Event Recap: Building Skills for National Security and Competitiveness: Best Practice from Indiana

By: Benjamin Glanz

On May 12, 2022, the Renewing American Innovation Project (RAI) at CSIS and the Indiana University Public Policy Institute (PPI) cohosted a webinar exploring Indiana’s efforts to build a resilient innovation economy. The two-panel discussion – moderated by Sameeksha Desai, director of IU’s Manufacturing Policies Initiative, and PPI director Tom Guevara – brought together business, non-profit, governmental, and educational perspectives on Indiana’s growing workforce training networks and regional skills infrastructure.

“A shared stake in our common prosperity”

Introducing the discussion, RAI Project director Sujai Shivakumar emphasized that inclusive innovation means bringing both demographic and geographic diversity into the knowledge economy of the twenty-first century. While we celebrate American inventiveness and entrepreneurship, its impact has been uneven. Many in our nation see themselves being left behind by new transformative technologies. Connecting our communities into the broader innovation ecosystem can help create a shared stake in our common prosperity.

The first panel explored how the state of Indiana is working to create more inclusive workforce training networks. President of Cook Group and Cook Medical Pete Yonkman said that his organizations have created programs to deal with obstacles like lack of education, previous incarceration, or racial inequity that prevent many Americans from getting on what he termed the “pathway to mobility.” In conjunction with Ivy Tech Community College (ITCC), Cook instituted a program where people can work in the morning and go to school in the afternoon, all while receiving payment for a full-time job. Cook has also built a new manufacturing facility in Indianapolis as part of an effort to assist the city’s African American community and partnered with Goodwill to employ previously incarcerated people who may have struggled to reenter the workforce. The ultimate goal, Yonkman said, is to “build our economy in a way that is different than it has been in the past.”

Terry Morris, Senior Director for Racial Justice at Eli Lilly, discussed how his company has taken a similar approach. The pharmaceutical giant is the Indianapolis leader for the national OneTen Initiative, which aims to create 1 million family-sustaining jobs for Black Americans without a college degree. Additionally, the company has committed $25 million to racial justice causes in Indianapolis, as well as 25,000 volunteer hours.

Representatives from the non-profit and education sectors – both of which have been key in assisting Cook and Eli Lilly to create inclusive job-training programs – also shared their perspectives on the first panel. Yesenia Tostado, executive director of Project Azul, explained how her non-profit provides individuals with financial assistance and flexible training to transition from under-employment or unemployment to a full-time job. Sue Smith, Vice President of the School of Advanced Manufacturing Engineering at ITCC, described the school’s innovative partnerships with the private sector, which include entrepreneurship programs on every campus and a new degree in “smart manufacturing.” Smith said that the degree – the first of its kind – is designed “to build out competencies that these employers said were needed for new jobs and jobs…. that do not even exist yet.” For both Project Azul and ITCC, the overall objective is to provide opportunities for upward mobility for those who may otherwise not receive them.
Growing a Regional Infrastructure

The second panel, moderated by PPI director Tom Guevara, discussed the question of how a regional workforce can innovate in the face of globalized markets. David Audretsch, Ameritech Chair of Economic Development at Indiana University, pointed out the key aspects of a region’s modern-day innovation infrastructure: First, an area needs the basic ingredients: industrial factors, resources, knowledge, and a talented workforce. But just having these ingredients is not enough; it matters how they interact with one another. Audretsch noted that some regions do better when they specialize in one industry – he cited Warsaw, Indiana’s medical device industry as an example – while others benefit from a diverse set of industries that results in knowledge spillovers. “Which is right for the region depends on the region,” he said. “There is no algorithm as far as we can tell.” Audretsch further argued that the human dimension – the institutional culture and the quality of leadership – is important in determining a region’s innovation success. The Research Triangle in North Carolina, he noted, has thrived in part because of a strong culture of collaboration between the universities there. Finally, it matters how policy interacts with a region’s innovation culture: non-profits, corporations, and the government can either enhance a region’s innovation potential or hamper it.

Steven Kelly, CEO of the Indiana Innovation Institute (IN3), and Dr. Angela Lewis of the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) in Crane, Indiana shared how their organizations are strengthening Indiana’s innovation capacity in the defense industry. Kelly’s IN3 works with regional and national partners to bring in defense contracts to Indiana. Kelly agreed with Audretsch that dedicated leadership in both the public and private sectors is essential to creating a successful regional innovation network. Lewis said the NSWC in Crane is growing rapidly and is partnering with K-12 schools to create STEM programs that will generate a sustainable talent pool.

Although each speaker on the webinar brought a different perspective to the issue of creating a resilient and inclusive economy, Indiana’s experts all agreed that building a diverse and innovative workforce in an increasingly complex economy requires partnerships across different sectors. Strengthening existing connections between organizations and seeking to facilitate new ones should be a priority for any policymaker looking to ensure that America remains competitive in the 21st century.

Benjamin Glanz is a research intern with the Renewing American Innovation Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC. 

The Perspectives on Innovation Blog is produced by the Renewing American Innovation Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).