Recently three Indiana regions were blessed by Gov. Mike Pence and the Indiana Economic Development Corp. with $84 million in tax dollars. This largess is intended to attract and retain talented people, foster cooperation within regions and improve the quality of place.
Let’s amend that. The governor and his enthusiastic reelection buddies at the development corporation awarded $42 million to each of three consecrated areas. Yes, they could not contain themselves, but awarded $126 million and will now go to the General Assembly to find the money.
This is a worthy effort. It focuses on leveraging these state funds with private and local government funding to accelerate economic and community development in broad areas of the state.
The fortunate regions include 18 of Indiana’s 92 counties — Elkhart-South Bend (three), Fort Wayne (11) and Evansville (four). They were the winners in the competition among seven regions.
Many areas of the state did not participate in this initiative. It’s a costly process. But future money is still being dangled before the four losing regions and other areas. Hope is electoral gold.
Why were these three regions selected while a different group of three was not successful? Applications from Northwest Indiana (three counties), the Terre Haute area (three counties), and East Central Indiana (six counties) were not among the anointed.
During the past 10 years, taken together, these 12 counties had a 1.2 percent growth in population vs. the 4 percent increase enjoyed by the 18 chosen counties. They would appear to be unsuccessful in attracting and retaining talent. The 12 rejected counties witnessed a 4.1 percent decline in the number of jobs compared to a smaller 1.4 percent decline in the winning counties. In addition, the losing 12 counties had an average wage that was two percent below the average wage in the 18 successful counties.
Only a hopeless innocent would question the decision of the development corporation and its selection committee of distinguished citizens. If we put aside politics, perhaps the answer is Indiana’s tradition of supporting the successful and punishing the unsuccessful.
We let our faith in the market form our values. If a place is growing and prospering, it is virtuous. If a place is declining, we won’t interfere, for it’s probably unworthy of support.
Clearly, the Indianapolis Region is the most virtuous because it has grown faster in population and jobs while enjoying an average wage 20 percent higher than the state as a whole.
But it failed to win the regional contest because it would be embarrassing to put more jewels on our crown.
In our misguided form of Hoosier Darwinism, Gary, Hammond, East Chicago, Muncie, Terre Haute and their surrounding communities must not be capable of surviving in the current economic environment. They have not been successful; hence they are doomed to extinction. We have put them in our Hoosier Hospice with little palliative care.