Paul W. Barada
Last week over lunch, Will and I were talking about the infrastructure grant the city is going to receive to put in roads, curbs, sidewalks, power, water and sewer lines, etc., to make the north industrial park much more sellable to new industry. While we both agreed that having a fully developed industrial park is a very good thing, there were a couple of other factors he felt would, in the long run, help the community really grow - because what this community needs more than anything else is more people living in it.
There are really no downsides to an industrial park unless it should turn out that a new manufacturer hires most of its employees from surrounding counties and not locally. If that were to happen, the only real benefit to the community would be the property taxes the new industry would pay and, perhaps, the purchase of some local goods and services. If people are hired who live outside the county, you know what they'll do. They'll continue to live outside Rush County and commute to and from work. Then, every payday they'll take the money they've earned right out of the county with them. They won't deposit their checks in local banks. They won't buy their groceries in a local store. They won't get their prescriptions filled here. They'll continue to do all those things in Fayette, Henry, Shelby or Decatur counties. So, there won't be any real boost to the local economy if most of the employees who work here live somewhere else.
On the other hand, if local people are hired, how does that boost the population? They're already living here! They may quit jobs that currently require a commute but, if local people who are already living here are hired, the local economy still won't get much of a boost. It almost sounds like a Catch 22 situation: New industry locates in the north industrial park; people from surrounding counties are hired and take their paychecks with them. Local people are hired. Better jobs give the local economy a modest boost, but don't help the community grow because they're already living here. In either case, the population of the county remains stagnant.
So, how we get more people to live here? There are two simple answers to that question.
First, we make this an attractive community in which to live. We encourage people to take care of their property. We encourage owners of rental property to take care of it. We, once again, spruce up the downtown. We also find a home builder willing to partner with the community to construct at least one spec home that's comparable to the ones usually built in housing sub-divisions that are a little more upscale.
Second, we continue to develop the best school system in the area, a school system with a reputation so good that people will want to move here so their kids can receive a truly top-notch education. That is not to suggest we're not doing that now; but we're not, at least in my opinion, doing a very good job of telling people about what Rush County Schools have to offer. Could our schools be even better? Sure they could. We could offer still more dual-credit courses. Could our ISTEP scores be higher? Sure they could. There's a school district not too far from us where the ISTEP scores rank consistently in the top 10 percent in the state. The point is people are moving to that area so their kids can go to that school system. People would do the same here if our scores were consistently within that top tier of schools.
Now, combine the two - an attractive community and a top-tier school system - and you've got the two most critical ingredients necessary for this community to grow. The industrial park will broaden the tax base, but new industry will not induce people to move to Rush County. If local people are hired, there still won't be a net gain in population. An attractive community and outstanding schools are the two most important ingredients necessary for people to want to move to Rush County.
There's another benefit to this approach that should not be overlooked. The people who would move here would be people who care about the quality of education their children receive and those are the ones we want living here. The people who really don't care about their kids' education are not the ones we want moving here.
The first piece, making this an attractive community, will probably be the more difficult of the two. Next time you're driving to Rushville, regardless of the direction, take a good look at what you see. Try to imagine yourself as a potential newcomer. Do you see abandoned or run-down houses? Do you see rust-covered abandoned buildings? Do you see structures in need of paint or repair? Do you see vacant store fronts downtown? Do you see junk cars, toys, and litter in front yards? Do you see seedy upholstered furniture on front porches? All those sights, taken together, do not make an attractive community. The sad part is that the appearance of the community could be improved if people just took care of their property.
If we want this community to survive, let alone grow, it has to be transformed into an attractive place where more people will want to live. Can it be done? Of course it can. People just need to see the value in an attractive community served by outstanding schools. Those are the real keys!
That's -30- for this week.