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Annual Groundhog Day event yields contrasting views for 2016

February 2, 2016

Does it really matter whether Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow or not this Groundhog Day now that Bob Guell has predicted a rather muddy economic future for 2016?

Indiana's gross domestic product of $290 billion and substantial growth in personal income level has put the state on an OK path in the new year, Guell said. In contrast, he described economic conditions in Terre Haute as "tolerable," as the unemployment rate comes in at 5.6 percent and personal income levels continue to be "stuck in the mud."

"This is the type of economy that breeds Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. It's the kind of economy that does not serve people who do not have our level of education," Guell said, adding that it could benefit local economic conditions if the city looks seriously into its finances, especially regarding the costs of public safety and amenities, like the golf course, in Terre Haute.

The Indiana State University professor of economic made his prediction at the 20th annual Groundhog Day Economic Forecast, sponsored by Indiana State University's Scott College of Business, Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce and Terre Haute Savings Bank.

Steve Witt, president of the Terre Haute Economic Development Corp., sees a more hopeful year for the Wabash Valley, which attracted attention in the last year from international companies in Italy and Belgium and domestic businesses in New Jersey, California and North Carolina.

The region and statewide manufacturing opportunities also remain high for those seeking employment, Witt said, but being able to provide a qualified workforce to fill those positions will be a high priority to continue attracting employers.

"The economic future looks bright, as we see strong interest, both domestic and international, and there is no reason for our community not to shine brightly," he said.

Indiana can compete effectively as seen through invest by such major international manufacturers as Rolls Royce in Indianapolis and Honda in Greensburg, as well as the growth in the state's aerospace and aviation industry, said Gerry Dick, president and managing editor of Inside Indiana Business.

Dick suggested that a regional vision will be an important part of the state's economic development in going forward, especially in tackling issues with the lack of residents with a college degree, a skills gap, infrastructure funding and providing communities where people want to live, work and play.

Health care will also play a role in the state's economic development, said Rob Hillman, president and general manager of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Indiana - the largest health benefits company in the state with nearly 5,000 associates serving more than 3.5 million members.

Hillman is well-informed in Vigo County's health challenges with heart disease, obesity and smoking, following a meeting Anthem had in Terre Haute several years ago.

"We all know that that cost of these and their impact on the community. It's a hidden tax and companies look at how health care is delivered in communities when they are looking to move," he said. "When Terre Haute saw health challenges in the community and Anthem made a commitment to improve healthcare with a foundation grant."

Collaborations between insurers, providers and consumers are growing as the role of the consumer becomes the focus of health care as 20 million new consumers of health care have come onboard since 2010, Hillman said.It has included providing more assistance so health care consumers understand their options and the implications of their decisions and offering telehealth and online visits to eliminate barriers. Though that option is not currently available in Indiana, a bill proposed in the legislature would introduce the option.

"What consumers want to know is what is the cost and can I afford it, is it high quality and can I get access when I need it?," Hillman said. "The healthcare system is now evolving is it can better answer these consumer questions."

Writer: Betsy Simon, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-7972 or betsy.simon@indstate.edu

Story Highlights

Economic predictions for the year ahead were made during the annual Groundhog Day Economic Forecast event, sponsored by Indiana State University's Scott College of Business, Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce and Terre Haute Savings Bank & Financial Service.

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