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MARCUS: Governor: Don’t forget our smaller communities

December 31, 2016

viewpoint-marcus-morton.jpgHe didn’t ask, but I have some advice for our incoming governor, Eric Holcomb. I’ve had advice for all our governors since 1970, but none has been taken. Nonetheless, we press on.

What do so many Hoosiers like? Our convenient smaller towns. What do folks beyond our borders think of, if they think of Indiana? The 500, corn, Larry Bird and small-town life.

What are we trying to attract? Imaginary people: millennials who have a perverse passion for trolley cars and the skills to earn $90,000 a year the first year out of college.

These people, we think, want to live downtown in quaint, restored old buildings, riding bicycles to work, buying groceries from small neighborhood shopkeepers, but having elevators so they don’t have to lug baby and carriage upstairs, in the unlikely event they ever have a baby.

Yet, what do we have in abundance? Our convenient smaller towns losing, or struggling to gain, population. Do we promote those places? No. We have no specific program to encourage businesses and their workers to locate in Logansport, Peru or Wabash.

Economic development goals at the Indiana Economic Development Corp. are satisfied if firms pick Fishers, which is already overburdened with people and the problems of rapid growth. Policies that use the resources already invested in our many troubled cities and towns are not in the IEDC toolbox.

The General Assembly, more properly known as the Private Assembly, gives no assistance to the 111 Hoosier cities and towns that have lost a combined population of 113,000 in the past 15 years. Hoosiers might think we’re doing fine, but when compared to the average U.S. growth in that period, Indiana comes up nearly 325,000 persons short.

Our state has good places the size of Evansville, South Bend and Muncie on down to Hartford City, Portland and Sullivan. These places could offer a quality of life deemed acceptable by our elite state economic developers if a program of incentives removed the blemishes caused by stagnation and decline.

Just visit from Michigan City on to Gary, East Chicago and Hammond with your eyes open to the opportunities rather than the blight. The existing infrastructure in Marion, Connersville and Richmond is too important to continue deteriorating while new infrastructure is built to solve the congestion caused by past policies favoring Carmel, Noblesville and Westfield.

A new administration can change the heading of this ship of state listing in dangerous shallows. Instead of having a thriving state from Lake Michigan to the Ohio River and from Ohio to Illinois, we continue to be the butt of jokes, dominated by a single second-class (not world-class) metropolitan area.

It’s time to prove that we are A State that Works—a state of diverse living opportunities, friendly to people as well as to business.•

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Marcus is an economist, writer and speaker who can be reached at mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com.

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