Michael McRobbie: Good afternoon. It is a great pleasure to be here for the second day of IU’s second annual conference on “America’s Role in the World.” America, by inclusion, means Indiana in this case, as the topic for this particular session is “Indiana in the World.”
There could not be a more appropriate speaker than the 51st Governor of the State of Indiana, Eric Holcomb. I’ll just say a few words about Governor Holcomb by way of introduction. He is a lifelong Hoosier. He served in the Navy as an intelligence officer for six years. He was deputy chief of staff to former Governor Mitch Daniels, and chief of staff to Senator Dan Coats, who is now the Director of National Intelligence. Governor Holcomb is a former Chair of the Indiana Republican Party, and on the 3rd of March last year, he replaced Sue Ellspermann, who of course, is now the President of Ivy Tech, as the Lieutenant Governor of the State of Indiana. Then, in November, he was elected as the 51st Governor of the State of Indiana.
In the eyes of many observers, Governor Holcomb has been off to an excellent start. To those of you who haven’t read or heard his State of the State speech, one of his first major policy statements as governor, I highly recommend it to you. It is very bipartisan, practical, and in it he identifies five priorities for how to really improve the state and improve the quality of life of its citizens. I think people were very impressed by the practicality and the down-to-earth nature of that speech, and I really think that has helped the Governor get off to an excellent start.
So today, I will ask the governor a lot of questions until he has to go, at which point, maybe I could follow him out the door asking questions as we go out.
Since this is about Indiana and its role in the world, I’ll start by pointing out that the governor lived overseas for a period when he was serving in the Navy. He lived in Portugal, and has traveled extensively overseas. In fact, we were just talking about a recent visit he made to Israel. He has also visited China and a number of other countries. I’m interested, Governor, how your overseas travel and your periods of living abroad have shaped your personal views about international engagement and, in particular, how it may shape and have an influence on your policies in the governance of the state.
Governor Holcomb: Well, it’s so good to be with you, Mr. President, and here on campus. I know that many people in this room have traveled abroad. When you’re on a flight that is 13 hours nonstop, you quickly get the sense that it is a very big world. But typically when you land, whether it be in the UK, China, Israel, or wherever, the world gets smaller and smaller. Dots are connected faster now than at any other time in our history. Dots being areas of common interest. So, from an Indiana-centric perspective, we have an international brand here. This is in large part due to Indiana University and all the good work that you do all around the globe. But we have the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis 500 that has international drivers come year after year, and so many of our corporations, whether they be Cook, up in Warsaw, anywhere in the state of Indiana. We have established deep roots on virtually every continent, and we are doing good work—led by Indiana University again. So, what I have come to find is that the Indiana brand is powerful. I will seek every day to leverage that, and go anywhere and everywhere, leaving no stone unturned. I may raise an eyebrow from time to time if I’m in Hungary, but it will be for a good reason.
McROBBIE: Now I think Governor, certainly over the last year in particular, there has been a lot of controversy about globalization and international trade. But then, when you look at Indiana, on the one hand you have a manufacturing sector and an agricultural sector that rely very much on exports for their prosperity. Then, conversely, in terms of foreign direct investment by the car industry and the auto parts industry, Indiana is one of the leaders in the country, at least it ranks highly compared to other states in that regard. So in that context, what are your thoughts about some of the present controversies surrounding globalization and international trade?
HOLCOMB: Well, globalization is a fact of life and it has led to so many advances that to think that you could retreat from that would be to be in a state of denial. Or certainly, you’d be handicapping yourself. Again, the world will continue to get smaller and smaller. So many of our partnerships that we’ve established at the Indiana Economic Development Corporation over the years have been built on relationships, and we must continue to cultivate those. When you stop and think—in Indiana, there are over 800 foreign-owned companies employing over 152,000 Hoosiers. And it works both ways, of course. For every time we lure an international company over here, well, they’d like to have business over there, too. It’s not like they have a surplus just to give up all over the world. Every day, Indiana, myself, corporate America, and Indiana University wake up with this world view. And companies will locate where the market is and the workforce for sure. If you’re not growing, you are dying. That’s true in corporate America and in the partnership corporate America has with our leading universities, like Indiana University, and with every state that is competing for not just that attention, but for that investment which ultimately leads to more opportunity for our citizens.
McROBBIE: Right, right. I think you said quite memorably, that “We are as likely to be trading with Germany and South Korea as we are with Georgia and South Dakota.” In that context, a number of your predecessors paid a number of fairly important and productive visits overseas. Actually, I was with Governor Daniel when he was in China early on in his governorship. What are your thoughts about what are going to be your priorities when it comes to your travel? Where do you think you’ll be visiting in the next few years?
