Alleys of devastation

July 2, 2009
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Plenty of stories have been published and aired in recent days about migration patterns in Indiana. People in the early part of the century are moving to the Indianapolis suburbs, particularly Fishers, Noblesville, Greenwood and Carmel, the Indiana University study showed.

Overlooked in the coverage are the swaths of the state that keep losing population.

The biggest swath runs from Richmond in eastern Indiana toward Chicago. It’s largely the U.S. 35 corridor that once boasted a sophisticated mastery of the industrial revolution. Richmond, Anderson, Muncie, Marion and other towns hosted factories churning out products as diverse as school buses, cars, transmissions and television screens.

In most cases, companies headquartered outside the state ran the plants into the ground and then pulled out, says Morton Marcus, an economist who formerly headed IU’s Indiana Business Research Center. One exception is Chrysler’s ongoing investment in Kokomo.

The other major “alley of devastation,” as Marcus calls it, starts at Terre Haute and runs south toward Evansville. The area used to be pockmarked with coal mines and thousands of jobs that, like manufacturing, paid well for the level of formal education required.

Points of light glimmer in these areas, but they’re small. Among other victories, Marion has landed a plastics company to take over part of the TV screen plant abandoned by Thomson Consumer Electronics. Coal country might see new life if clean-coal technologies are accepted.

Otherwise, odds of revitalization are slim, says Marcus, who is familiar with the woes as a result of his travels throughout the state. The areas should double down on school quality in hopes people will move back to take advantage of cheap housing, he says.

“These communities need to find ways to make themselves more attractive. The best we can hope for is stability, to stop the decline.”

Bummer of an outlook. But is it realistic? Do you see anything that might bring back these once-thriving areas?

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  • Here's the problem with most of Indiana: no money for young
    entrepreneurs and no ambition. Making your community more
    attractive might attract a few bucks, but if your want long term
    growth, you have to find a way to grow local businesses owned
    by local business people. Otherwise you are doomed to run on
    the tax abatement treadmill where you get a new facility, collect no
    taxes, and then the either leave, close or sell out before the abatement
    ends.

    Which gets to the real issue: Hoosiers need to stop gambling on horses
    and start gambling on business start ups. We actually might win from time to time.

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  1. By Mr. Lee's own admission, he basically ran pro-bono ads on the billboard. Paying advertisers didn't want ads on a controversial, ugly billboard that turned off customers. At least one of Mr. Lee's free advertisers dropped out early because they found that Mr. Lee's advertising was having negative impact. So Mr. Lee is disingenous to say the city now owes him for lost revenue. Mr. Lee quickly realized his monstrosity had a dim future and is trying to get the city to bail him out. And that's why the billboard came down so quickly.

  2. Merchants Square is back. The small strip center to the south of 116th is 100% leased, McAlister’s is doing well in the outlot building. The former O’Charleys is leased but is going through permitting with the State and the town of Carmel. Mac Grill is closing all of their Indy locations (not just Merchants) and this will allow for a new restaurant concept to backfill both of their locations. As for the north side of 116th a new dinner movie theater and brewery is under construction to fill most of the vacancy left by Hobby Lobby and Old Navy.

  3. Yes it does have an ethics commission which enforce the law which prohibits 12 specific items. google it

  4. Thanks for reading and replying. If you want to see the differentiation for research, speaking and consulting, check out the spreadsheet I linked to at the bottom of the post; it is broken out exactly that way. I can only include so much detail in a blog post before it becomes something other than a blog post.

  5. 1. There is no allegation of corruption, Marty, to imply otherwise if false. 2. Is the "State Rule" a law? I suspect not. 3. Is Mr. Woodruff obligated via an employment agreement (contractual obligation) to not work with the engineering firm? 4. In many states a right to earn a living will trump non-competes and other contractual obligations, does Mr. Woodruff's personal right to earn a living trump any contractual obligations that might or might not be out there. 5. Lawyers in state government routinely go work for law firms they were formally working with in their regulatory actions. You can see a steady stream to firms like B&D from state government. It would be interesting for IBJ to do a review of current lawyers and find out how their past decisions affected the law firms clients. Since there is a buffer between regulated company and the regulator working for a law firm technically is not in violation of ethics but you have to wonder if decisions were made in favor of certain firms and quid pro quo jobs resulted. Start with the DOI in this review. Very interesting.

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