Travelin’ Man

Mike Neal endeavors to make his mark on Johnson County
By Jon Shoulders

»Since relocating to Greenwood in December 2014, the daily life of Crown Point native Mike Neal has been somewhat of a whirlwind. It was during that month that he was tapped to assume the position of external operations director for Gov. Mike Pence, for which he travels to counties throughout the state regularly, and for the past year he has also taken on the presidency of the Johnson County Convention, Visitors and Commission Board. With additional roles as national committeeman for the Indiana Federation of Young Republicans and precinct committeeman for the Johnson County Republican Party, Neal, now 29, has very little downtime these days, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

How did your early life and educational experiences shape the way your professional career has evolved?
I was raised in what Hoosiers lovingly call the Region, which is generally Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties in the northwest corner of our state. I graduated from Valparaiso High School and later attained a business administration degree from American InterContinental University. Through high school, I was involved in student council and did a lot of student aiding for the school’s administration, resource officer and the head of our debate team. That, along with some great teachers and administrators, really helped me focus on what I felt I was good at and what I wanted to do long term, which was management, problem solving, etc.

Have you always had an interest in government and the public sector?
From an early age, I was very much attracted to politics and government. In 2000, at the age of 13, I volunteered for my first campaign for my pastor, who ran for state representative. Since then, I have had a fascination with public service. Even while holding other jobs outside of my current government position, I always stayed involved in my community by connecting with local leaders and elected officials to be a part of serving our community. In 2014, I was elected and sworn in to the St. John Township Advisory Board, which served some 70,000 constituents. However, shortly after being elected, I was offered a position in the Pence administration and moved to Greenwood to serve Hoosiers and the governor.

Walk us through your role as external operations director for the governor.
The team that I have the privilege of leading, the governor’s external operations team, is the logistical, event and travel side of the governor’s office. Any time the governor is invited to an event such as a chamber lunch, a tour of a factory or a business, a ribbon cutting, a veterans event, etc., my team works with the schedulers to see if we can make it happen. Once we determine that we are able to accept their invitation, our team works out the logistics and gathers information about the events planned for that day. With the information in hand prior to the event, we arrive at the venue before the governor’s arrival to verify the agenda, where the governor is heading once he arrives and who he will be meeting when he arrives, help executive protection make sure everything is secure during the governor’s stay and evaluate optics.

Once the governor arrives, it is our job to give the governor a final briefing and then to keep him moving from point to point at the event venue so that he can get to his next event or meeting on schedule. Being with the governor at events makes us the first point of contact when dealing with constituent issues that they may bring to the governor during his visit. We work with the constituent to help get them the help or answers they seek by connecting them with the proper agency or policy liaison. We typically see it through until an answer is received. This is the best part of my job, because we help connect Hoosiers to their government and make it work for them.

What is happening with the Johnson County Convention, Visitors and Tourism Commission?
In 2016, I was appointed by Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers to be one of the city’s three representatives of the newly formed Johnson County Convention, Visitors and Tourism Commission, which takes the local innkeeper tax and invests that money in increasing awareness of convention, visitor and tourism access in Johnson County. From the Greenwood Park Mall to Franklin College, from apple orchards to wineries, Johnson County has a lot to offer, and there is tremendous economic benefit to showcasing what we have and to also attracting visitors to our hotels, restaurants and stores while in the Indy metro area. I was elected president of the nine-member commission at our January meeting, and it is my role to shepherd our team through the process of making this organization successful. Since January, we have been working diligently to study different types of convention, visitors and tourism organizations across the state of Indiana. We have had several counties make presentations of how their organizations work, several experts in the destination marketing field come and give us advice on how to build, and leaders in our local community share their insights on how to move forward. We recently had our 2017 budget approved by the Johnson County Council so that we can begin the process of marketing our county to the outside world.

What do you find most appealing about the south side of Indy?
The south side gives you easy access to the city and airport without feeling like you are right in the city. My commute from my home to the statehouse is typically 25 minutes and about 20 minutes to the airport. The south side also has a lot of parks, restaurants and shopping centers so you don’t have to go to the city, yet the city is right there for sporting events, restaurants, shopping and other events. Johnson County has really started to catch its own identity and build up in terms of restaurants, shopping, hotels, smaller convention space and things like that.

What are some hobbies and pursuits you gravitate toward during your downtime?
I really enjoy spending time with friends. Whether it’s for a meal, a game night or just sitting around and enjoying each other’s company, I like spending time with others. I’m also big into board games and card games. From Monopoly to a friendly game of poker, or even playing some of the more obscure games such as The Settlers of Catan, I’m always up for a relaxing game night. I really enjoy trail riding with all-terrain vehicles and boating at lakes across the state. Medaryville is always a lot of fun. I enjoy traveling, but since a lot of my day job involves travel, I don’t do much traveling outside of that in this stage of my life.

What might you be doing professionally if you weren’t on your current career path?
I’ve always gone back and forth on this. I’ve always had a desire to be in management positions, but would love to have a job in the future with a travel component across the country and the world — in short bursts, of course. However, I’m a proud Hoosier who loves living in Indiana, and I don’t see myself moving from this great state.