MARCUS: Catching up is hard to do

Keywords Opinion / Viewpoint

viewpoint-marcus-morton.jpgIt’s easy to emphasize the pleasant present and forget a troublesome past. With a low unemployment rate and some good economic initiatives, parts of Indiana are doing well today. However, elsewhere in our state, a weak past led to neglect of essential work to maintain resources.

It’s no different from an ordinary household. When you’ve had sustained unemployment or low wages, you don’t repair things around the house as needed or replace worn tires on the car; you just don’t have the money to do the job. You don’t save as much for retirement or other future needs. Catching up after down times is hard to do.

Today, we’ll look at just three aspects of metropolitan economic growth from 2005 to 2015: 1) the value of the output in the area as measured by gross domestic product (GDP), 2) the number of wage and salary jobs, and 3) the average compensation of employees (wages, salaries, and employer-paid benefits).

Let’s get right to the point: GDP in the Kokomo metro area (Howard County) grew by 11.4 percent compared with the nation’s 37.2 percent increase. Jobs in the Kokomo MSA were down 7 percent compared to a 6.7 percent rise in the country’s 382 metro areas. Average compensation per employee for the Kokomo MSA was up only three percent, the worst record of all U.S. metro areas, set against the nation’s 28.8 percent increase (not adjusted for inflation).

In sum, Kokomo’s economic performance ranked 368th among the 382 metro areas for the 2005-15 period. Joining Kokomo in the 300-or-lower ranks were Muncie (345th), Michigan City-LaPorte (338th), and South Bend-Mishawaka (315th).

It was a different story in Indianapolis, which not only is the capital of Indiana but also the geographic, business and cultural connector for the state. GDP growth in the Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson metro area was 42.8 percent between 2005 and 2015 (89th of the 382 metro areas), and job growth ran at 9 percent (99th in the U.S.). Even so, compensation per job rose just 22.7 percent over the decade, ranking the metro area 222nd.

The problems of the bottom-feeders among Indiana’s MSAs were not due to past or current political leadership in those places. Most major business decisions are independent of government actions.

The economic traumas of the past decade occurred in branch plant communities where national and multinational companies moved jobs and production elsewhere like impersonal pieces on a checkerboard. Mergers and acquisitions frequently tear leadership out of long-established community involvement.

Multinational companies and foreign trade are not evil forces. Rather, states and cities need to recognize the economic perils any community can face almost anytime as private companies make changes.

Are devastating natural and economic events occurring with increasing frequency? For years, the focus of economic development was forward-looking. Today, there is a desire to recreate the past, to look backward rather than toward a stronger future.

Most households and businesses carry insurance so we can recover from the damages of horrendous storms. The time is overdue to insure ourselves and our communities to go beyond recovery from future economic tornados and quakes. To do so, we must prepare first response teams, strengthen our redevelopment capabilities, and reimagine the paths of progress. •


Marcus is an economist, writer, and speaker. He can be reached at

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