The numbers in reporter Peter Blanchard’s story about Boone County land purchases are pretty eye-popping.

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. spent more than $125 million to acquire 1,577 acres of land in Boone County in 2022, according to state sales disclosure forms.

That included about $73,000 per acre for farmland—or property without houses. That’s more than six times the market value for average-quality farmland.

And the state spent an average of about $800,000 for residential properties with farmland attached.

But there’s nothing average about this property or the process for buying it, so comparing these purchases to land bought elsewhere can be like comparing apples and oranges.

As soon as it became clear the state had identified as many as 7,000 acres in Boone County as a site for economic development, prices were bound to increase. That’s why it’s no surprise that, for at least a time, the state was working quietly through real estate brokers to secure signed purchase agreements for land.

But eventually, word leaked out that some company or entity was trying to amass a huge amount of land. And on March 29, 2022, IBJ reported the IEDC was behind the effort.

We have no regrets about that story, of course, even if it means the state ends up paying more for the land. We think transparency about the efforts to develop the LEAP Lebanon Innovation and Research District is critical—for the people who live near the planned development and for the taxpayers footing the bill.

There are other reasons Boone County landowners can command fairly high prices.

The IEDC points out that a planned Interstate 65 interchange just north of Lebanon, as well as overall utility upgrades in the area, have increased property values. The proximity to Indianapolis and to fast-growing industrial sites already developed in Boone County—along with the quick trip to Purdue University, which has its own booming tech corridor—increase the value as well.

So far, the public criticism of the land purchases is less about price and more about whether the state should be buying the land at all.

Blanchard reports that Rep. Jack Jordan, a Republican from northwest Indiana who serves on House Ways and Means, said during a committee meeting that he had difficulty reconciling free-market economics with the IEDC’s practices.

“In my mind, being a private-sector fiscal conservative, I do feel a bit uncomfortable to say we’re in the real estate business,” Jordan said.

But we agree with the IEDC that today’s national economic development climate demands that states have sites ready, especially for the types of high-tech, advanced manufacturing jobs that pay good wages. We support the efforts—including the financial support from the Legislature—to put Indiana in a position to compete.

We urge the Legislature to keep that financial support in the next two-year budget.

Indianapolis Business Journal

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