Urban expert lauds Indianapolis for progress

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If Indianapolis’ business leaders needed a pep talk to shake them from their recessionary funks, they got it Tuesday from an urban affairs expert who says the city is faring better than several others.

Aaron Renn, an Indiana native who writes the popular Urbanophile blog from his home in Chicago, spoke at the Indy Partnership’s annual meeting at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Supporters of the regional economic development organization undoubtedly felt better about their situations after listening to Renn, who grew up in tiny Laconia along the Ohio River.

“Indianapolis is just starting to come into its own as a major American city,” he said. “This city’s best days are ahead of it.”

By comparison, Indianapolis’ Midwestern counterparts mostly are regressing, and Renn brought the statistics to prove his point.

The former partner of the Accenture consultancy said Indianapolis enjoyed population growth of 65,000 residents over the past decade, tops among 11 Midwestern cities. And many of those cities even experienced population declines, he said.

Indianapolis also ranked first in total job growth. From 2001 to 2009, the city experienced net job growth of 17,000, a particularly striking statistic considering the 10 other cities all experienced job losses, Renn said.

Now, he said, it’s time for Indianapolis to start competing against national darlings such as Austin, Texas; Charlotte, N.C.; Nashville, Tenn.; and Portland, Ore.

Indianapolis already stacks up well against Portland, he said. Although the Hoosier capital lags in population growth, it has higher job growth and lower unemployment than its Oregonian rival.

“If you want to sip lattes by the light-rail system, go to Portland,” Renn said in a light-hearted jab. “But if you want a job, come to Indianapolis.”

A light-rail system in Indianapolis, however, was lauded as a potential “game-changer” by Mark Miles, CEO of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership. He provided a brief overview of the plans at the Indy Partnership’s meeting.

A light-rail system, the midfield terminal at Indianapolis International Airport and the Indianapolis Cultural Trail are examples of what the city needs to help lure more young professionals to the city.

That can be a challenge, Renn acknowledged, because Indianapolis is “flatter than a pancake” and lacks the attractive scenery that mountains and oceans can provide to metropolitan areas.

Partnership CEO Ron Gifford concluded by using a basketball analogy in reference to the NCAA men’s Final Four basketball championship that will be in Indianapolis April 3-5.

Twenty-five years ago, when Gifford moved to the city from San Francisco, Indianapolis might have strived to be the “Cinderella” of the tournament.

But now, Gifford said, “we should be in the Final Four for everything we do.”


  • light rail
    Run light rail from old airport to Washington Square and from Greenwood Mall to Castleton Square. Leave your car in the burbs.
  • Here's how to spur population growth and economic development...
    I think they should convert the old airport into an international terminal. The use of the old airport as an international terminal, will produce more growth of the airport as well as more income to help fund other projects within Marion County. More international would include more of a draw to more international companies, hence more jobs for this state, county and surrounding counties. If we want to be considered a "world-class" city, then there needs to be more of an appeal to have more international flair!
  • population growth
    Population growth generally assumes that the city is prospering. For instance, Detroit leads in population decline, while places like Austin or Portland are seing population growth.

    Population growth doesn't alway signal prosperity, but in US where population growth rate is pretty stable and where people migrate easily, it usually translates to good things.
  • Which is it?
    Is Renn a blogger or an expert? I always thought he was a blogger.

    What are his credentials and job experience within the field for which he blogs? Just curious.
  • Stats
    Job growth, great. Light rail, got it. But why is population growth assumed to be a positive?
  • Raising the Bar
    Renn emphasized that being tops in the Midwest is not an award we want to rest our laurels on. Reading his, blog he constantly challenges every community to be the best it can be and set the standards as high as possible. Suburbs and Indy need each other to take the Metro Area to the next level.

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