The Journal Gazette
Friday, April 03, 2020 1:00 am

Physician's vision can lead state past pandemic

Ed Delaney

No one can deny the coronavirus is wreaking havoc on Indiana's economy. Every day there are new headlines about Hoosier employers laying off workers or shutting down because of the virus. The number of unemployment claims is skyrocketing.

At the same time, hospitals across Indiana are desperate for much-needed medical supplies to prepare for an onslaught of patients as the virus spreads. States are competing with one another for scarce resources from a badly depleted global supply chain ill suited to this level of demand.

Some Indiana business owners are pivoting on their own to production of medical equipment to help fulfill our medical supply needs and save jobs. While their actions are greatly appreciated, imagine if we had a more coordinated, statewide approach to harness and expand manufacturing toward building a medical supply chain in Indiana.

Indiana's presumptive Democratic nominee for governor, Dr. Woody Myers, has proposed a plan that would do just that. Why should we pay attention? Because he is a physician with experience in emergency rooms. He was the state health commissioner under two Indiana governors during the early days of another virus outbreak – HIV/AIDS. He knew, before most of us understood, just how bad this current pandemic was going to get.

Myers' plan is a cohesive, organized road map to build off Indiana's status as a medical device and pharmaceutical hub for the nation and the world, expanding our manufacturing sector and creating thousands of high-paying jobs. Myers' plan would help Indiana manufacture vital medical supplies that health care professionals are desperate for now and transition jobs into medical manufacturing positions that otherwise might be gone forever. Indiana has world-class research universities and hospitals that should be ready to help this effort.

Indiana lost 29,000 manufacturing jobs to other countries between 2006 and 2016. It's time to bring those jobs back. There's no doubt we have the trained manufacturing workforce ready and able to produce medical supplies immediately. With the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic, it's clear that Indiana needs to rethink all its economic development plans. The place to start is with our strengths.

We have a solid medical manufacturing sector with an unprecedented opportunity to expand. Companies such as Roche, Eli Lilly, Zimmer Biomet, Cook Medical and others have created a foundation we can build upon.

We also have the infrastructure and strategic location to make this happen. The “Crossroads of America” is within a day's drive of 80% of the nation's population. Where better to produce medical supplies and distribute them quickly? Indiana should lead the way.

I'm heartened that there are big thinkers like Myers looking past the current coronavirus crisis toward both short- and long-term economic solutions. We don't ever need to be in a terrifying position like this again, and with his vision we won't be. We can't let this opportunity pass us by. Indiana should remember and benefit from Dr. Myers' expertise and experience.

State Rep. Ed Delaney, an Indianapolis Democrat, represents Indiana House District 86.

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