Thriving Communities, Thriving State (a Policy Choices Initiative project) continues the conversation among citizens, stakeholders, thought leaders, and elected officials about the challenges to and opportunities for creating a vibrant future for Indiana. To truly be effective, state and local policies must reflect that Indiana is not one thing. Rather, Indiana is the collection of millions of people and thousands of communities located in urban, mid-sized, and rural areas across the state. Thinking about policy, progress, and priorities using a place-based approach allows us to gain a more nuanced perspective about our population and our economy. By identifying the trajectory of Hoosier counties, cities, and communities, decision makers can think strategically about how to help Indiana find its place in a globally networked world, while preserving those places and aspects that make us uniquely Indiana.
Change happens whether we want it to or not. Even though different communities experience these changes in different ways, our futures—the health and welfare of all Hoosiers—are inextricably linked. The task for those who wish to lead Indiana forward will be to help others understand the interconnectedness of people and place, and to support those communities that have played important roles in the history and heritage of Indiana, and will play in our future. Understanding the forces changing the world, and Indiana’s place in it, is the beginning of the process of aligning our collective aspirations.
By framing reality within a place-based context, Thriving Communities, Thriving State will provide a clearer view forward for those citizens and leaders tasked with writing the next chapters in the story of Indiana.
Looking ahead at what can be done to help Indiana communities succeed now and over the next 10 years, the Thriving Communities, Thriving State project and its commission members make the following recommendations:
Recommendations for a Thriving Indiana
Recommendations for Thriving Urban Communities
Recommendations for Thriving Mid-sized Communities
Recommendations for Thriving Rural Communities
The County Courthouse in Noblesville
From sprawling metropolitan areas to one-stoplight towns, Indiana is made up of thousands of unique communities. Recognizing this diversity of place, Thriving Communities seeks to frame the policy discussion around issues that are relevant to the strengths and circumstances of each community.
Although there are a number of important factors that define the nature of a community (effective leadership, history, civic engagement, shared values), population represents a convenient and objective way to organize geographic distinctions.
Roughly following an urban, mid-sized, rural typology, Thriving Communities utilizes the following objective measures for organizing communities within this framework:
Based on this geographical framework, each of three Thriving Communities commissions populated by elected officials, representatives from the business and civic communities, and individuals engaged in efforts to move their communities forward, will convene to identify challenges, discuss opportunities, and develop strategies that work to create a prosperous future for all Hoosiers and the communities in which they reside. Working with staff from the Public Policy Institute, each commission will ultimately produce a policy report tailored to the needs and opportunities of the communities it represents.
John Marron (Senior Policy Analyst at the Institute) reviews characteristics of the project’s three community areas – rural/small town, midsize and urban.
Demographics may not be destiny, but they can provide important insights into the relative trajectories of our communities. By looking closely at important trends through a place-based perspective, the disparate but interdependent futures of Indiana communities become clearer.
Looking at the map above, urban areas make up only 2.2% of Indiana’s land, yet they contain nearly 30% of Indiana’s population and over 40% of all jobs. When combined with mid-sized communities, which contain over 16% of Indiana’s residents and 20% of its jobs, it becomes clear just how concentrated Indiana’s population and economy are throughout the state. However, nearly half of all Hoosiers – and 3 in 10 jobs – are located in Indiana’s rural communities.
Understanding where and why Hoosiers live and work where they do gives us a peek into the future of our state and establishes an important starting point as we explore the importance of place in developing proactive policy solutions.
In many ways, Indiana’s demographic trends track with broader global, national, and regional patterns. The most significant of these are the continued trend towards urban population growth and an aging of the overall population. The transformative urbanization of the 20th century reached a milestone when the United Nations estimated in 2008 that for the first time, over half of the world’s population lived in urban areas. Even conservative growth projections, indicate that urban growth will continue into the foreseeable future.
Using the urban/mid-sized/rural framework to look at population growth among Indiana counties tells a similar story. At the turn of the 20th century, 46% of Hoosiers lived in rural counties (counties without an urban or mid-sized community), while nearly one-third (32%) lived in counties with an urban area. By 1960, urban growth and migration had flipped the demographic profile—56% of Hoosiers lived in urban counties and one-quarter in rural counties.
Although social and technological developments spurred suburban expansion and curbed urban growth over the past 40 years, the overall trend towards urban population centers and out of rural communities and small towns is clear. Nearly all of Indiana’s projected population growth over the next 25 years will occur in urban and mid-sized counties.
STATS Indiana (2014)
From 2000 to 2010, Indiana’s population grew by 6.2% adding over 400,000 residents (For comparison, the U.S. population grew by 9.7% over the same period). However, this growth was not evenly spread within Indiana’s borders. In fact, 29 counties lost population during this time. Of those with declining population, 69% are rural counties.