HOLCOMB: Well, we’ll continue to cultivate the relationships we have, and so you’ll see me not just visiting countries abroad to say “thank you” and working on those relationships to expand and strengthen them, but I’ll also seek to diversify them. So, while we will make trips to China and Japan, to the U.K. again, I’ll be going to France later this year, India will be a new one. According to my research I understand I may be the first Governor of Indiana to go to India. But then again, we will go where the prospects look good. We are receiving a lot of invitations, in part because of Indiana’s posture, or at least our welcoming attitude. I have said, I wake up every morning trying to bring the world to Indiana and Indiana to the world. Good things tend to come when you strengthen those relationships.
McROBBIE: I should say, I think it was two years ago when she was still Lt. Governor, Sue Ellspermann visited IU’s facility in Beijing and used that on a visit. We actually have a facility in New Delhi and we’d be delighted to make that available to you when you’re visiting India.
HOLCOMB: I will be taking you up on that.
McROBBIE: Governor, when it comes to foreign direct investment, is it your view that you would be encouraging investment in areas where there’s already been substantial direct investment? Or are you looking at trying to encourage overseas corporations to start investing in new areas? Maybe in high technology, robotics, and areas like that.
HOLCOMB: I don’t think in today’s world you can afford to be either-or about it. I think you have to do both, certainly in Indiana with us being an agricultural and manufacturing powerhouse—the number one state in country per capita in terms of manufacturing jobs, increasingly more and more advanced. Every industry that I know of is “agriculture plus tech,” or “plastic plus tech,” “medical devices plus tech.” And so if you don’t have that “plus tech” associated with your company, you are probably not going to be around much longer. And so, absolutely Indiana is punching above our weight class right now. But it’s our job, my job, to make sure that, again, when folks are anywhere else in the world, when they’re looking at relocating or growing jobs, that they start with America and they hone into Indiana and find their sweet spot in our state. So, we set the stage, and as they get more and more local, we have three mayors here—I hope they choose La Porte or South Bend or Bloomington—but it’s up to us to partner as well. And so again, this world has come to be not just driven by data and demographics, but’s driven in large part by relationships and partnerships. So, that’s why it’s so important that at every level of our government, we are establishing and firming up those relationships.
McROBBIE: What kinds of things do you think the state needs to be doing, not just to attract investment in some of the present areas, but to attract some investment in new areas? And then conversely, what do you see as the opportunities in terms of expanding what we export in the state?
HOLCOMB: Well, what kind of state do we want to be in 20 years? That what will drive our investments. So, we happen to be in the middle—not in the middle, in the fourth quarter actually—of the budget session up at the State House.
McROBBIE: Yes, you’re aware?
HOLCOMB: Yes! I’ve been away for about an hour and I don’t know what I’ve won and lost. Talk about it speeding up as the days go by. But you know, this is where we talk about our priorities. And I usually say, what kind of state do we want to be in 20 years, and we better be addressing those issues right now. Which means to better connect the world, it would be nice to have a direct flight to London, as a launching point to the rest of Europe for sure. With the investment that we have cultivated—Rolls Royce, Tate and Lyle, the list goes on and on and on—we need to better connect with those markets. It works both ways. So, direct flights domestically and internationally are big. Investing in the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute, we need to expand those footprints. So, it will require in my budget 20 million additional dollars. I feel good about that right now, but its two o’clock on Thursday. But we need to lean into making sure we have more venture capital. Everything that’s going to diversify our economy and make us this internationally known for innovation and our ingenuity and our inventive nature, that’s what that whole State of the State Address was about: our roots are as pioneers. That doesn’t mean the pioneers that you maybe think about on the movie screen. That means pioneering into the future, looking into the future and dealing with that right now, carving and forging your way through this thick forest. Again, the world is our customer.
McROBBIE: Looking around this room, I know there are many people here who would enormously value a direct flight to London. Can you give us your thoughts on how close to that we are? I’ve tried to help, I’ve signed as many letters as I can in support of this.
HOLCOMB: When do you have to buy your ticket? That could have some leverage for me. I feel better with each day that passes. We know that investing—I don’t want to be the next Silicon Valley, but I do want to do business with Silicon Valley on a minute-by-minute basis. We know that where that one flight investment [in direct flights to San Francisco] led, it’s led to potentially two or three more flights. It’s led to additional West Coast flights. If the state is willing to back it up and invest, then we’ll get some forward momentum. We’ve proven that on the West Coast. And there’s some other flights we seek to add, too. It’s not just London, but London is the most obvious, and then Frankfurt would be after that.
McROBBIE: And, of course, we have a magnificent airport here too.
