Even though Westfield is miles from the nearest Red Line stop, I’m rooting for the success of Indianapolis’ new bus rapid transit service. This is important to “my little city” because if the Red Line does well, the sooner this service will extend to Westfield as originally planned.
My enthusiasm isn’t just about getting the Red Line to Westfield. It is also about metro Indy’s ability to compete with other areas for economic development opportunities, which depends, in part, on our ability to efficiently move people through the region.
Even with our limited transit network, our region can point to economic development successes. We pride ourselves on, “We landed Infosys, and we landed Salesforce. We were a finalist for the Amazon HQ2.” But I would ask you to count the number of cranes in the air in Nashville, Tenn., right now, or in Columbus, Ohio, or Minneapolis, and then count the cranes in Indianapolis. Even as well as we think we’re doing, we aren’t cranking along like our peer cities.
Attracting big companies is only a part of the equation. We also need to attract a workforce. More and more employers are making workforce availability the focus of conversations about where to locate. I was recently in Japan with Governor Holcomb where we visited Toyota and other major companies. In every meeting, we discussed, “What are you doing about a workforce?”
For years, we addressed that question by working to retain homegrown workers. But if we’re going to grow, we also must attract workers from outside our area. To do that, we’ve got to give those workers what they want.
Obviously, transit is only one factor affecting our ability to attract workers, but it is an important one. When central Indiana put together its Regional Cities proposal, we cited a Rockefeller Foundation/Transportation for America study showing that today’s workforce lists quality transportation as a top-three criteria for choosing where to live. More than half of Millennials said they would consider moving to another city for the sake of better transportation options. Yet ours is the largest metro area in the nation without a robust regional transit system.
So, what’s the answer? A transit plan that works as part of a regional effort to address issues such as transportation, land use, water supply and housing, and that has some source of shared funding. We need to think bigger! All of the metro areas we compete with – Minneapolis, Denver, Charlotte, etc. – are farther along with some sort of a regional cooperative, and we’ve got to get up to speed. We must think regionally, because Westfield no longer competes with Greenwood, and Fishers no longer competes with Plainfield. We, and the other municipalities in this area, work together to compete with Minneapolis, Charlotte and Denver.
So, yes, I’m watching the Red Line closely. I hope it’s a great success, but not just because I look forward to the day when my residents can board a bus rapid transit system near home and connect to the entire region, or when Westfield employers can have access to a broader workforce, or when visitors to Westfield have another option for getting here. I want the Red Line to come to our front door because that will give me clear evidence that our residents and leaders have truly embraced a regional perspective – the kind of perspective that’s essential if we’re going to compete for jobs, workers and ongoing growth.