JAKE VERMEULEN ’21 | EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Wabash men have made a tremendous impact on Indiana politics in the last few years. During the 2018 election cycle, the Republican Senate primary featured three Wabash men—Todd Rokita ’92, Luke Messer ’91, and Mike Braun ’76—going head to head. Braun eventually prevailed in that race and went on to win election to the US Senate. Now, another Wabash man is throwing his hat into the ring. Josh Owens ’07 announced his campaign for the Democratic nomination for Governor on September 6th.
Owens’ campaign is historic for multiple reasons. Owens is the first openly gay candidate for Governor in Indiana’s history. In 2018, Jared Polis of Colorado became the first openly gay governor in American history. If Owens is elected, he will also become the third youngest person to become Indiana’s Governor after James Ray and Evan Bayh.
Part of what drew Owens to Wabash was the College’s willingness to admit him even though he was graduating from high school early. “I came to Wabash because I was looking to leave high school after my Junior year…and Wabash was ready and willing to take me as a graduating Junior,” Owens said. Owens also came to Wabash because it felt like home from the first time he came to campus. “I felt like there was a community here that I could build on, and it certainly ended up being exactly that.”
Since leaving Wabash, Owens has quickly built a career for himself. Right after graduation, he worked for Angie’s List as one of the first Wabash alumni to receive the Orr Fellowship. Owens has done his part to expand that opportunity for students who came after him, as he serves on the Orr Fellowship’s Board of Directors and was recently on campus to help recruit Wabash men to the program. After his Orr Fellowship ended, Owens went to graduate school, earning a MSc in Economic History from the London School of Economics.
After he returned to Indiana, Owens worked for technology startup One Click Ventures and served as a professor at Butler University, where he was awarded the 2015 Excellence in Teaching Award for the Lacy School of Business. Owens then moved over to SupplyKick, where he is now CEO. Under Owens’ leadership, SupplyKick has grown rapidly. According to Inc.com, they have seen growth of 527% over the last three years.
Owens points to his company’s decision to institute a $50,000 minimum salary as a main driver for their success over the last few years. “It aligns with our values of building a business in a new economy that actually supports all workers and ensures that people are leaving there with at least a middle class living.” Owens says. “As we did that, people were more connected to SupplyKick, they were more interested in the growth of the company, they were more connected and more secure in the job itself, and so it also had the ability of helping us grow even faster than we would have otherwise. I think you can get lost in trying to minimize costs and squeeze things here and there. In reality, at the end of the day, a business is an incredibly important part of the community.”
Owens faces a stiff challenge to win this race, though. He faces two opponents in the primary who are more politically experienced—State Senator Eddie Melton and former Indiana Health Commissioner Woody Myers. Even if he wins the primary race, that only guarantees a matchup with current Governor Eric Holcomb, who posted a net approval rating of +27 in a Morning Consult poll taken earlier this year.
Still, Owens was unphased as he talked about why he entered the race. He said, “As I looked at this, I’m younger, I come from building dynamic, growing companies, and I know I’m a little biased here but the pace of Indiana from a policy perspective is not fast enough. We’re not talking about the issues that will really be defining the next 20, 30, 40 years of Indiana.”
Owens has started off his campaign by focusing primarily on education and teacher pay in Indiana. He recently released an education plan modeled off of his experience at SupplyKick, including instituting a minimum salary of $50,000 for all teachers in Indiana, and eliminating textbook fees around the state.
Owens’ campaign is just getting started, but the Wabash grad is set to make a significant impact on the course of the race.