In some rural parts of Ohio, access to broadband seems a long way off, with entire areas lacking access to high-speed internet service. For other businesses and residents, the infrastructure is frustratingly close, but out of reach.
“We have a marbling effect throughout the rest of the state — even in suburban and urban areas — where we have a street over here or a cluster of homes over there that cannot get broadband infrastructure built out to them,” Ohio Rep. Rick Carfagna explains.
Two separate bills are being considered this year to address those two distinct problems associated with Ohio’s digital divide.
Under HB 378, the state would use some money from its existing Third Frontier Initiative ($50 million for each of the next two years from the proceeds of bond issues) to help fund broadband infrastructure projects in underserved areas of the state.
With the popularity of craft beer on the rise, state legislators across the nation have been re-examining their laws to allow for greater growth in the industry, from statutory changes that help increase production to the removal of restrictions on self-distribution. That trend has continued in 2018, with South Dakota and Kansas among the states exploring proposals to assist craft brewers.
In August, Apple Inc. announced that the company would locate its new data center in Waukee, Iowa. The technology giant will receive more than $200 million in state and local tax incentives to build the $1.3 billion facility on a 2,000-acre site in the Des Moines suburb.
In September, Amazon announced its search for a second North American corporate headquarters, known as HQ2. The scale and scope of the project — the e-commerce giant is expected to invest more than $5 billion in the facility and employ up to 50,000 high-paid workers — captured not only headlines, but the attention of state and local officials.
A very public competition has ensued, and at least one Midwestern state, Illinois, is right in the middle of it.
“I’m excited about our chances for [landing] HQ2,” Illinois Rep. Mike Zalewski says. Earlier this year, he was part of an effort to reform and reinstate a long-standing Illinois incentives program known as EDGE, which is among the programs that the state could use in its pursuit.
“For every Amazon, there’s a lot more 40- or 50-person manufacturers looking to move to Illinois or to grow their business [here], and we want them to succeed,” Zalewski says. “EDGE is designed ... to help both the big fries and the small fries.”
The role of state incentives (tax credits, tax exemptions, grants, low-interest loans, etc.) has gotten increased attention in the Midwest during the latter part of 2017. In September, around the same time Illinois began making its Amazon pitch, Wisconsin was closing the deal on what lawmakers say is the biggest economic development project in that state’s history.
Indiana is planning to invest more than $20 million over the next two years into two grant programs that prepare workers to fill existing and looming job vacancies. Under the Next Level Jobs Initiative, the state will pay for workers to get trained at Indiana’s community colleges and help employers train their new hires.
The state currently has approximately 95,000 job openings, and by 2025, another 1 million are expected due to retirements and the creation of new positions. Many of these will be jobs that require some level of education or training beyond high school. According to the National Skills Coalition, by 2024, 55 percent of Indiana’s jobs will be considered “middle skill” — those requiring less than a four-year college degree but calling for some degree, certification or training beyond a high school diploma.
With a $20 million appropriation in the state’s new biennial budget, Indiana lawmakers once again affirmed their belief in a public-private partnership designed to further develop one of the state’s existing economic strengths — its life sciences industry.
“The jobs in this sector are high-paying, and the capital investments by businesses create large benefits to our economy,” says Sen. Mark Messmer, chair of the Indiana Senate Commerce and Technology Committee. The Indiana Bioscience Research Institute began four years ago with $50 million in funding. The state provided half of that start-up money, with the rest coming from the state’s universities and private firms.
The institute provides a collaborative environment for private industries and academic researchers; the state’s hope is that this public-private research results in the commercialization of new ideas, as well as advances in areas such as heart disease, diabetes and nutrition.
Brownfields — former industrial and commercial sites that have been abandoned and are contaminated by pollutants or other hazardous materials — are among the hardest sites to redevelop for other business or residential purposes.
Seven years ago, Kansas lawmakers adopted new incentives for individuals to move to the state and make one of its 77 rural counties their new home. The Rural Opportunity Zones program offers a mix of income tax waivers (for up to five years) and student-loan repayments of $15,000. But as much as he supports the idea, Kansas Rep. Troy Waymaster says another part of the economic challenges for rural areas must somehow be met.
“The problem is when there is no job for them to take, [people] probably are not going to move [to the rural counties],” he notes. “This is the other half of the equation: how you get jobs to move back.”
This year, he introduced the Ad Astra Rural Jobs Act (HB 2168), which would provide tax credits to investors who help businesses expand, locate or relocate in Kansas’ rural areas, many of which are struggling due to trends in their two dominant industries: agriculture and oil. In both sectors, commodity prices are low.