Few would argue with the assertion that the Indianapolis area is a good place to do business. Taxes are low, regulations are generally reasonable and the cost of living is low.
But those kinds of metrics don’t necessarily woo the best and the brightest. That’s where quality of life comes in.
We are glad to see that Michael Huber, Indy Chamber’s new CEO, grasps the point. In a Q&A in last week’s IBJ, he laid out an agenda for the business-membership organization far broader than his predecessors pursued.
“Economic development is more and more about attracting talent and retaining talent in your community,” he said. “It’s less and less and less about simply tax-driven, incentive-driven policies.”
He continued: “Cities and metros that are really thriving ... have got highly educated people. They retain the ones they have. They create more opportunities for low- to moderate-income folks in those communities. And finally, they then attract people from other cities. You kind of become known as a city that’s got a lot of opportunity.”
We agree completely—though of course a stew of other factors, particularly the cost of doing business, also influence where businesses locate and expand. Just ask officials in Chicago, where hefty taxes have promoted some marquee companies to look elsewhere.
We Hoosiers get those arguments, but we don’t always place similar importance on quality-of-life investments, such as effective transit systems, walkable neighborhoods and plentiful recreation options.
Those aren’t just squishy, feel-good issues. They are magnets for economic development. As Ball State economist Michael Hicks pointed out in his IBJ column last week, “For Indiana to do well, it has to have more good communities that attract more people. There is no magic formula. This is not about creating only upscale communities, but rather filling our state with many places that many different people wish to live.”
That’s not easy. Enhancing quality of life is painstaking work—and it doesn’t provide politicians with the flashy headlines they get for luring new jobs to town, even if attracting those jobs requires hefty incentive packages.
Yet in the long run, quality of life investments can make a far bigger difference than one-off job-creation deals. If Indianapolis can join the Portlands and Austins as a place where creative young professionals flock to build innovative businesses, the payoff could last generations.
A low cost of living is great when you are searching for a house. But wouldn’t we rather see central Indiana become such a draw that home prices rocket higher?•
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