I hope we all share a common goal for our region and state, to see it thrive. It seems simple and logical, if our area prospers, flourishes, advances, succeeds or booms, we all win.
Thriving can mean a lot of different things. Are people moving in? Are we seeing new investment? Are wages increasing? Are people able to find gainful employment?
Though this region has experienced some positive momentum, I think few believe it is at the point where you might use the word thriving. The same can be said for the State of Indiana. Despite our many successes, there is great concern about whether our current momentum can continue and whether we can add people faster than we lose them.
Population growth is at the center of our Regional Cities plan which leaders hope can be transformational. Population growth is also an important piece of a new report just released by the Indiana University Public Policy Institute. The Thriving Communities, Thriving State report lays out a roadmap for Indiana communities and the State.
The Institute convened business, government and community leaders from every corner of the State for a yearlong effort to craft this new plan. Background work began in summer 2014, with staff and faculty of the Institute and the School of Public and Environmental Affairs examining state and local strategies and policies that can help communities of all sizes thrive.
Three commissions were formed, an urban, a mid-sized, and a rural commission. The commissions, assisted by the Institute research team, have now made recommendations to state and local policy leaders about which current policies help or hinder communities, where there are policy gaps, and what policy changes are needed to support communities.
Though the three commissions met independently, each emphasized the importance of regional collaboration and the need to break down the silo’s that traditionally separate communities in favor of a collaborative approach that will help regions win the battle to attract top talent.
All three prioritized education and workforce preparation; leadership and engagement; and quality of life and quality of place. In addition to these overlapping goals, the commissions identified other areas including government innovation and local control, entrepreneurship, and acceptance of diversity.
In the end, the report produced a series of community-based recommendations that now require policy decisions at the local, regional, and state levels. So will communities and political leadership embrace these important recommendations? Will we embrace change and invest in the future? Or will we ignore change, and simply manage our decline?
Report recommendations now should be an important part of the upcoming gubernatorial campaign and top of mind for candidates in other key races across the State. Local and regional conversations about these topics must be organized and regional coalitions need to be formed to help tackle the recommendations.
The Indiana General Assembly will play a key role. In the past the body has been quick to embrace policy changes that have improved the tax and regulatory climate in Indiana. At the same time, the body has been slow to embrace changes that impact the overall structure of government and how it functions.
There is an ancient Chinese proverb that says “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now.” It’s important that we “plant those trees” now that will help reverse the projected population decline and make Indiana and our region grow.
The complete report is available at www.policyinstitute.iu.edu.