Nate Feltman: Indy must grow or die

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There is a philosophy in business that your company is either growing or dying. Meaning, you either are thinking about the next idea that will drive revenue and growth at your company, or you are happy with the status quo, which eventually leads to obsolescence. That’s because if you are satisfied with the status quo, you undoubtedly will encounter competition that will eventually make you irrelevant, leading to decline and ultimately business failure.

If a company is not growing, there are fewer promotions and new responsibilities for your employees to take on. It’s more difficult to hire people who bring in new ideas and know-how. Talented people want to be challenged and therefore want to join a company that is growth-oriented.

I am a believer in the grow-or-die philosophy and believe it applies to just about everything, including cities. Cities that are not growing and adding population are less likely to attract the jobs of the future. These cities are not attracting young people, the risk-takers who start companies. Young people tend to bring new ideas and often create a culture and an identity for a city. Growing cities produce a flywheel effect—bringing more and different kinds of opportunities for all residents.

Indianapolis today is not growing. Population growth is occurring all around Indianapolis in places like Carmel, Fishers, Greenwood, Noblesville and Westfield. Years of a lackluster economic-growth strategy have stalled Indy’s progress. Cities that formerly looked to Indy for growth ideas are now passing us by, investing in their downtowns and aggressively courting job-creating investments.

Decades of hard work, creativity and risk-taking by previous Indianapolis mayors and civic leaders (e.g., building the Hoosier Dome without an NFL franchise) propelled Indy into a leading Midwestern city known for its easy-to-navigate downtown and ability to play first-class host to world-class sporting events. Indy became known as a city that punched above its weight class.

But a failure to pursue aggressive economic development policies, invest in infrastructure, control crime and pursue creative placemaking strategies threatens to undo decades of work. All Hoosiers, including those living in the booming suburbs, have a vested interest in downtown Indy’s success. If Indianapolis does not prosper, the entire central Indiana region will not reach its potential, ultimately diminishing Indiana’s growth prospects.

We can kick-start Indy’s growth with the following steps:

 Create an economic development organization on par with the Indiana Economic Development Corp. Indianapolis needs an aggressive, business-savvy, deal-making, quasi-governmental economic development organization focused solely on bringing new opportunities to Indy. It’s time to decouple Indy’s economic development function from the Indy Chamber.

 Convince the Legislature that the road-funding formula that disadvantages Indy must be adjusted. Infrastructure investments equal economic development. It’s a proven formula. While we’re at it, let’s ensure that we thoughtfully redesign the highways intersecting Indy to promote development.

 Bring back the public safety director. Indy needs a city employee who is an expert on crime fighting and prevention to wake up every day thinking about making Indy safer. Mayor Hogsett’s elimination of this position was a big mistake. Mayor, it’s time to course-correct.

 Invest in beautification/placemaking. Downtown needs a refresh. Line the streets with trees, create pocket parks, and double-down on Spark on the Circle concepts and more downtown festivals.

 Invest in better branding. Incoming Indy Chamber CEO Matt Mindrum is a branding/marketing guru. Getting this right should be the chamber’s top priority.

We must move into a grow-or-die mentality. Indy had this mentality years ago. Time for Mayor Hogsett and Indy’s next group of leaders to bring it back.•

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Feltman is publisher of IBJ and CEO of IBJ Media. Send comments to nfeltman@ibj.com.

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