The 23% Advantage – Revitalizing Indiana’s Hidden Asset

By Ron Arnold: Executive Director
Daviess County Economic Development Corporation

If you were running a business where 23% of its assets were underutilized, what would you do? Would you immediately seek to revitalize and integrate those assets? Would you create a new culture of collaboration with your other high-performing assets to build a better whole?

Upwards of 1.5 million Indiana residents today live and work in small towns and rural areas of the state. That represents about 23% of our total population.

Right now, that nearly a quarter of our citizens face a growing variety of challenges, challenges that can be met.

These include being medically underserved in many areas. Lack of infrastructure enjoyed by urban counterparts. Disappearing high-impact jobs.

But small town Indiana, a rural 23% of our populace, holds a special, oft-hidden asset. Sociologists and planners call it “social capital.” We call it “never give up, let’s get it done.”

Many saw this unique Hoosier rural social capital—this entrepreneurial and close-knit community spirit of “we can do it” – come to life when tornados struck in Daviess County over the past few years. In 20xx, the first tornado annihilated K&K Industries, an Amish-owned manufacturing facility, leaving millions of dollars of damages and the potential loss of irreplaceable jobs in its wake.

Some astonishing 60 days later, a brand new K&K Industries building was humming with new business. Daviess County residents refused to be victims. They got it done.

A second tornado struck last year, ripping up southern parts of the city of Washington.  Before the local power could even be turned back on, community residents, friends and friends of friends were responding. Businesses donated heavy equipment and operators, hundreds of volunteers organized themselves and got to work.

Today the effects of the devastating tornado are scarcely visible.

That “social capital” – that “can do spirit” – is everywhere in small town and rural Indiana. It is part of the 23% hidden asset available to our state.

How can we transform that spirit and leverage that 23% asset for the advancement of Indiana?

The Hoosier spirit of entrepreneurism embeds strategic collaboration is nearly everything it touches. When a small town or county – or small counties with limited assets — band together, putting its collective mind to sustained and strategic collaboration – amazing things happen.

Want proof? A little over a decade ago the region where three counties – Daviess, Greene and Martin – touched each other was barren, dotted with decaying buildings and blight. Today more than $75 million and a quarter of million square feet of all-new mixed use facilities make up the 100 acre WestGate @ Crane Technology Park. Within a few thousand yards of the park now lies access to I-69, Indiana newest Interstate. What happened? People got together, fashioned a shared vision, and got things done. That happens every day, all over Indiana.

To take full advantage of Indiana’s hidden 23% asset, a few things need to be targeted and accelerated:

  • We read and welcome the headlines about big companies moving into a region. But there truth is that quality job creation often centers squarely on small business growth. And if small businesses can build up into a viable and strategic cluster, that helps attract larger companies who need local supply chains.
  • We celebrate the educational achievements of our young Hoosiers. We need strong and smaller schools to attract more of them, together with young families looking for a stable and rich quality of life.
  • We love our natural resources, including our many excellent state parks. We need to invest in local recreation opportunities – in parks, public swimming pools, walking trails – and protect them.
  • We love to drive through and visit small towns, especially when we see vibrant downtowns with walking areas and plenty to do.  This means cleaning things up, repurposing older buildings for 21st century business and residences. A revitalized downtown serves up a brand that is hard to beat.
  • We appreciate quality healthcare, and so do the people who think about moving to a small town or rural area. Many smaller Indiana hospitals offer personalized, one-on-one service that big monolithic urban hospitals can’t match.
  • A little attention to problem-solving, investment and support from the other 75% of the state can’t hurt, including involvement and collaboration from expatriates who once lived in small town and rural Indiana.

With some focus and a shared vision, the hidden 23% Indiana asset can be hidden no more, elevating other high-performing Hoosier assets into a powerhouse state, capable of taking on all comers.