September 20, 2015
Regional Cities Initiative Already a Success
Over the past 50 years, only two Indiana counties have grown faster than the nation as a whole. The rest have been in relative or absolute population decline for a half century. Over that time, we have reformed and modified every tax, repaved and widened almost every road, reformed K-12 education and spent well over $50 billion in incentives, abatements and outright gifts to attract jobs to Indiana.
In some respects, things are clearly improving. We have a business climate ranked first in the nation and clear momentum on improving human capital. Still most places in Indiana are losing people at a rate that spells long-term fiscal and economic disaster. For several years economists and demographers have warned that Indiana needed stronger, more amenity-rich cities to thrive in the 21st century.
For more than two years, thoughtful state leaders have pushed the need for Indiana to focus attention on population growth. Indiana’s Regional Cities Initiative, one of the most creative and thoughtful public policies to come out of any state in a generation. The results have already been prodigious.
Last month, seven Indiana regions representing more than 4.6 million Hoosiers, a whopping 70 percent of our population, applied to participate in the first round of this initiative. The process required each region to submit outlines of what they will do over the next few years to attract people to their communities. The vast majority of these plans had to be private sector investment. The state money involved is small—just enough to get regions to work together. Judged on that metric alone, the program is already a colossal success.
Some have criticized this initiative, arguing that it encourages Indiana communities to compete, or that these dollars would be better spent on traditional economic development efforts. Those views are faulty. Many Indiana communities are competing in a race to the bottom, turning workers into commodities and desperately paying businesses to relocate to their regions. That hasn’t worked in Indiana or anywhere else for the last two generations. We have long needed a different and sustained approach to economic development.
The Regional Cities Initiative urges communities to be better places, competing against their former selves, not one another. Without another dollar of state investment this has been a great benefit to Indiana, forcing meaningful dialogue and creating new alliances bound by a grounded vision of a more prosperous region. Most telling perhaps is that the best plans are clearly from those regions that have already turned their attention to attracting talent.
Finally, it is important to talk about the courageous politics of this initiative. The Regional Cities Initiative is not in the national GOP playbook, which is too heavily dominated by tax cuts. Neither is this a Democratic program, since it relies so heavily on the private sector. The Regional Cities Initiative is simply the type of truly innovative, low-cost, high-yield public policy designed to make Indiana a better place to live, raise a family, make a life and grow old in.
About the Author
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