While quality of place may be defined differently by people, a growing number of Hoosiers recognize the importance of this issue. In particular, the impact of quality of place on talent attraction and retention in a geographic area cannot be ignored.  The future of every community is dependent on quality of place. 

Like many Midwestern states, Indiana is not growing at the same pace as areas in the southern and western regions of the United States.  As a result, our talent pool is not expanding as quickly and diversely as needed to grow all components of our state’s economy. In order to control our own destiny, we need to act boldly to address this challenge.

This slower rate of growth applies more pressure on local elected officials to identify creative ways to make their communities attractive for people to live, work and play. The issue is further complicated by the fact that quality of place amenities are viewed differently based on age, ethnicity, income, education and several other factors. It is important for community leaders to understand their communities in order to strategically invest in community assets.

In the post-property tax reform world, many local elected officials in Indiana do not have the financial resources to adequately meet the needs of the areas they serve. In addition, capital is very limited when it comes to investing in new quality of place assets. Based on this situation, it is important for communities to be empowered to adopt fiscal measures that work for their areas.

Many thoughtful elected officials and community leaders from regions throughout Indiana have invested a significant amount of time and energy to this issue to consider different ways to move the Hoosier state forward. While there is not a one size fits all solution for the funding of quality of place projects, a very promising idea has emerged that could be a game changer.

The Indiana General Assembly is considering legislation during the current budget session that will empower local communities in regions across Indiana to come together to build upon the Regional Development Authority framework to create Regional Investment Hubs. Under the proposal, city, town and county governments will have the option of raising either a food & beverage or local income tax, not exceeding one percent, with fifty percent of the revenue pooled in a regional development authority and dedicated to projects that benefit the region.

This innovative approach incentivizes local elected officials and business leaders to collaborate more and consider strategic investments for their regions. The best way to grow regional economies and support local communities is by giving people closest to their constituents those fund deploying capabilities and let local taxpayers hold them accountable.

Examples of empowering local communities and regions in other locations in the United States have paid dividends for those areas. Oklahoma has enabled local communities to utilize local option sales taxes to fund quality of place projects and fund local government. Texas is another state that has effectively used local option taxes to support economic development and brick-and-mortar projects. Tennessee has recently empowered communities and regions in the state to implement different forms of local taxes to support key projects.

Now is the time for the Indiana General Assembly to empower communities and regions to act boldly in terms of quality of place investments in our state. Indiana can achieve great things if local elected officials are empowered to make strategic investments that make their areas attractive places to live, work and play. Many of our competitors throughout the U.S. are taking dramatic steps to grow their economies and Indiana cannot afford to fall behind.

Larry Gigerich serves as executive managing director of Ginovus and a member of the Site Selectors Guild.

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