Indiana loves fat. No, don’t put down that pork tenderloin, but we do love fat documents.
Here’s the evidence: three regions were awarded $126 million in matching funds for economic development projects. Seven regions submitted applications. Central Indiana’s plan was a skinny 26 pages; no money. The west-central plan was beefed up to 88 pages; no money. East central bulked up to 134 pages; no money. Northwest Indiana offered a hefty 178 pages; still no money.
The winners of $82 million each: northeast waddled in with 194 pages, southwest presented a portly 224 pages, but the north central region topped them all with a sumo-style 371 pages.
Now remember these grants are to be matched by other money well in excess of the state portion. Hence, we may never see any of the proposed projects funded. Plus each project must have the approval of regional boards and the Indiana Economic Development Council, which may have new priorities under a new governor.
There are many different ideas about regions. Currently, America and Indiana are focused on major cities surrounded by dependent urban nodes with the intervening areas filled in by urban sprawl and agriculture.
Some futurists insist low cost communications, the connectivity of the internet, will shape how we live and work in the coming decades. Elkhart and Ethiopia, Princeton and the Philippines, Crothersville and China could be paired in production — if all have high-speed, highly reliable internet service.
Recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate 84 percent of 2.5 million Hoosier households have computers, which sounds good, but ranks 38th among the 50 states. In addition, one of every seven Indiana households with a computer does not have internet access. In sum, over 700,000 Indiana households are not connected to the world.
What does the regional cities program do for the connectivity of our students, our workers, our businesses?
Communications alone are necessary but not sufficient to move Indiana forward.
Historically, Hoosiers have benefited by being able to move people and goods where and as needed. Regions require quality transportation spanning the nation, the continent and the world. At the same time, they need convenient, low cost transit for citizens and goods within the region.
Currently, one in six Indiana workers commutes to another county regularly. If the time and cost of commuting were reduced, could we improve employment opportunities? If we lowered the costs of delivering goods, how much could we lower prices, raise wages or improve profits?
Amenities are nice. Restoring old buildings is virtuous. Expanding recreational facilities is commendable. Good projects abound. But there are fundamental faults to the underlying assumptions of many regional plans.
Amenities may not be much of a factor in attracting firms and workers. Population growth is not correlated with per capita income growth. And, most importantly, efforts to bring in high-paying jobs and highly valued workers may do little to help our existing population. Shouldn’t their welfare be our first concern?