A Low-Cost Opportunity to Move the City Forward
Cummins Engine, Indiana University, Bank One and other big Indiana employers already offer domestic partnership health benefits to committed, but unmarried, couples. They say the benefit is relatively low cost and is worth it as a tool to attract and retain good employees. Now the city of Indianapolis is considering offering such benefits for city employees. What do you think the city should do?
Progress isn't always expensive.
City-County councilors on the Rules and Public Policy Committee would do well to keep that in mind July 23 when they consider a proposal to offer domestic partnership benefits to city employees.
The same elected representatives who are usually confronted with how or whether to pay for big-ticket items like football stadiums, sanitary sewer systems and new public transportation systems can strike an inexpensive blow for economic development by sending the domestic partnership benefits proposal to the full council with a do-pass recommendation.
The ordinance proposed by at-large councilor Karen Celestino Horseman would put the city in the same camp as Cummins Engine Co., Indiana University, Bank One Corp., Sallie Mae and other major Indiana employers in recognizing the employee-recruitment and retention value of offering health care benefits to families headed by unmarried, but committed, partners.
Cummins CEO Tim Solso and executives at other companies that offer domestic partnership benefits say offering the benefit adds little to their costs and, in fact, more than pays for itself as an employee retention tool. Horseman's research indicates the city's costs would rise less than a third of 1 percent.
But the argument in favor of domestic partnership benefits goes way beyond its dollars-and-cents impact on the city budget.
In his book "The Rise of the Creative Class," Carnegie Mellon University economist Richard Florida says the economic success of 21st century cities rides on their ability to appeal to a variety of people in a variety of ways. Because in this day and age, Florida points out, "people don't follow jobs, jobs follow people."
Indeed, if Indianapolis wants to generate high-paying jobs in cutting-edge industries, it has to offer an environment that appeals to the kinds of people who fill those jobs. For the most part, those are people who want to live in a place known for diversity, openness to new ideas and new people, recreational opportunities, a thriving music scene, lively street culture and a variety of other amenities.
Just as companies appeal to employees through such lures as flexible scheduling, relaxed dress codes, and domestic partnership benefits, cities, too, must make themselves appealing to a new generation of worker.
Indianapolis is well-positioned to create such appeal. It's already a "people" city in that it's easy to navigate, with a thriving urban core in close proximity to parks, greenways and other recreational amenities. And the city is increasingly diverse. In fact, focus groups conducted as part of the city's much-heralded cultural tourism initiative found that newcomers to the city, regardless of their ethnic backgrounds, find it easy to be accepted here and become part of the community.
The City-County Council can help spread that message by adopting domestic partnership benefits for its employees and, in doing so, demonstrate that, in Indianapolis, what's good for business is good for city government.