HOLCOMB: The number one airport in North America five years running. And, by the way, talk about connecting the dots—the network of universities led by this flagship and the network of airports in South Bend and Evansville and Fort Wayne—it’s Terre Haute, Bloomington. The network of airports, it takes some of that heavy lift, some of that load away when we strengthen our airports outside of the international airport.
McROBBIE: Let me move to another topic. We have at Indiana University, certainly in the term of my Presidency, we have put a large amount of emphasis on study abroad for our students. We take the position that it is one of the most important components of an IU education: that period of time students get studying abroad. We’ve actually been very successful at it and now over a third of the graduating class on this campus—and our graduating class is about seventy-five hundred—have studied abroad. Now, we have seen the make-up of the students who study abroad change to roughly approximate the demographics of the state which is particularly satisfying as well. In fact, we rank number 10 out of 1,200 universities in terms of the number of our students who study abroad, so we’re right in the very top class in terms of the number. Some places will claim they’ve got large numbers of students studying abroad but they’re places with one hundred students or two hundred students, it’s very different for a large public university. Having said all that, certainly my experience, but I’m really interested in yours, is that when I’ve spoken to business people all over the state they really welcome students who have had that international experience when they’re recruiting and employing people. But I’m wondering from your perspective of dealing with business leaders and other in the state, what are your thoughts about the importance of studying abroad, international education, and international engagement for our student body and the University?
HOLCOMB: Well the obvious is, it can do nothing but help. Often times, all things equal, it can be the difference maker. I lived, as you pointed out at the outset, overseas for three years and it can be an incredible experience in the sense that what you learn is how to hopefully peacefully coexist. You don’t just learn a new language but you learn a new way of life. There are all sorts of wonderful, different customs and local traditions. But most importantly to me I think, when folks study abroad for extended periods of time, you tend to not fear the unknown so much in the next step you may take in life. It proves to employers that you can parachute into almost any kind of environment when you can feed yourself abroad and get around, and when you start to venture outside. So my trip in Lisbon led to taking trips to Spain and then further and further and further. I dealt with, at the time it was an underground NATO war headquarters where 16 different nations were represented. What you learn from all these different perspectives at that table—some of the discussions were flat out fascinating: listening to the Spanish Admiral talk to the Portuguese Admiral about the way it was 400 years ago all the way up to the events that were unfolding that day, maybe on the soccer pitch. But whatever the issue was, having that many different perspectives at a table, you can do nothing but learn.
McROBBIE: Governor, I’m going to try to fit two more questions in. I know I’m getting the timing signal. But first, as you know, you have met with all of our health sciences deans at the university and they talked to you and your colleagues about how we can more engaged in dealing with and addressing the opioid crisis in the state. But when it comes to international engagement of the state and understanding globalization and all its implications and so on, do you have any thoughts as to what Indiana University can be doing to be of assistance to the state in that regard?
HOLCOMB: Well, as you mentioned, you’ve been on an overseas trip with the state and that would be encouraged in the future as well. Just to speak a bit selfishly here I guess, would be that I would love for people, as we’ve just talked about, for folks to make the journey abroad, experience new things in life. But I also have thought about—I see Nate [Feldman] here—from a former life—who ran the Indiana Economic Development Corporation—I’ve often thought about how the state of Indiana needs a boomerang director. Someone who will go out and grab folks who are living all over the world and bring that expertise back to the state. So while we encourage them to listen, I would like to get them back here to lead because we need more ambassadors here. You mentioned all the students at Indiana University who go abroad, but one of the real strengths here, and on other campuses but here in particular, is your over 5,000 students who come from somewhere else but live here. That cross pollination that occurs and there is a great exchange of ideas.
McROBBIE: And many stay.
HOLCOMB: Many stay. So how do we work to drop anchor here and stay?
McROBBIE: I have to comment, of course that boomerangs come from Australia. Finally Governor, I know you’re also a very enthusiastic scholar of history. America has moved, over history, back and forth from periods of isolationism to periods of deep engagement in the world. Based on your understanding of history and all the other factors involved, what are your thoughts about what the right balance is, what is the right level, in terms of isolationism and international engagement?
HOLCOMB: Well “balance” is probably the right word. But I would say that disengagement is dangerous and we must remain engaged, diplomatically obviously, for sure. And corporate America needs to be engaged and rooted all over the world. But this is how we develop common perspectives and how we progress and advance. So all the good works that you’re leading here around the world are priceless in terms of what it leads to. So, number one, we can’t afford to be isolated from any country, and hopefully that doesn’t mean in a military sense, but it does mean that we must work together if we’re truly going to peacefully coexist.
McROBBIE: And with that ladies and gentlemen, please join me in thanking Governor Holcomb.
HOLCOMB: Thank you.