What we learned from the Ball State Community Development Course

This past week, 18 Union County community members attended two and a half day training by Ball State University’s Indiana Communities Institute (ICI) in Liberty. This course has taught us about community development: what it is, what it means, and what we can do about it. In this short series we hope to share some of the information, advice and aha-moments the participants gained with you all. 

The information and findings that ICI presents in communities across the State of Indiana and beyond is evidence based and grounded in research; from the fields of economics, sociology all the way through psychology. In this contribution piece, we will discuss the changing paradigms of economic development and what they means. 

When we think about the way the traditional approach to economic development has been done, it could be summed up in one sentence: “We need jobs!!”. Traditionally, folks who wanted to improve and develop local economies would be focusing on luring investment and jobs. They would provide incentives such as tax abatements and business infrastructure. Traditionally, the economic development would be locally based and assume an “us versus them” mentality, especially in a pursuit of that new factory... The traditional approach also assumes that job growth causes population growth. So, what do data and evidence show about the traditional economic development? This question can be answered in 4 parts:
Economy is changing: With industry automation and technology progress, millions of dollars invested in new factories and factory improvement nowadays create far less new jobs per dolar invested than they used to decades ago. Only a handful of new factories are opened every year in US, and 3,143 counties are in this competition to land one of them. 
Workforce is changing: ICI distinguishes 2 types of jobs: footloose and not-footloose. Footloose jobs are jobs involved in goods production that is not locally tied and could be done anywhere. Example of footloose jobs are: food processing facilities, corporate headquarters, call centers, logistical companies, manufacturing companies… Non-footloose jobs create a product or service for LOCAL consumption and are unlikely to move away. Over the past 50 years, in USA and in Indiana, the job growth has been recorded predominantly in the non-footloose job category. Job growth in the footloose category was and continues to be minimal. ICI estimates that up to 60% of jobs in Union County are at risk of being lost to automation, some to offshoring. We do not know when the job loss may occur and how many jobs may be lost. We do know that research shows that recession-proof job skills are people skills and cognitive skills, more so than motor skills.

Demographics and Communities are changing: The generations may be different from one another, but a survey of Millennials and Boomers (Harris Poll, 2014) showed that 68% of both believe that the best way to improve national economy is through local investments to make communities attractive places to live and work. 65% of them believe that investing in schools, transportation choices and walkable areas is a better way to grow the economy than business attraction. When moving to a specific community and selecting a home, 80% of people value the quality of school and public services MORE than job availability (Source: American Housing Survey). According to University of Wisconsin study, five most important qualities of community are: 1. perceived quality of schools; 2. perceived affordability of housing; 3. outdoor amenities such as parks, trails, recreation; 4. small town sense of community and civic engagement and 5. proximity to cities that offered employment, entertainment and shopping. In summary, people move where they want to live. Employers move to where people are. Population growth creates job growth. Not the other way around. 

Community Development Considerations are changing: A strong emotional bond to the community is called “Place Attachment”. Data shows that a strong place attachment correlates with local GDP growth and population growth. Residents with strong place attachment are less likely to leave their communities. So what is it that attaches people to a place? Research shows the top 3 factors are: social offerings, openness (engagement, transparency) and aesthetics. Communities that pay attention to and invest in quality of life have much better rates of population and job growth than communities that invest in being “business friendly”. Again, jobs follow people. Therefore, the modern approach to economic development is focused on population growth and retention. It focuses on quality of life. It focuses on the people who are in the community and their needs. Modern approach to economic development is place-based and people-focused. 

Here we are asking ourselves: where on the spectrum of community development strategies is Union County? Where do we want to be and how do we get there? If you are interested in learning more, stay tuned for the next reporting article of this series: Modern Approach to Economic Development. Or, reach out to us with questions or comments! 
Danka Klein, Union County Foundation
404 Eaton Street, Liberty, IN 47353
Phone: 765-458-7664
Email: dklein@ucfoundationinc.org