More and more, rural cities and towns throughout Indiana are coming together to take control their futures with projects aimed at enhancing quality of life and making their communities a place where people want to live, work and play. From the Depot Street Park and Amphitheatre in Greenfield to a planned $50 million downtown district in nearby McCordsville, engaged community leadership and tens of millions of dollars in state funding are contributing to the evolution of Indiana’s rural communities where a growing focus is on people.
“People [are] really the key for a lot of these rural communities,” said Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs Executive Director Denny Spinner.
Spinner discussed small town revival efforts on this weekend’s edition of Inside INdiana Business with Gerry Dick.
“We’re finding now, post-pandemic, that more people are working from home. More people are wanting to find a community where they feel the quality of life includes healthcare and safety,” said Spinner. “If we attract those people to those communities, then that growth is going to happen because these communities need people more than they need jobs.”
Spinner, himself a former mayor of Huntingburg, said the state had done a great job of bringing a lot of jobs to the state, but the challenge now is filling those positions.
A recent study from Ball State University on the rural economic recovery in Indiana shows the 60 counties designated as rural are all within less than an hour of an urban county.
“So, the dynamics that occur in Indiana are much different than our Midwest partners, and I think that’s something that Indiana can leverage and take advantage of. You can have a quality of life and be as rural as you want to be in Indiana, but you can still be close enough to an urban center where you have an opportunity to expand and do things that only those types of centers bring about.”
Last week, Indiana Secretary of Commerce Brad Chambers and officials from the town of McCordsville broke ground on the first phase of the $50 million McCord Square Downtown District that will include residential, retail and commercial space, essentially creating a town center for McCordsville.
Spinner said creating an identity for small communities is key.
The McCordsville project is leveraging funding from the Indiana Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative, or READI. The Depot Street Park project in Greenfield received funding through the state’s Stellar Communities program.
Spinner says in addition to funding, leadership in communities must be present as well.
“I think that is what really makes a difference in these communities is building capacity to take on project such as these and having those local leaders who want to step up, they want to be involved, but giving them the skills that enables them to make some of those tough decisions every once in a while but see something that can help a community move forward.”