Indiana Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch was joined by other state, regional and local officials Thursday morning at City Hall for what she called a “Thriving Rural Communities” roundtable discussion.
The focus of the gathering was economic growth and how the state can better partner with Hoosier counties and communities to improve quality of life and attract new investments.
Crouch said that according to a report recently issued by Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research titled The State of the Rural Economy in Indiana, several rural Indiana counties, including Rush County, are projected for growth as the state’s post-pandemic economy continues to grow.
“Good things are happening in Rushville. You all know how to make things happen and work together,” Crouch said in her opening remarks.
The Rushville roundtable was one of six Crouch is hosting throughout the state and included David Terrell from Ball State, Denny Spinner from Indiana’s Office of Community and Rural Affairs, State Senator Jean Leising, Mayor Mike Pavey, representatives from the Rush County Board of Commissioners and County Council, John McCane from the local Economic and Community Development Corporation, and several others.
“With at least 22% of all Hoosiers living in rural areas, these communities are vital to the health of the state,” Crouch said. “We can look at pages and pages of data, but I want to hear from community leaders around the state on what is being done successfully and what the state can do to help because I want to ensure all rural Indiana counties are poised for growth.”
In 2020, Purdue University’s Center for Regional Development and Ball State’s Indiana Communities Institute collaborated to issue The Rural Road to Recovery as a blueprint for placing Indiana’s small cities and town on the road to recovery in the wake of COVID-19. As a follow-up to that report, OCRA commissioned Ball State to begin research for The State of the Rural Economy in Indiana.
During Thursday’s roundtable, Terrell shared highlights from that report. He noted that while Rush County had steadily been losing residents for decades, population loss stabilized in 2016 and the number of people living there has remained consistent since then, which he said was a positive development in and of itself.
“We follow Rush County,” he said. “It’s a fascinating community.”
Terrell said there are many factors that contribute to a community’s ability to grow and prosper including good schools, the availability of housing, and people who are willing to travel for work.
Other factors he said were important included regional collaboration and planning, and investments in infrastructure and quality of life amenities.
Spinner spoke about the success of the STELLAR Communities program and more regional approaches the state has initiated such as the READI grants program. Rush County benefited from both.
Rushville Director of Special Projects Brian Sheehan later shared some statistics that he said demonstrate programs like STELLAR work.
“In 2016 we won the STELLAR Award,” he said. “The city had to provide a match of $4 million, the state provided $8 million in tax credits for housing projects, and about $6 million was split between OCRA and INDOT for downtown beautification projects. That’s a total of $18 million, and since that point I’ve been tracking 178 projects that have happened in the city of Rushville that total $409 million including the $259 million that will be spent over the next two years bringing Diamond to town. I’d say that’s a pretty decent return on investment when you look back on the money we put into the STELLAR program.”
Crouch asked those in attendance for their thoughts about what else the state can do to help fuel the engines of economic growth.
Leising said she would like to see Ind. 3 be improved to serve as a better connector between I-74 and I-70 and pledged to continue to try to convince INDOT such an investment would be worthwhile.
She also talked about improving services at Indiana’s rural hospital, specifically about those hospitals in her district that don’t deliver newborn babies.
Crouch mentioned the importance of good schools and Terrell noted that over the years Rush County has consistently provided a good education for its students.
“Good school systems drive population growth,” he said.
In wrapping things up, Crouch thanked the roundtable participants for their efforts and said she thought the meeting had been very productive and beneficial.