Economic development strong in southwest Indiana

Washington (Daviess County) and Princeton (Gibson County) in southwestern Indiana are both county seats and the largest cities in their respective counties.

The two counties have similar numbers of people (33,750 for Gibson and 32,750 for Daviess). However, Princeton has 25 percent of Gibson’s population, while 37 percent of Daviess’ residents live in Washington.

Both counties have distinctive features. Daviess County hosts a substantial Amish population, while Gibson is known as the Hoosier home of Toyota’s massive, modern manufacturing facility. Both also are home to significant economic development programs with similar and different components.

Princeton enjoys approximately $20 million granted by the state of Indiana through the Stellar City program. Mayor Robert Hurst has channeled these funds to improving the façades of fading downtown buildings, adding to the availability of improved housing, rationalizing parking downtown, establishing roundabouts and pocket parks, plus building a contemporary community pool.

That’s a short list of the projects designed to make Princeton a more attractive community for a share of the high-tech employees at Toyota and other plants in the area.

In Washington, there is a history of bringing new jobs to town based on the plentiful production of corn by area farmers. The waste of one plant becomes an input to another in a chain of processes that protect the environment. Roads are rebuilt to handle the intensified truck traffic. Rail sidings are constructed to offer firms wider transportation alternatives.

At the same time, the Daviess County Economic Development Corp. invests in downtown improvements that are turning shabby, abandoned structures into more viable centers for commerce. Here too, a new pool offers better recreational choices.

More housing and retail trade options are being planned for a more affluent workforce. In addition, the economic development corporation is widening roads  to better accommodate horse-drawn buggies.

In Washington, Princeton and their respective counties, the thinking is to make life better for current residents, returning young people, and to attract the new era employee/residents sought by communities everywhere.

Princeton has an entrepreneur’s dream in the form of a remodeled theater for its resident acting troupe as well as for other private and public functions. Washington, already within the orbit of Crane’s Research Park, is moving toward enhanced training for computer programmers and technicians.

Both Princeton’s and Washington’s economic development programs are led by energetic, dedicated and imaginative people. Nonetheless, there are substantive questions being raised in both counties.

Who benefits from these projects? Are today’s poorer residents being asked to subsidize tomorrow’s wealthier residents? Is the process of economic development sufficiently transparent to ensure that cronyism does not dominate decision making?

Next week, we’ll examine these questions further, remembering that both shameful shenanigans and sterling successes lured businesses and households throughout our Hoosier history.