Economy. Education. Energy.
Those were the topics Congressman Joe Donnelly presented at a panel discussion Tuesday morning.
Let's take one topic at a time:
The panelists say local employers struggle with recruitment and the quality of the workforce. Many young, bright students head off to bigger cities, and Congressman Donnelly and local leaders are working on ways to keep them here.
"We can be second to none, with our skills, with our talents, with our opportunities," Donnelly says.
"You've got a wonderful opportunity in this area because it is a smaller community where you can make a greater impact probably quicker than you could in a larger city," explains Phil Damico, Director of The Chamber of St. Joseph County.
Donnelly says 20,000 students drop out of high school every year in Indiana. That's about 35-40% in South Bend and its surrounding areas. In fact, 50% of South Bend High School students graduate from college, slightly less from Mishawaka, and slightly more from Penn.
This topic is intertwined with economy, because the panelists say if you can keep kids in school, and then encourage them to attend college and stay in this area, that will create a more viable workforce.
"I can see why a company wouldn't come here because they're not going to prosper because they're not going to be provided with workers that want to fit their needs," says Daniel Wise, an IUSB student from South Bend.
"I think the demands of 'No Child Left Behind' and state standards that are driven to prepare everyone for college, and the work place...well, it's really for college...and the work place is tagged on," Stephen Barkdull from Elkhart Area Career Center says.
Renewable energy is on the radar of our country, including its politicians. Donnelly says a new bill passed in Congress requires energy companies to use 11% renewable resources and 4% less energy by 2020. Also, it provides incentives for alternative energy companies.
"Our nation has to become energy independent. There are no other choices out there," Donnelly says. "Indiana can be one of the alternative energy capitals of American. We produce ethanol and bio-deisel. We have the opportunity to produce hydrogen power here, wind and solar.
"Indiana is fast becoming a large player in the production of ethanol and I think it's great for our state and the prospects it brings for economic development," says Glen Bode, Indiana Renewable Fuels.
One panelist may have put it best when he said, "this is the discussion that starts discussions."