Indiana Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann tours Blackford County on Vimeo.
By Ellie Price
HARTFORD CITY, Ind. – Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann traveled to Blackford County in east central Indiana last week, touring a 3M tape manufacturing facility, listening to local officials’ concerns and meeting residents at lunch and the county fair.
Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann learns about Blackford County’s manufacturing industry as she tours a 3M plant in Hartford City; Ind. Ellspermann will meet residents and elected officials of Indiana’s 92 counties on her tour this year. Photo by Ellie Price; TheStatehouseFile.com
Her visit to the county was just one stop in her “Listen and Learn” Tour to Indiana’s 92 counties, which began May 2. Ellspermann expects to visit all of the counties by mid-November.
Ellspermann typically travels three days per week, dedicating a full day to traveling to and touring each county.
She meets with elected officials and business and agriculture leaders to learn and understand the challenges they face. Officials from the school board and higher levels are invited to attend the meetings.
On her tour, Ellspermann also visits places of significance picked by county officials, such as county fairs and the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. She said she has toured factories and companies that manufacture hardboiled eggs, create bats for major and minor league baseball players and make gummy bears.
“That’s been a unique, positive experience for me to get to see what makes Indiana special,” Ellspermann said.
As of early July, Ellspermann had traveled to 25 counties, and she said her visits have confirmed her belief that every county is different.
Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann talks with concessions workers in the 4-H building. Photo by Ellie Price; TheStatehouseFile.com
“Though there are some overarching challenges that elected officials and business and agriculture leaders have, there are uniquenesses to every county in Indiana,” Ellspermann said. “It’s important for the governor and I to understand what makes each country special and what their unique challenges are.”
Ellspermann said she first traveled to northern Indiana counties on her tour since she and the governor are both from southern Indiana. She has since visited counties from other parts of the state.
Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, traveled with Ellspermann when she toured his home of Blackford County, the third smallest county in Indiana.
He said he encouraged county business leaders and local elected officials to “lay it on her.”
“I see firsthand the relationship she has with Mike Pence,” Mahan said. “We know that the concerns and wishes of Blackford County will be shared with the governor, and hopefully good things will come from it.”
Ellspermann said Blackford County suffers from population loss. During the last census, the county’s population decreased by 9 percent, which translated to empty buildings and homes and fewer children in the county’s schools.
“So they are trying to figure out how to deal with that and how to attract that brain drain, the young professional, back into these communities,” she said.
Ellspermann said many counties have mentioned common challenges, such as infrastructure problems, healthcare costs and federally unfunded mandates.
Former Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman first traveled to Indiana’s 92 counties on a tour in 2011, and Ellspermann said she knew she wanted to continue the tour during her administration.
After Ellspermann was elected as lieutenant governor in November 2012, she presided over the Senate during the 2013 legislative session. She previously served as a state representative for Dubois County in southwestern Indiana.
She described her first legislative session in her new position as a “blur.”
Ellspermann said she felt as if she were “drinking out of a fire hose” when trying to learn about each of the lieutenant governor’s agencies.
“The challenge is absorbing everything,” she said. “It’s a bigger plate of knowledge that you need.”
Ellspermann said she will share the concerns she hears from county residents with the governor.
“He’s a wonderful governor, executive and visionary for Indiana,” she said.
Ellspermann said their overarching goal is to increase the number of jobs in Indiana by the end of their first term. She said their agencies have set measurable goals that focus on job creation.
“We know in rural Indiana, a lot of our people drive to cities but live in the community,” Ellspermann said. “Well, we want more jobs in Blackford County, so we want to measure ourselves on … making our communities good places for businesses to locate.”
Ellie Price is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.