Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman receives the President’s Award from Indiana Farm Bureau President Don Villwock. She and Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., were honored for their years of service to Indiana and agriculture. They were recognized at IFB’s annual convention in Indianapolis.
Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman receives the President’s Award from Indiana Farm Bureau President Don Villwock. She and Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., were honored for their years of service to Indiana and agriculture. They were recognized at IFB’s annual convention in Indianapolis.

INDIANAPOLIS — Becky Skillman soon will resign from her post as Indiana’s lieutenant governor to become an economic development coordinator in southern Indiana along the Interstate 69 corridor.

She will return to her hometown of Bedford, where she once participated in drag racing, to work as president and CEO of Radius, an economic development company, within eight counties in south-central Indiana.

Though she is enthused about her new role, Skillman reflected positively on her experiences as lieutenant governor, a position in which she also served as president of the Indiana Senate.

“I will always be so proud to be the state’s first-ever secretary of agriculture,” she said. “Before 2005, when we created the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, we had an Office of the Commissioner of Agriculture, so the industry was never on a level playing field with the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Environmental Management and many others, so if there was a dispute or disagreement, agriculture did not have a fair hand in the battle.”

Through a unanimous vote, 150 legislators voted for the bill that led to the creation of the department, Skillman recalled.

One of the Gov. Mitch Daniels’ administration’s earliest moves regarding the new department was to move the Division of Soil Conservation into the ISDA from the IDNR, she said.

Though not an immediate change, the move repopulated the Land Resources Council at that time, Skillman said.

“It was a move that probably should have been done a little earlier, but it helped us a great deal after we put together some model land-use ordinances at the state level for local governments to adopt,” she said.

The ISDA legislation also created the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, under which programs including Indiana Main Street is umbrellaed.

Skillman also led the Stellar Communities program, which generated hundreds of millions in federal funding for community capital projects, she said.

The Indiana Artisan program also was created through OCRA, the Office of Tourism Development, ISDA and the Indiana Arts Commission as a way to jury specialty food and craft producers into the program to receive small business support from the state, Skillman said.

The program now is a nonprofit corporation that works through the private sector without support from public money, she said.

“There have been so many successful projects to showcase around Indiana,” she said. “I think of tiny little Chrisney, Ind.

“This is more than a small town, but a rural crossroads in southern Indiana where they have these marvelous little libraries, and it’s the site of the first net-zero library in the state of Indiana, which means they pay zero dollars for the energy to run their library.”

In 2006, Skillman launched the Hoosier Agribusiness and Science Academy in Indiana to give urban high school and middle school students the opportunity to learn about agriculture.

Skillman also managed the Office of Energy Development and the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority.

She estimated that she has visited 30 farms in her time as lieutenant governor, but hundreds of rural sites, ceremonies and celebrations around Indiana overall, from fire stations to community centers and libraries that were locations of community development projects and focused-fund grants.

“So many wastewater treatment facilities are funded with these research dollars, as well — that’s not quite as glamorous a story, but it serves the community well,” she said.

The lieutenant governor reflected that an unfortunate number of her farm visits were during the severe floods of 2008 and the drought of 2012.

“I probably visited more farms during the flood than during the drought,” she said. “Ironically, the flood was in the last year of our first term and the drought was in the last year of our second term.”

Skillman praised the partnership of Indiana’s agricultural organizations and the five agencies that she oversaw in her prominent position.

“From the beginning, we said economic development would be key to agriculture,” she said. “To date, we’ve had more than $8.8 billion in new private capital investment in new or expanded agricultural ventures, and with that came the promise of 9,300 jobs in food and agriculture.”

“Those are only companies that can work with the state, not including the number of agribusinesses that grew on their own without some state assistance,” she noted. “This is directly tied to Indiana to locate here or to expand.”

Skillman said partnerships in agriculture were critically important during the tough economy, when state agency budgets were reduced by as much as 25 percent in 2009 and 2010.

