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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, December 02, 2015 2:37 am

Region's efforts appear on target

Studies and surveys don’t usually contain stunning new information. More often, they confirm that progress has been made and that an organization’s or community’s goals are in line with reality.

A recent study of Indiana by Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research offers a bit of good news for this area and confirms that its overarching goals are appropriately targeted. But it also spotlights some long-range trends that worry just about anybody who ponders Indiana’s future.

The survey, which applied the international Human Development Index to Indiana counties, offered one strikingly good finding for this area.

Of Indiana’s 16 metropolitan statistical areas, the MSA comprising Whitley, Wells and Allen County ranked highest in one of the three areas measured by the development index: health. That affirms other studies that rank health care here high.

There are a lot of factors that might be contributing to that, including our two excellent hospital systems and the highly competent community of medical workers who staff them, and a proud tradition of helping those who can’t afford to pay for health care.

It could be argued that everything else is secondary to good health, so this is definitely an encouraging finding. But it should be noted that Fort Wayne rates high among metropolitan areas within a state that ranks from mediocre to poor in many health measurements.

The HDI survey also ranks metropolitan areas and regions with measures of educational enrollment and attainment and average income and earnings. When those three areas are added together, the Fort Wayne MSA trails four other areas: South Bend-Mishawaka, Evansville, Columbus and Lafayette.

So Ball State’s findings offer further affirmation that two overarching goals for northeast Indiana development must be addressed: higher levels for education and training, and higher average wages.

As Michael Hicks, one of the authors of the new study, told The Journal Gazette’s Sherry Slater last week, economic development is now less about workers moving to find jobs and more about employers wanting to land in communities that are good places to live.

The quality-of-place plans that are now vying for Regional City funding are a reaction to that new reality.

The Ball State study makes another truth that Indiana business and political leaders should be trying to come to terms with, too: The HDI scores tend to be higher in urban counties than in rural ones.

Without a different approach, some of those rural counties will only become less attractive to employers and new residents as their most promising young people move on. As the Ball State researchers note, 30 of Indiana’s 92 counties actually lost population in the decade after 2000. Fifty other counties are only growing tepidly. What kind of a state will Indiana become if those trends aren’t addressed?

On that point, too, northeast Indiana appears to have been on the right track, with a wider regional approach to growth that other areas of the state are only now embracing.