What Does Population Growth Really Mean for Northeast Indiana’s Economy?

By: John Sampson on May 2nd, 2019

John Sampson

Now We Must Do More to Continue the Momentum

My bride and I have a running joke about heavy traffic in the region.

When we confront a traffic jam or any one of the multitudes of road construction projects underway with endless slowdowns, she will say with a heavy dose of sarcasm, “That darn Road to One Million plan!”

I happily accept this ribbing knowing that Northeast Indiana’s growth and momentum throughout the region is a sign of life and hope for the future that comes with its own set of challenges.

Last month, we celebrated the announcement of recently released data confirming a significant population growth from 2017 to 2018. Almost 5,000 new residents moved to Northeast Indiana over this period. This means that an average of 100 new residents are moving to the region every week. 

For this period of time, DeKalb, Whitley and Allen County led the most significant increase in the rate of growth in almost a decade.

2019 - Population Growth

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau and Purdue University Community Research Institute, 2019

The Benefits of Population Growth

Good news right? If you are a retailer, restaurant owner, real estate broker or employer of some of these new residents, this is great news!   

Clearly, it means more people shopping for goods and services, renting apartments and buying homes and vehicles. There will also be more students in schools and registrations at local universities and technical programs to supply the growing demand of regional employers

You get the point on this “glass half full” perspective on regional growth. 

And, we should celebrate this growth. 

Community leaders, elected officials and professional economic developers of our 11 counties know well that protracted population decline in a community can be fatal. Yes, lots of great things happen because we are growing in population and prosperity as a region. 

Five years ago, regional leaders set the stage for a clear and dramatic departure from stagnant economic conditions to a higher and more difficult road for growth. Admittedly, we had our eye on the prize in a competitive bid for the $42 million grant rooted in Indiana’s Regional Cities Initiative. No less, our response in the Road to One Million plan boldly committed to attracting future talent through strong and consistent investment in quality of place assets. 

We Must Do More, Faster

Reminder! We are making good progress but we have not arrived.

Be assured, this growth has its own unique set of challenges of significant magnitude. It is great to celebrate our successes, but we cannot be lulled into complacency; our current momentum did not happen by accident and it cannot be sustained or accelerated without even more energy, determination and investment. 

So, I love to hear complaints about traffic and the hassle of construction projects. They are all signs of progress, and, at the same time, they represent costly investments in a brighter future. Homeowners and renters are registering complaints about increasing rents and tax assessments stemming from the increased demand and valuations. Our current rate of growth is contributing to an urgent challenge due to a critical shortage of housing across the region. Certainly, no one wants to pay increased property taxes as value increases in response to higher demand. But we have chosen the path of growth, and this information is a clear indication that we are growing.

All across the country, the No. 1 challenge for employers is access to a vibrant and growing pipeline of qualified and skilled workforce. Northeast Indiana is not immune from this national trend. Market forces dominate access to the right talent through increased wages for credentialed and educated individuals to meet the need of employers. This is good news for residents ready and willing to upskill and earn more.

Even with increasing wages and climbing per capita personal income, our region is still well below national averages and competes very favorably in work ethic and business climate.

Choosing to Confront Challenges

We have choices. Our decisions will have consequences for us and for future generations. We, as a community of residents and leaders from business, foundations, education, not-for-profits and the public sector, can choose to confront the challenges of growth or choose to be OK with allowing our region’s population decline.

In any case, there is no middle ground. Either we choose to build a community and region competing for a place in a global marketplace for talent, or we will be simply overtaken by those communities who choose to do so. It is as simple as that. Others could not care less if we choose the sidelines and will not ask our permission to pass us by if that is the short-sighted vision we hold for future generations.

Northeast Indiana is now well positioned with momentum. Leaders across our region from both the public and private sectors are challenging us to move ahead, go to the next level and turn the flywheel faster! 

Our vision for the future is a path of growth and all the associated challenges that will test our commitment, leadership and willingness to embrace and confront risk.

Our course of economic growth will meet with certain and passionate debate and resistance because it requires determined and intentional change. Some will maintain that our current rate of progress is good enough; we have invested enough; maybe even too much. Some will suggest that the risk of failure is too great and that we need to slow down. And we must admit, some of our best efforts will fail as we learn along a path of economic growth. There are real risks of failure with any course of action, even choosing to do nothing.

Investing in a Vision for Economic Growth

Let us not forget that we chose a vision of hope and growing economic prosperity along with its challenges, uncertainty and risk over the certainty of economic stagnation.

Our commitment and determination to expand prosperity for all residents is rooted in the long-held American belief that is the responsibility of the current generation to provide for and lead future generations to a better future.

According to the executive summary of the Road to One Million plan, growing northeast Indiana's population to one million residents would mean "the addition of over 120,000 workers into the economy, a full doubling of our real GDP, an additional 40,000 children (ages 0-17) and 94,000 young adults (ages 25-44), 143,000 more housing units, 119 percent growth among adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher, and 30 percent growth in arts patronage."

By all accounts, the Road to One Million plan will require the very best from the public and private sectors to work together to build a more prosperous Northeast Indiana for all residents.

The Regional Partnership is firmly committed to a vision for economic growth for our region.

Working together, Northeast Indiana is a magnet for the best businesses and talent and is recognized as one of the nation’s most prosperous regions.

Want to learn more about the region's polulation growth? 

Click Here