La PORTE — A former lawmaker and state auditor who now serves as Indiana's second-highest executive, Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch has no shortage of accomplishments under her belt.
She didn't achieve her accolades all on her own, though. Those who raised her laid the foundation for many of her future successes, Crouch said.
Speaking to the Rotary Club of La Porte on Monday, the Evansville native recalled one such formative lesson, after she experienced her growth spurt at age 11. For a time, Crouch was taller than the rest of her classmates – and even most of her teachers – which prompted the other children to begin to call her the "Jolly Green Giant," she said.
When Crouch told her father about the teasing, he gave her some simple advice – act like she was in on the joke.
"The next time they called me the 'Jolly Green Giant,' I responded with a hearty 'ho, ho, ho,'" Crouch said, referring to the mascot's catchphrase. "The teasing stopped."
While it may seem like a trivial challenge compared to others she's tackled over the past 14 years in Indianapolis, the message of self-confidence her father taught remains with her today, she said.
The anecdote also illustrates the importance that healthy families and tight-knit communities – bolstered by the public and private sectors – play in the development of Indiana's next generation of leaders, Crouch told the Rotarians.
The lieutenant governor was guest speaker at the service club latest meeting, hosted in conjunction with the La Porte Economic Advancement Partnership at the La Porte Civic Auditorium. Crouch's speech focused on how state leaders are working with Indiana residents and business owners through Gov. Eric Holcomb's "Next Level Agenda" initiative to improve the lives of current and future Hoosiers.
Crouch, a Republican, has served as Holcomb's number two since her election as lieutenant governor in 2016. She began her career in state politics representing the 78th House District in the General Assembly, a position she held for nearly 10 years before becoming state auditor in 2014.
Rotarian and La Porte Republican mayoral candidate Tom Dermody – who worked with Crouch on the Ways and Means Committee when the two served in House – introduced Crouch. He brought up several examples of how Crouch has assisted the city over the years, including working with LEAP Executive Director Bert Cook to secure $220,000 in state grants for the Dunes Event Center project.
"Whether it's two people or 2,000, she's always going to be available to listen," Dermody said. "She's a true champion of many of our towns and our state as a whole."
During her talk, Crouch shared some ways that Indiana is leading the nation. The state is the top location for advanced manufacturing; possesses the best business environment in the Midwest; and is the second-most affordable place to live in the country, the lieutenant governor said.
"These are incredible accomplishments, but they cannot be credited to government alone," Crouch said. "Conservative leadership may light a path, but it is you, the hard-working men and women, who are taking the risks and making the sacrifices that have put our state on a path toward prosperity."
Through Gov. Holcomb's $1 billion "Next Level Connections" program, state leaders want to strengthen Indiana's infrastructure further to unleash the "diamond in the rough" economy and help it reach full potential, Crouch said.
In addition to moving up the completion of major highway projects, the administration is investing $100 million to expand access to high-speed broadband internet in rural communities. Purdue University conducted a study last year that found nearly 500,000 Hoosiers are living in "internet darkness," and they could contribute another $1 billion to the state economy if connected, Crouch said.
"We want to ensure that rural Indiana and the Hoosiers that call it home have equal access to technology in order to create growth and ensure quality of life," she said.
Improvements to trails is another tenet of the infrastructure improvement plan. The state is spending $90 million to expand and connect systems throughout Indiana, with the goal that all residents will live no more than 5 miles away from walking paths, Crouch said.
"A place you want to play in is a place you also want to live, work and stay in," she said. "This is such an important part of economic development."
Indiana is also spending another $20 million in investments for nonstop, trans-Atlantic flights into and out of the state, which will improve Indiana's position in the global economy, Crouch said.
The future workforce is another priority, she said. This past session, the General Assembly passed legislation focusing on career and technical education, which helps provide high school students with a clear path toward their post-graduation destinations, be it college, trade school, apprenticeship or the military, Crouch said.
"Young adults are seeking options to create their destiny in their own backyards," she said. "It is up to us to ensure that Indiana is the best that it can be."
The lieutenant governor touched on a few other governor-led initiatives, including the "Next Level Veterans" program, which encourages military personnel to relocate to Indiana after discharge from service. The governor is also looking into ways to help residents living with disabilities – 80 percent of whom lack employment – enter the workforce, Crouch said
While these and other programs cannot guarantee success, the partnership of government and private business can provide Hoosiers with the opportunity to achieve, she said.
"When we come together, and we work together, we can build a better tomorrow," Crouch said. "Our pioneering spirit is alive and well because, as Hoosiers, we work hard, we're independent and we understand what really matters."