Lessons learned in the northern ‘burbs

This time last year, I was just beginning to explore the northern suburbs in search of untold stories. I didn’t have to look far.

IBJ’s experiment with place-based business news couldn’t have come at a better time—just as the fast-growing communities north of 96th Street began to emerge from the depths of the recession and look to the future.

Fishers is building a new downtown and preparing to make the leap from town to city.

Westfield is making a big bet on youth sports in hopes of spurring economic development.

Zionsville is looking to ramp up commercial activity, a major shift for the largely residential community.

Noblesville is attracting new development—including a regional Ivy Tech campus—even as it works to preserve its legacy as the county seat.  

And Carmel is seeing renewed interest in large-scale projects, drawing private investment as its publicly funded (and cash-strapped) redevelopment commission adjusts to a new normal.

My first year on the beat disappeared in a flurry of public meetings, introductory interviews and background research. Joining the Hamilton County Leadership Academy’s current class added valuable perspective on how everything fits together.

Among the lessons learned so far:

— One size does not fit all. Urbanites tend to paint the ’burbs with a single brush, but communities in Hamilton and Boone counties are anything but homogenous. Don’t believe me? Explore the country roads north of State Road 32 sometime.

— There’s more to economic development than dollars and cents. Sure, tools like tax abatements and TIF funding help make the financial case for some projects, but businesses also are drawn to high-performing schools and an educated work force.

— Tax caps aren’t good news for everyone. Property owners may have celebrated state limits on property tax collections, but the resulting “circuit breaker” losses are forcing local governments—and schools—to cut expenses to the bone. Services could be next.

— It’s never too early to play politics. Even though regular municipal elections aren’t until next year, political opponents began posturing months ago.

— I’ll never know it all, but it’s fun trying. I learn something every day, and I don’t expect that to ever end. But I’m having a ball sharing my lessons with readers.

Have something you want me to check out? Just let me know.


Find all my print and online stories here. Catch up on blog posts here.


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