For the closing session of Indiana University’s “America’s Role in the World” conference, it was appropriate to have two chief executives – a native Australian who heads one of the nation’s leading research universities and a lifelong Hoosier who leads Indiana as its governor – sit down for a conversation.
IU President Michael A. McRobbie, who has served the university for two decades and is a U.S. citizen, interviewed Gov. Eric Holcomb on Thursday in front of a rapt audience on a wide range of topics, including his views on globalization, the importance of international trade to the Hoosier state and the value of travel abroad for young people.
McRobbie’s one-on-one conversation with Holcomb was followed by a panel discussion led by IU Bloomington Provost and Executive Vice President Lauren Robel with three Indiana mayors – Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, John Hamilton of Bloomington and Blair Milo of LaPorte – James Morris, chair of the IU Board of Trustees and former executive director for the United Nations World Food Programme, and Pete Yonkman, CEO of Cook Group.
In his introduction of Indiana’s 51st governor, McRobbie noted Holcomb’s international experience, including his U.S. Navy experience, his service with governors Mitch Daniels and Mike Pence, and his work with former Sen. Dan Coats, now U.S. director of national intelligence.
“From an Indiana perspective, we have an international brand, in large part because of the Indiana universities and the good work you do all around the world,” Holcomb said in his opening remarks.
“We have established deep roots on virtually every continent,” he added. “What I have come to find is that the Indiana brand is powerful, and I will seek every way to leverage that and go anywhere and everywhere.”
Like his predecessors, Holcomb now leads a state that has seen some jobs move overseas. But Indiana also is a state whose agricultural and manufacturing output is dependent on international trade. McRobbie asked how a balance can be struck between these so-called competing interests.
“Globalization is a fact of life, and it’s led to some of the advances,” Holcomb said. “To think that you could retreat from that would be (putting yourself) in a state of denial, or certainly be handicapping yourself.
“The world will continue to get smaller and smaller. So many of our partnerships that we’ve established at the Indiana Economic Development Corp. over the years have been built on relationships, and we must do more to cultivate those.”
Today, Indiana has more than 800 foreign-owned companies, which employ about 152,000 Hoosiers. As in their home countries, these firms want to be where the market is, including in the Hoosier state.
“It’s about what kind of state we want to be in 20 years,” Holcomb said. “We better be addressing these issues right now – which means to better connect with the world, it would be good to have a direct flight to London, as a launching point to the rest of Europe. … We need to connect better with those markets.”
Holcomb’s proposed state budget includes funding to encourage direct flights between Indianapolis International Airport and the British capital and to attract more direct domestic flights to Indianapolis and other Indiana cities.
McRobbie, who has led Indiana University since 2007, noted that he traveled to China with former Gov. Daniels. He invited Holcomb to visit the IU India Gateway office in Delhi, when he travels to India later this year.
More than a third of IU’s 2017 graduating class has studied abroad. McRobbie noted the importance of that experience in preparing graduates for future employment. Holcomb acknowledged its value.
“Often time, all things equal, it can be the difference,” the governor said. “When you study abroad for extended periods of time, you tend not to fear the unknown so much. … It proves to employers that you can parachute into almost any kind of environment (and succeed).
“I love for folks to make the journey abroad, experience new things in life, but I’ve often thought about – in my former life at the Indiana Economic Development Corp. – 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.
“While we want to encourage them to go learn and listen, I would like to get them back here, because we need more ambassadors here,” Holcomb said, noting the role they can play in exchanging ideas with international students who decide to remain in Indiana after graduation.
McRobbie responded, eliciting laughter, “I have to comment: Boomerangs come from Australia.”
Holcomb wrapped up by saying that disengagement would be dangerous for America and that it’s vital to have common perspective with others around the world.
“All the good works that you are leading here and around the world,” he told McRobbie, “are priceless in terms of what it leads to.”