INDIANAPOLIS — Purdue University President Mitch Daniels believes Indiana is on the right track.

The former two-term Republican governor told Hoosier manufacturing leaders Wednesday that the state has made tremendous gains in business climate, disposable income relative to cost of living, infrastructure, education and environmental quality.

“I like what the future may hold for us if we can keep these trends continuing,” Daniels said. “We should not allow people to mislead us that somehow we’re in a position of relative disrepair.”

Daniels seemed to flirt with breaking his vow of “political celibacy” during his 30-minute address to the Indiana Manufacturers Association. But ultimately he refrained from directly endorsing the gubernatorial bid of his former top aide, Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb.

Instead, Daniels deployed his data-laden PowerPoint presentation to emphasize that Indiana today is in far better shape than it was when he took office in 2005 — following 16 years of Democratic governors.

“I’ve always said we’re going to try to build the best sandbox in America where people of enterprise will come here and invest and create jobs and create hope for other people,” Daniels said.

“No matter who totes it up, no matter what criteria they use, a lot of headway has been made on this.”

Daniels said Indiana going forward needs to remain focused on attracting and growing manufacturing enterprises because their jobs and associated spending rippling through the economy are “the single biggest driver of hope and opportunity in our country.”

“I don’t have patience for people who give big speeches and wring their hands about the middle class in this country, if they’re not prepared to support growth policies generally and specifically manufacturing which produces those middle-class jobs,” he said.

Daniels confessed that he’s concerned about the effects of shrinking male workforce participation, reduced family formation, increased disability claims and high levels of drug abuse among Hoosiers, and what that may portend for the state’s economy.

He suggested that in this bicentennial year Indiana could solve some of those problems, and might gain a leg up on other states, by refocusing on the values that Daniels said typify what it means to be a Hoosier: commitment to family, work ethic, honesty, self-reliance and diligence.

“If we can have a citizen-led effort to preserve some advantage culturally in our state, to go with everything else we have on the asset side of the ledger,” Daniels said, “I don’t think there will be any stopping us.”

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