ODLE: Indiana needs a new immigration burst

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Samuel L. OdleIndiana and Indianapolis have much to be proud of. The state is in a relatively good financial position, to the point of rebated taxes.

Indianapolis has financial challenges, but nothing that cannot be overcome by good ol’ bipartisan political work. I am optimistic Mayor Ballard and council President Maggie Lewis will lead us through the issues.

And we are recognized as a place to host national and international events—no small feat.

What concerns me is where the state is potentially headed in terms of population growth and management. Population growth is flat, and while the metro areas are booming, the rural areas are starting to suffer. We are experiencing what has happened to much of the U.S. already, where we depart from rural and become more metro-based.

Indianapolis’ population growth over the last 10 years is largely due to our rural population moving to the larger cities, with Indianapolis being the main beneficiary. The long-term prognosis from the Indiana University Public Policy Institute is that our rural areas will be depleted of workers by 2040 and primarily be populated by older residents past their productive years.

Our future success, even as Indianapolis, depends on others—rural Indiana towns and the people who make up those communities.

We often hear about the brain drain in Indianapolis and Indiana, and the truth is that we do educate far more college students than our job market can absorb. So, yes, young people are leaving rural areas for jobs in the larger cities and when they can’t find a job and the lifestyle they desire, they leave the state.

This is all occurring while we are trying to increase the number of Hoosiers who attain post-high-school education.

Unless we ensure that our job market expands at a much greater pace, we will be educating Hoosiers for quick export and potentially see Indiana’s real population decline.

The decline will also be the citizens we have invested in educating. It’s the people without education who remain and require even further support from those committed to staying and growing Indiana.

So how do we as a city get Indiana really growing and prospering again? The government and business community need to drop the one-sided commitment to fiscal conservatism and develop a plan that swings for the fences.

First, we need an immigration strategy that invites new citizens to populate our dying rural communities. These communities are ideal for new United States citizens. They can help rebirth our rural communities the same way immigrants settled in the 1800s.

This growing rural population is the linchpin of our future agricultural dominance. It will also diversify our work force to provide future workers as retirees and baby boomers age out of the work force.

Second, we must develop a bold plan to take advantage of rising global wages and provide incentives for companies to bring jobs back to the U.S. Our technical training schools can partner with these companies to make certain they have the abundant work force they require to remain competitive.

And third, we need to build on our energy and life sciences foundation to support existing companies with everything they need to grow here, and not be lured away.

Immigration is not a problem, but rather a hidden opportunity Indiana should seize to help enable growth for a brighter future. We must preserve some of what we’ve been while planning accordingly for the change that is inevitable.•


Odle is the former chief operating officer of Indiana University Health and CEO of Methodist and University hospitals. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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  1. I had read earlier this spring that Noodles & Co was going to open in the Fishers Marketplace (which is SR 37 and 131st St, not 141st St, just FYI). Any word on that? Also, do you happen to know what is being built in Carmel at Pennsylvania and Old Meridian? May just be an office building but I'm not sure.

  2. I'm sorry, but you are flat out wrong. There are few tracks in the world with the history of IMS and probably NO OTHER as widely known and recognized. I don't care what you think about the stat of Indy Car racing, these are pretty hard things to dispute.

  3. Also wondering if there is an update on the Brockway Pub-Danny Boy restaurant/taproom that was planned for the village as well?

  4. Why does the majority get to trample on the rights of the minority? You do realize that banning gay marriage does not rid the world of gay people, right? They are still going to be around and they are still going to continue to exist. The best way to get it all out of the spotlight? LEGALIZE IT! If gay marriage is legal, they will get to stop trying to push for it and you will get to stop seeing it all over the news. Why do Christians get to decide what is moral?? Why do you get to push your religion on others? How would legalizing gay marriage expose their lifestyle to your children? By the way, their lifestyle is going to continue whether gay marriage is legalized or not. It's been legal in Canada for quite a while now and they seem to be doing just fine. What about actual rules handed down by God? What about not working on Sundays? What about obeying your parents? What about adultery? These are in the 10 Commandments, the most important of God's rules. Yet they are all perfectly legal. What about divorce? Only God is allowed to dissolve a marriage so why don't you work hard to get divorce banned? Why do you get to pick and choose the parts of the Bible you care about?

  5. Look at the bright side. With the new Lowe's call center, that means 1000 jobs at $10 bucks an hour. IMS has to be drooling over all that disposable income. If those employees can save all their extra money after bills, in five years they can go to the race LIVE. Can you say attendance boost?