The Indiana State Department of Agriculture has a new strategic plan to bring it in line with the aims and goals of the Pence Administration. This is the first in a series of stories on the new direction for ISDA. The stories are based on an exclusive interview conducted by HAT with ISDA director Gina Sheets.
Under previous director Joe Kelsay, advocacy was the top priority for ISDA. Current director Gina Sheets told Hoosier Ag Today economic development is now the top priority, “Job creation is job 1 in the Pence administration; and, here at ISDA, we take that very seriously.” Sheets was quick to point out, however, that economic development and advocacy go hand in hand, “We have a team of 64 ISDA employees that are working in every county of the state.”
Sheets has spent her first few months as Director filling key positions within the department and developing a plan for the future. She said agriculture is a key player when it comes to job creation, “Seventeen percent of all the jobs in Indiana are in the agriculture sector.” Sheets noted the hardwood industry is the largest ag employer in the state with over 38 thousand jobs tied to this industry. She said ISDA is working hard to help grow this industry – especially in the export sector, “Indiana is the largest manufacturer of wooden office furniture in the nation.”
Education and career development are also part of the ISDA plan. With the state FFA organization being part of ISDA, Sheets says they can help inform young people on the kind of skills that will be needed in the Hoosier workforce in the future.
Sheets pointed out, however, that economic development does not just mean big business but also means helping small family farms grow their business, “The ‘Indiana Grown’ program has been reaching out to family farms. Our program manager Jill Prichard has literally been in the field meeting with specialty crop farmers, helping them to grow and find new markets for their products.” In addition, ISDA administers a Federal grant program for specialty crops.
When ISDA was created during the first Daniels administration, public hearings were held and a lengthy strategic plan was developed to chart the course for the new agency. The process this time around is more low key. An internal plan has been developed along with a matrix by which the department’s performance will be measured.
In part 2 of our series, we will look at some of the other departments and programs at ISDA that are undergoing changes. You can also see the HAT interview with Gina Sheets in the video section of the Hoosier Ag Today app.