On the other hand, 13 counties accounted for nearly 90% of Indiana’s population growth, all of them mid-sized or urban counties. Even further demonstrating the concentration of Indiana’s population growth, just 3 counties (Hamilton, Marion, and Hendricks), part of the Indianapolis metropolitan area, accounted for 44% of Indiana’s total population growth over this period.
Take a look at As a part of the Thriving Communities, Thriving State project, John Marron (Senior Policy Analyst at the Institute) details Indiana’s projected population change from 2010-2040, noting the effect on the state’s counties and economic growth regions.
STATS Indiana (2014)
Geographically uneven future population growth will be compounded by an overall aging of Indiana’s population. While the proportion of Indiana’s population that is older than 65 is slightly lower than the national average (13.9% compared to 14.1%), and second lowest to only Illinois (13.5%) among its Midwest peers, Indiana will see its senior population steadily increase over the next 15 years, estimated to exceed 20% of Indiana’s population by 2030.
Of concern, 23 counties, all of them rural, are projected to have 65+ populations that exceed 25% of all county residents. Only 2 rural counties are among the 14 counties projected to maintain populations of residents 65+ below 20%. This demographic transformation, in which large metro areas capture the majority of population growth and many rural counties experience population declines compounded by an aging population, will have significant impacts on Indiana’s labor force and healthcare delivery systems.
STATS Indiana (2014)
Health and Well-being
Ultimately the goal of public policy, at every level, is to promote the well-being of those it serves. Many measures of health and well-being are strongly correlated with education and income, but economic growth alone does not address behavioral and environmental factors that impact the ability of Hoosier to live quality lives. A baby born in Indiana in 2010 has a life expectancy of 77.6 years, compared with the 2010 U.S. life expectancy of 78.9 (Kaiser Family Foundation). Indiana’s life expectancy ranks 38th in the nation and only ahead of Kentucky among its Midwestern peers.
Looking at differences at the county level, the top ten Indiana counties based on the Health Outcomes produced by the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, are a mix of urban (2), mid-sized (4), and rural (4) counties. However, nine of the bottom ten counties by Health Outcome are rural. Overall, mid-sized communities ranked highest among the classifications on this measure, followed by rural and then urban counties. Looking instead at the Health Factors, which include 29 factors that affect overall health, the ten best performing counties consists of 6 mid-sized, 3 rural, and 1 urban county. Of the ten lowest ranking counties, 8 are rural and 2 are urban counties, with no mid-sized counties ranking in the bottom ten.
While no single factor can accurately communicate the health and well-being of a population, looking at differences across selected factors can offer some insights into what obstacles to good health are most prevalent for types of communities. There are both individual and environmental components to the health profile of a community, and the eight Health Factors highlighted here show that there are some important differences between communities of different sizes.
Selected measures of individual health include Reporting Fair or Poor Health, Adult Obesity, Days of Poor Mental Health per Month, and Premature Death. Across all four measures, 2 mid-sized counties, Hamilton and Boone, were among the best performing counties in three of the measures, with Hamilton County among the best performing counties in all four measures and ranked first on three measures.
Of the top five counties across the four measures of individual health, 9 are mid-sized counties, 8 are rural, and 3 are urban. The 2 urban counties that ranked in the top five counties for lowest rate of adult obesity were Monroe and Tippecanoe counties, which are the locations of the two largest universities in Indiana.
Among the lowest five performing counties across all four measures, 17 are rural, 2 are urban, and 1 is a mid-sized county. Of note, the 5 rural counties that scored lowest overall in Reporting Fair or Poor Health had a percentage of adults who reported poor health in excess of 26%.
Looking at Indiana’s economy from a county level, John Marron (Senior Policy Analyst at the Institute) highlights several areas such as employee compensation total jobs including jobs per 1,000 residents, employees with at least an Associate’s Degree, and gross regional product per employee.
Like much of the country, Indiana continues to recover from the economic shocks that began in 2009. From a peak of 10.8% in June of 2009, Indiana’s unemployment rate has been nearly cut in half over the past five years to 5.7%, or slightly below the national average. As the economic damage from the recession is repaired, a clearer picture of Indiana’s economic profile, and its economic future, emerges.
In 2012, there were nearly 59,000 farms in Indiana, accounting for over 64% of Indiana’s land area. However, while agriculture is an important part of Indiana’s heritage, and will remain an important contributor to Indiana’s economy, it is unlikely to be an engine for job growth in the future. Currently employing only 2% of Indiana’s workforce, farming will not be a significant source of future employment for Indiana’s expanding labor force.
It is a safe bet that an educated, highly skilled workforce will be critical to the health of the future economy.
