Lilly CEO takes critical stance against Indiana economy

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The CEO of Eli Lilly and Co., one of Indiana’s largest employers, on Thursday was critical of the state’s efforts to address the health and education level of Hoosiers in what will increasingly be an economy driven by ideas, not just by putting things together.

David Ricks, Lilly’s chief executive officer and chairman, shared his thoughts at a luncheon speech in front of The Economic Club of Indiana. He says Indiana is not up to the challenge of the new economy. He cites national data that shows Indiana does well in the cost of living, the cost of doing business and the business climate, but the state’s liabilities are dragging down Hoosiers. 

“Our education attainment in the state is not good. The ability to reskill the workforce, I think, could improve. Health, life and inclusion, overall, I think, conditions rank poorly nationally in our state. And also workforce preparedness, also related to reskilling, is a liability for us,” Ricks said.

The Lilly CEO says close to a third of traditional jobs will be replaced in the next decade in favor of positions heavy on math and science, which is critical to Lilly’s core business. According to his data, only a third of Indiana high school students pass the state’s standardized math test, and only 20% go on to earn a bachelor’s degree.

“Hoosiers today have relatively low performance on national metrics of education,” Ricks said.

Quality of life, or the quality of a healthy workforce, was another one of his concerns. He says Indiana’s health care costs are too high, higher than surrounding states. Too many people are using the available resources, which the Lilly CEO says doesn’t make Indiana attractive to potential employers.  

Ricks said, “Who funds this? Companies fund this. We need to address this to attract more industry to our neighborhood here.”

He also says we must include everyone. “Certainly outcomes on all of these dimensions for Black and brown communities are worse and we should do something to affect that. One of the primary things businesses can do is offer good employment”  

Asked if Ricks’ concerns are valid, Kyle Anderson of the Indiana University Kelley School of Business noted that Indianapolis was in the list when Amazon was looking for a second headquarters, but the business passed. “Is not clear that was directly related to any single issue, but we know that big headquarters projects have not been here largely because of availability of a skilled workforce.”

Lilly leaders has not indicated they would move the headquarters out of Indianapolis, but the company has invested billions in the last two years in research and manufacturing facilities in North Carolina, Boston and Ireland. 

Lawmakers react to Lilly CEO’s comments

Indiana’s Republican leadership on Thursday say they already are working on many of the issues Ricks mentioned to the Economic Club.

Gov. Eric Holcomb says more work needs to be done, particularly on the education front, but Republican’s pro-business policies have yielded more jobs announcements. On Thursday, the governor touted pharmaceutical manufacturer Catalent’s decision to add about 1,000 new jobs to its Bloomington facility. Also on Thursday, he cut the ribbon on Intelinair’s new headquarters near Meridian Hills in Indianapolis.

“If you look at what we are attracting to the state of Indiana, we are knocking the cover off of the ball,” the Republican governor said. “What we do need is more talent and specific types of talent.”

Republican leaders in the General Assembly, where Indiana’s education and health policies are ultimately funded, echoed the governor’s remarks. In a statement, Rodric Bray, the state Senate president pro tem, pointed to legislative pressure on Indiana’s major health care providers to bring down patient costs. Bray, from Martinsville, and House Speaker Todd Huston, from Fishers, says lawmakers are working on improving education outcomes.

House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta, of Fort Wayne, says Ricks’ comments didn’t surprise him. He says the policies pursued by Republicans since they regained control of the legislature in 2011 have worsened many of the problems Ricks highlighted. GiaQuinta says focusing on culture war legislation won’t help attract businesses either.

“It’s a terrible situation when they’re going to North Carolina and Boston, Massachusetts, for their investments because they see see those states have done a better job, I believe, than we have, when it comes to investing in their population,” he said.

State of diversity, equity, inclusion in Indiana

News 8 spoke to Michal Twyman of InExcelsis consulting firm, and he says it’s hard to say if Indiana falls short on the inclusion of minorities and immigrants because the state doesn’t have data showing where we started. What we can do is compare ourselves to other communities or other states, he says.

Twyman says the consulting work he does centers on diversity, equity and inclusion, but has a special emphasis on racial equity. He says advancing diversity, equity and inclusion work often depends on the local political environment, although it may seem like there’s a been a rush to expand diversity, equity and inclusion work since George Floyd’s death.

He notes that some companies have a history of implementing diversity, equity and inclusion measures from 20 to 25 years ago.

Alongside the countless smaller agencies implementing diversity, equity and inclusion work, it may be more widely noticed when Hoosiers see equity policies added in the governor’s office, the local police department, sports teams and other entities.

“It’s not just good enough to make a statement, but it’s not just good enough to have more people of color within your organization, or to have a diversity equity and inclusion officer, and say our work is done here,” Twyman said. “It really is about mobilizing resources, sustaining the work over time and really being able to evidence that you’re committed beyond the statements.”

Issues in Indiana’s quest for affordable health care

For years, the costs of health care have been soaring, which makes regular treatment nearly impossible for many groups.

News 8 spoke with Tony Gillespie, vice president for public policy and engagement with the Indiana Minority Health Coalition. He knows how difficult it can be for minorities to get even the most basic medical care.

“I think a big challenge that Indiana faces is that, as a state, we don’t invest in health care,” he said. “The majority of the resources are at the federal level, and that’s something that’s been an issue for a while. Until that begins to change, we’re going to find ourselves in the same places.”

Lack of preventative care for high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic issues leads to missed time at work, which Gillespie says leads to trouble getting and keeping a job.

Geography also can be a major factor. People living in rural areas of Indiana can have limited options, which makes for another barrier to annual check-ups and treatments.

“It really comes down to us moving in concert as a state,” Gillespie said. “It will never happen with just one or two agencies to try and address it. That’s where the policy piece comes in and the public policy makers and legislatures.”

Reporting by Richard Essex, Garrett Bergquist, Katiera Winfrey and Mary Gillis.