“While it’s important to have partnerships to support the agricultural industry, our partnerships caused us to be even more creative and innovative,” she said. “For instance, Indiana’s Conservation Partnership, where we work with the local Soil and Water Conservation Districts and the state conservation division and at the national level with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, has allowed us to combine resources and manpower.”

“The ICP has been the envy of other states,” she said. “We also have a great working relationship with Purdue University as they oversee many of the regulatory agencies in agriculture.”

Skillman also credits her administration with developing a biofuels program in Indiana. New Energy in South Bend was the only ethanol production facility located in the state in 2005 when the Daniels administration embarked on its first year in office.

Though that plant closed this past fall, there are 13 ethanol production facilities in Indiana today, and the lieutenant governor reflected on a positive campaign involving her interstate travels in a 2005 Chevy Tahoe fueled by E85 with a large corn wrap-around design.

“The Tahoe was a great educational tool for Hoosiers, and we drove it all around the state,” she said. “At that time, there were no public fueling stations for E85 in the state of Indiana. Today, we have well more than 130 communities where you can purchase E85.”

“We provided tax incentives in the early days to stand up the industry, and they are no longer in place,” she said. “I can’t say what will happen with biofuels in the future, but I can say that this industry took care of itself on the state level with no tax incentives for several years.”

Though Skillman did not elaborate on her hopes for new Gov. Mike Pence and Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann, she said Ellspermann has big plans for agriculture and that she expects them to take advantage of the solid foundation the Daniels administration maintained during tough economic times to grow the industry to an even greater level.

Though Pence has voiced his support for agriculture through the development of private institutions and partnerships, it is less clear how his administration will approach issues of regulation in agriculture, particularly when they apply to large livestock farms and air and water pollution.

Following the creation of the ISDA, the greatest decrease in staff positions occurred in clean water field staff, grain buyers wholesale licensing and soil conservation, according to a report on the Indiana state government website.

The amendment of the grant-based Value-Added Research Fund and the Livestock Industry Promotion and Development Fund in favor of market development funds, as well as the use of LIPDF funds to support communications and outreach groups, such as Indiana Farm Bureau, Indiana Pork the Indiana Soybean Alliance in the area of animal agriculture, also occurred during the Daniels administration.

Skillman said Pence plans to place much more emphasis on vocational training in youth education programs and that she hopes he includes agriculture in that training.

Before she became Indiana’s lieutenant governor, Skillman served in the Indiana Senate, representing five rural counties in south-central Indiana, where, much as in other areas of the Hoosier state, “agriculture is a big part of the local economy.”

Before serving as lieutenant governor, she held elected offices in Lawrence County for 16 years. She also served as the president of the Association of Indiana Counties.

Though her parents did not own a farm, her grandfather did, and Skillman participated in 4-H and other rural activities in Lawrence County, eventually becoming a nine-year 4-H member.

She said that while she regrets running out of time in office and tries not to focus on her regrets or disappointments, she is happy with the progress that has been made in the state’s ag industry.

“I think while we can always do more and need to do more, in the last year or two, we’ve worked through our partnerships one again and we’ve come a long way in educating the average Hoosier about the benefits of agriculture in their daily lives,” she said.

“We’ve made some great strides in community concerns. I think back to 2007 and 2008, and if someone had told me that I would have that much interaction with presidents of local zoning boards and county commissioners over increased restrictions on agriculture, I would have told them they were crazy.”

“I did not expect that to be a part of my job description,” she said. “You don’t hear that level of concern, and I attribute that measure of success to the entire ag industry pulling together.”

“I’m proud that Indiana is the most, or at least one of the most, agriculture-friendly state governments in America,” Skillman added.

“From what I hear from our peers across the industry and also from ISDA Director Joe Kelsay when he attends directors’ meetings, I know that the environment in Indiana is envied by the industry in other states.”