EYE ON THE PIE: Life goes on despite property taxes

August 20, 2007

Miss Sugar repeated her dominance of the candy- and cakeeating contest at the Indiana State Fair.

"Ya gonna write about property taxes again this week?" she asked as we rode the Ferris wheel high above the fairground lights.

"I should, but I can't," I said. "My mind fades out when the topic comes up."

"So whatcha gonna write about?" she asked, chewing her taffy vigorously.

"Plymouth," I replied.

"Da rock or da old car?" Miss Sugar asked.

"The city in Marshall County, just south of South Bend," I answered. "Have you ever been there, Miss Sugar? It has one of the few restored downtown areas that is alive and seems to be commercially successful. I got my latest haircut there."

"It looks nice," she said.

"The barbershop is in one of the old restored buildings on Michigan Street. It has three wonderful wood carvings on the walls by Al Myers, Darryl's brother and Linda's husband. They're the barbers," I explained. "These pictures of balloons used to hang on the walls of the Holiday Inn north of town.

"Marshall County," I continued as the wheel took us again high into the night sky, "was named after U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall and it gave us Doc Bowen as governor from 1973 to 1981. It is where two major arteries, U.S. 30 and U.S. 31, intersect. Marshall is a rural county with only 45 percent of its population living in cities or towns, about half of those in Plymouth. Three quarters of its working residents hold jobs within the county. Of the jobs in the county, nearly 28 percent are in manufacturing and those jobs generate 39 percent of the earning in the county."

"Fascinatin' I'm sure," Miss Sugar said, taking a licorice stick from her bag.

"It is really quite interesting." I said, feeling encouraged. "So many counties with similar characteristics are not doing as well. For example, Marshall ranks 25th of the 92 Indiana counties in percentage of population 25 or older who have college degrees. It also ranks 31st in median household income."

"So how did all this good stuff happen?" Miss Sugar asked, struggling to make conversation.

"I'm not certain," I said, "but it seems Plymouth and Marshall County did not give up on manufacturing when other places felt dejected and that it was necessary to diversify. They also took advantage of their favorable highway location, focused on keeping their housing from deteriorating, and maintained community pride by investing in downtown.

"That investment was not at the expense of other commercial areas that have blossomed in Plymouth. Growth and development seem to have been balanced between downtown and the newer areas with the retail big boxes."

"So," Miss Sugar asked, "what's any of this mean to anyone else?"

"It might be worth a visit to Plymouth to talk with people there about what they have done over the years. None of this happened overnight. It has taken at least 20 years," I said.

"And you'd recommend a haircut?" she said, exiting the car and stepping lightly on the ground.

"Definitely," I said.

Marcus taught economics for more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU's Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com.
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