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FUNNY BUSINESS: Indiana's rural counties fall short of 'progressive'

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I notice that my home county, LaGrange, did not make Progressive Farmer magazine's 2007 list of Top 10 Rural Counties in America. Then again, "progressive" is not a word that leaps to mind for a county that is about 40-percent Amish.

Actually, none of Indiana's 92 counties made the Top 10. According to the magazine, the best rural places to live in America are (in reverse order):

10. Polk County, N.C.; 9. Amador County, Calif.; 8. Garfield County, Okla.; 7. Sac County, Iowa; 6. St. Lawrence County, N.Y.; 5. Union City, S.D.; 4. Gillespie County, Texas; 3. Randolph County, Ill.; 2. Warren County, Pa.; and the best rural county in America (drum roll, please) ... Barren County, Ky.

Gee, you'd think we could have gotten Miss Congeniality.

The list is something the magazine does every year-measuring household income and spending, home and land prices, crime rates, air quality, education and access to health care in rural counties all over America. Indiana counties that made the cut in individual categories included Knox (seventh in lowest household spending), Tipton and Shelby (sixth- and eighth-safest) and Steuben (fourth in air quality).

But overall, there's not much of the Hoosier state to be found in this thing. Indiana didn't even crack the Top 10 in Progressive Farmer's 60 best counties in the Midwest. We don't show up until Pulaski County comes in at No. 11, and after that it's slim pickins for Hoosiers: Decatur County (21), Tipton County (31), Gibson County (41) and Ripley County (52).

Now we have to decide if it's a good thing or a bad thing.

On the bad side: Our State Pride could be wounded. Oh, sure, we can make a big State Show of not caring, putting a Brave State Smile on our State Face, pretending our State Psyche is so secure that we don't need the approval of a magazine to make our State Self feel good ... but blinking away a State Tear when none of the other States is looking.

Or we could tell ourselves it doesn't matter; there are more important things than income, clean air, good schools, low crime and access to

medical care. Such as ... such as ... wait, don't tell me, I'll think of something. OK, maybe we'll have to come back to that one.

On the good side: We could use this as a report card, to tell us where to improve things around here, although in my experience that's the sort of thing that tends to start arguments. If you've ever been to a session of the Legislature, a county council, or a solid waste dispos al authority, you know that one man's Room For Improvement is another man's Things Are Just Fine The Way They Are, and yet another man's Nice Idea But We Don't Have The Money and yet another's Let's Wrap This Up, The Basketball Game Is On.

Or we could console ourselves with the idea that there are thousands and thousands of people looking to escape the grind of city life for country charm, and they're going to use this magazine as a sort of Apartment Guide-"Look, honey! Warren County, Pa., has the Allegheny River! Let's try that!"-and before you know it, all those Top 10 places are going to be overrun with fleeing urbanites. It'll be like "Green Acres" without the laugh track. Or the comic genius of Arnold Ziffel.

When you look at it that way, it's a good thing we don't show up on the list all that much.

I remember as a kid wishing I could live in a place people had actually heard of. But no, I was stuck in Indiana, a place known for the Indianapolis 500 and not much else, or so it seemed.

Then we moved to a place people had heard of-Washington, D.C.- and after a year and a half I couldn't wait to move back to Indiana.

Now, when I recall that feeling, I wish for it to overtake certain members of Indiana's congressional delegation. No, wait. Well, actually, I do, but that's not what I was going to say. I recall that feeling and think that, for all its flaws, this is a nice place-and that it could be a lot nicer with serious work in those Progressive Farmer categories.

Hey, a guy can dream, can't he? Oh, well. Let's wrap this up. The basketball game is on.

At least we have really good air up by Angola. Deep breaths, everybody! We're No. 4! We're No. 4!
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