In March, several Indiana Senators felt it necessary to honor the cast of the reality show "Porter Ridge" for their contribution to the state's economy. If you've had the good sense/good fortune to avoid it, "Porter Ridge" was a reality TV show set in Owen County and apparently based on an auto parts store owner who refuses to wear a shirt, a bear handler, and an assorted cast of characters. Like most reality shows, this one had little connection to reality, and instead perpetuated grossly exaggerated stereotypes. In this case the stereotype was of the Indiana "Hilljack".
Senator John Waterman decided to honor the "Porter Ridge" stars for their contribution of "tens of thousands" of dollars to the Indiana economy.
There are a couple of troubling things about this decision. The most obvious is that an economic impact of "tens of thousands" of dollars should hardly merit a Senatorial resolution. After all, any company that adds a single minimum wage job has likely created an economic impact of tens of thousands of dollars.
The bigger issue is that shows like "Porter Ridge" perpetuate a stereotype about Indiana that does significant harm to our real economy. Indiana is home to a wide range of businesses in a number of industries, including a growing technology industry (e.g. ExactTarget, Interactive Intelligence, Angie's List). Many of these companies need to recruit new talent from outside of Indiana, a practice that is beneficial to all of us. Boston Scientific has a manufacturing facility in Owen County that employs 1000 workers. Indiana University recruits faculty, staff, and students from all over the world, and many will stay here permanently.
However, for these organizations to do well, they must constantly fight and overcome the stereotypes that "Porter Ridge" promotes. Attracting and maintaining a skilled and educated workforce is one of the greatest challenges Indiana faces right now.
As long as we continue to portray ourselves as a backward state, our economic potential will be severely limited. And it's not just our Senators that seem to promote this stereotype. Our "Honest to Goodness Indiana" new state slogan also plays up a folksy, rural image that doesn't match our economic reality.
I'm not being critical of the stars of "Porter Ridge". They have every right to cash in while they can. But the idea that our lawmakers would promote them as beneficial for the Indiana economy is just clueless. The reality is that it does a level of damage to our state that would be hard to overstate.
Fortunately, "Porter Ridge" has been cancelled. I wish I could say the same about the term of some of our Senators.
Kyle Anderson is an economist at the Kelley School of Business. He has yet to attract interest in his reality TV series "Marginal Revenue". You can follow him @kyleanderson1.