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2012 CNBC Rankings Guest Column

Businesses: Quality of Place Matters Most  

When it comes to the quality of life in Indiana, we take pride in our Hoosier hospitality, fields of fresh produce, and well-manicured lawns. Who needs mountains and oceans when you've got competitive Little League teams and nice community events on the weekends?

Well, corporations and businesses do. When they make decisions on where to locate or expand, quality of life amenities rank high on their list of priorities. 

In fact, when CNBC compiled its annual list of Top States for Business this year, the cable  network weighted quality of life, cost of doing business and workforce in a three-way tie for the most important criteria in figuring its rankings.

And while Indiana fared pretty well overall (it ranked 14th) , its quality of life rating dragged it down. Indiana ranked 40th in that category.

When CNBC reviewed the components that go into quality of life, it found Indiana lacking in several areas: local attractions, crime rate, health care, and air and water quality.  

So, let’s imagine. What if our quality of life ranking improved from 40th to 10th place? Instead of placing 14th overall, the Hoosier State would rocket into the Top 10 — and, presumably, find it easier to attract new businesses and the jobs they bring.  

What would it take to make that happen?  

First, let's work to make sure the old advertising line “There’s more than corn in Indiana” is true — and that everyone from New York to California knows it. It is time to tell everyone across the nation that we have something to offer. Indianapolis is well known for its social amenities, including the Indianapolis 500, Colts football and fine eateries, but other communities around the state also have strong options. That's a story we need to tell better, and more often.  

In addition, Indiana needs to make sure it develops and attracts new cultural attractions statewide. Oceans and mountains may be beyond our control, but attractive parks, local theater and music offerings aren't.  

At the same time, we need to beef up our police organizations across the state and properly fund our K-12 educational programs and after school activities to keep youngsters in school and off the streets. The more students who successfully navigate through our schools mean more well education citizens in the future.  

While we are at it, we also need to find ways to get Hoosiers off their couches and improve their wellness. "Burden of Obesity Among Adults in Indiana," compiled by Ball State's Global Health Institute (GHI), found that 66.5 percent of the adult population in Indiana is overweight or obese — or about 3.2 million people as measured by body mass index (BMI). The national average is about 64 percent. This is an increase from 1991 when 50 percent of Hoosiers were overweight or obese and the national average was about 46 percent.  

Closing parks and pools, and cutting recreation and wellness programs won't make it easy to reverse that trend.  

Business leaders around the nation recognize the growing importance that quality of life plays in their ability to succeed: it helps them attract and retain the talented people they need to be successful in the marketplace.  

Low tax rates and business-friendly regulations may entice executives to consider Indiana as a location, but they want more, too. They want to know that once their business is up and running, their employees will be safe and healthy, their children well-educated, and their free time filled with rich cultural and entertainment options.  

If any of that is found wanting, it means that top people won't want to move here — and neither will the businesses that employ them.  

What does it all mean? Essentially this: if Indiana wants to move from being a pretty good place to do business to being one of the best, we will need to examine our core values and commit to making the investments necessary to improving our quality of life. From education to the environment, from wellness to entertainment we'll need to do better.  

At stake is our ability to build our economy and create the thousands of jobs that coming generations of Hoosiers will need to thrive — and to truthfully say there's more than corn in Indiana.  

By: Richard Heupel & Heather Kemper, Ball State University