Some estimates project that by 2018, 55% of jobs in Indiana will require some postsecondary education. A look at Indiana’s educational attainment rate reveals that many of Indiana’s communities are woefully unprepared to meet the demands of a 21st century workforce. Currently, only 5 Indiana counties have greater than 40% of population 25 and older with an Associate’s degree or higher, all are designated as urban or mid-sized (Hamilton – 62%; Monroe – 50%; Boone – 47%; Tippecanoe – 43%; Hendricks – 41%). Of the top 20 counties, only 2 are classified as rural counties. At the other end of the attainment spectrum, of the 59 counties with postsecondary attainment rates below 25%, 49 are rural counties, 8 are mid-sized, and 2 are designated as urban.
Even traditional industries, like manufacturing – which accounts for 13.5% of total jobs but 23% of total employee compensation and nearly 45% of Indiana’s total economic output – are increasingly relying on a high-skilled workforce with postsecondary degrees and credentials. As the map demonstrates, education, employment, and income are often closely correlated, and many of Indiana’s rural counties are lagging behind their mid-sized and urban peers in several key economic indicators. Of the 14 counties that on average are doing better than the state in four important measures of economic strength, 6 are urban, 5 suburban, and 3 rural. While the data make it clear that many rural communities face challenges charting a path to prosperity amidst a changing economic landscape, Posey County, a rural county in the southernmost corner of the state, scored second highest among Indiana counties on the combined indexed measures.
The future economic success of communities will depend on their ability to attract both employers and skilled workers, and on how well their local economy is integrated into a larger regional, statewide, and global economy. This interdependence of Hoosier communities as political and economic ecosystems makes a place-based approach to policy both valuable and necessary.
Being connected in the 21st Century involves moving goods and services via broadband. How connected is Indiana? John Marron (Senior Policy Analyst at the Institute) details the value of increasing connectivity and outlines where Indiana stands now.
Every day across Indiana, nearly 800,000 workers, or roughly a quarter of Indiana’s labor force, travel to a county different than the one in which they live. As the map below shows, people and populations are not static forces but dynamic agents operating in multiple economies of place simultaneously. Looking at the top ten destination counties for Hoosier commuters, several interesting phenomena emerge.
The magnitude and reach of Marion County/Indianapolis as a commuter destination stands out among all other destination counties. Each day, nearly 198,000 additional workers from outside its borders commute to jobs located within Marion County. Of these, nearly 63% come from Hancock, Hendricks, and Johnson counties.
Of course, not all roads lead to Indy; Marion County also sees nearly 64,000 residents leave each day for jobs throughout central Indiana. Second, two other strong destination counties (with 55,748 and 38,787 daily commuters, respectively) are located outside of Indiana: Cook County, Illinois (Chicago) and Jefferson County, Kentucky (Louisville).
|What businesses consider when choosing where to locate||What individuals value when choosing where to live|
|1) Availability of skilled labor||1) Cost of living|
|2) Highway accessibility||2) Highway accessibility|
|3) Labor costs||3) Quality of life measures|
|Source: 2013 corporate survey, Area Development||Source: American Planning Association, 2014|
Clearly place matters. Policies that fail to account for the importance of place are likely to fail to achieve their objectives as they leave the desks of policymakers and make their way into our communities, and our lives. Part of what makes place so important is its relation to other places. Where Hoosiers live, work, shop, play, consume, and invest are not limited by political borders that were created at a time when life was lived closer to home.
Place is an important unit of analysis in the competition for attracting business and residents. Ultimately, however, the futures of many Hoosier communities are inextricably linked to the successes of surrounding communities. While every place has its own unique set of needs and successes, leaders must think hard about how those things that create identity for their community can continue to add community value as part of a network of places.
Property tax caps and declining gasoline tax revenue have placed significant constraints on the ability of local governments to finance important infrastructure and economic development projects. Those places that think creatively and collaboratively about how to invest in their communities as part of a regional strategy for success are far more likely to carve a place for themselves in Indiana’s economic future. Taking note of economic and demographic trends in where Hoosiers live and work, many rural counties must create clear strategies for how to differentiate themselves and demonstrate their unique value to individuals and businesses that are increasingly attracted to the scale of urban and mid-sized communities. Drifting into an unknown future is not an acceptable strategy for communities that have been important to Indiana’s past, and can be an important part of our state’s future.
It is those engaged in the daily effort of building thriving communities that are best positioned to identify the needs, challenges, and opportunities facing Indiana’s urban, mid-sized, and rural communities. Leaders from communities of all sizes throughout Indiana should look to the statehouse for the policy tools to build on the successes already underway and to eliminate the barriers to further progress. By bringing together the many people working to move their communities forward, Thriving Communities, Thriving State will encourage the development of state policies designed to serve local efforts, provide tools for success, and allow Hoosier communities to plan their own futures.