unprecedented enrollment growth, national recognition for community engagement, increased fundraising, major construction and renovation projects, expanded degree programs and an effective governmental affairs program have all combined to make Indiana State University the talk of the Statehouse - and in a positive way, Burton said.

"You wonder why kids want to come here? Because you're giving them the opportunity," he said of new academic programs and other opportunities for students. "You really are getting the message out ... that this is a cool place to be."

But Burton said challenges remain for Indiana State, including maintaining affordability for a four-year degree in the face of increasing pressures on state spending.

"The legislature is under a squeeze because of numerous changes to the tax code and other policies," he said. "There is scrutiny on every single dollar that is spent and very little is wasted."

Technological clutter, ranging from smartphones to the burgeoning area of online degrees, is another challenge Burton sees.

"We get too much information - way too much overload," he said, and universities and manufacturers both need to cut through the clutter to get the attention of teen-agers.

Having already observed that Indiana State is not the same university he attended more than 30 years ago, Burton said manufacturing has also changed It is high tech. It is incredible what is going on in these facilities."

One last challenge "is that building," Burton said, showing a slide of the Statehouse in Indianapolis. "You have to get through to those policy makers, which you are. There are other universities that have fallen down, that have gone to sleep. That is recognized by policy makers. When they decide where the dollars are going to go, they want it to be the most efficient possible."

Underscoring the importance of higher education to a manufacturing sector that relies increasingly on a skilled workforce, Burton noted that more than two-thirds of Indiana workers lack a college degree and only 30 percent of the state's college students complete a four-year degree on time, yet the state faces a serious shortage of skilled production workers.

More than half of job applicants who are rejected for manufacturing positons in Indiana lack basic technical training; have inadequate reading ,writing, and communication skills; and have inadequate problem solving skills, according to a Manufacturers Association survey of member businesses.

The same survey found that 70 percent of rejected applicants also lack such basic employability skills as attendance, timeliness and a high work ethic

Those numbers pose a concern for a state where. manufacturing remains king. Indiana is the No. 1 manufacturing state in the nation, accounting for 31 percent of the gross state product. It is also No. 1 when it comes to employment, total wages paid and employer-supplied benefits.

Manufacturing has also helped pull Indiana out of the Great Recession, accounting for more than half of the state's growth in the past five years and moderate continued growth is projected. But in the longer term, Burton said, a lack of population growth and the continued shortage of a skilled labor force are concerns.

Changes in clean air standards affecting Indiana's coal-fired power plants, and the potential for higher electricity costs, are "very troublesome," he said, noting costs have already been increassing at a faster rate than the nation. Indiana had the ninth lowest electricity costs in the nation in the 1990s but currently ranks in the middle of the 50 states.

Photo: - Brian Burton, vice president and chief operating officer of the Indiana Manufacturing Association, and a 1981 Indiana State University graduate, delivered the keynote address for the university's 2015 Strategic Planning Stakeholders Conference April 9, 2015. (ISU/Rachel Keyes)

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or