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
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
“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
“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
“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
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
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
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
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
“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.”