Pharos-Tribune

Opinion

October 15, 2013

THEIR VIEW: Building small town Indiana

(Continued)

As a result, unemployment in the county (at 6.1 percent in August) is well below state and national rates. Incomes are significantly higher and the poverty rate substantially lower than the state averages.

Warsaw, with attractive parks, nearby lakes and a bustling downtown, also is a very livable community. That’s a key to attracting and attracting the skilled workers that growing companies need.

Not every small town, of course, has the benefit of being the center of an industry cluster that can weather economic downturns better than most. Revra DePuy founded the nation’s first orthopedics company in Warsaw in 1895. It gave rise decades later to Zimmer and then Biomet. Warsaw’s strengths have deep roots.

But there are lessons from Warsaw that can be adapted to other communities. Strong leadership in the government and private sectors, for example, is essential, not only to forge a realistic economic plan but also to create and sustain amenities that help retain residents. A strong emphasis on education is essential; Indiana’s workforce is only 42nd in the nation in education attainment, but those communities such as Warsaw that thrive tend to excel at training and keeping skilled employees.

On the state level, allowing communities the flexibility and freedom to make the decisions that are right for them is key. As a team of Ball State researchers noted in August in a report, “The Causes of State Differences in Per Capita Income,” state government needs to encourage “more comprehensive ‘place-based’ policies ... designed to attract and retain high-income households.” Unfortunately, the General Assembly in recent years has moved in the opposite direction, increasingly imposing restrictions that curtail the ability of local leaders to set their own courses.

For Indiana to thrive, more of its small towns and rural areas, traditional strengths of the state, must be reborn. State government can assist with that goal through policies that foster economic growth and encourage regional cooperation; and by providing infrastructure improvements that enhance mobility, education and recreation. But ultimately the leadership needed to drive small-town Indiana’s rebirth will have to come from the grass roots.

— Indianapolis Star

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