Development dilemma

February 28th, 2017

By John Sampson for The Journal Gazette

In its final issue of 2016, Area Development magazine published its annual rankings of the top site-selection factors, according to national site selectors and corporate relocation experts. It comes as no surprise that the No. 1 factor today is the availability of skilled labor. That means that work, jobs and companies are moving and expanding to locations where there is a highly skilled workforce.

In 2014, Gov. Mike Pence took a leadership position with the Regional Cities Initiative. The main driver for this initiative is the population growth rate of our state that warrants our attention: “The single biggest threat to economic development in Indiana is population stagnation.” Even this statement of fact seems understated. “Threat” sounds like some sort of long-term concern that we will leave to the next generation of leaders.

However, near-term projections demonstrate that with the impending retirement of thousands of boomers, the total workforce will decline by almost 9,000 over the next decade in our region alone.

When we examine net domestic migration for our region over the last few years, the threat becomes much more real. On average, we have been losing 1,000 of our best skilled and brightest talent every year. In 2015 alone, 10 of our 11 counties in this region all recorded losses in domestic migration. Sadly, the best are leaving for other opportunities.

If we take a broader look at the state level, the situation is also dire. While Indiana has rightly earned top ratings in the Midwest and nation for a positive business climate, from 2010 to 2015 the population loss due to out-migration was 47,311. Even Indianapolis was a net loser of 14,794 people.

If you are not yet convinced that this is a clear and present danger to the economic health of our region and state, the economic analysis performed by Greater Fort Wayne Inc. reveals that the out-migration takes with it $1.63 billion in adjusted gross income and $114 million in annual income and sales tax revenue to the state.

OK, so we have a problem. If we accept this as urgent and a substantial threat, we need to own it and confront it. This is just what Hoosiers do. It is in our genes. We do not live in denial. We confront the reality and wrestle it to the ground.

What are we going to do about it, and what can you do about it?

We must continue to invest in our future. The initial grant of $42 million to the Road to One Million plan is only a start. We need to urge our legislators to continue to invest in quality-of-place assets across the state to raise our national brand identity, attract and retain talent, and grow our economy.

It is now up to us individually and together to confront this urgent and serious challenge of skill and population loss that lies before us. We have confronted many serious and urgent challenges before. We can and must now confront this one as well.