State gaining, but it could do better

(Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel

Indiana economic development officials are justifiably proud that the northwest corner of the state has managed to lure away so many Illinois residents. More than 34,220 Illinois residents decamped across the state line to Indiana in 2015, the most recent year for which data was available, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

“Out of the gate, Indiana is going to start with the lead when it comes to financially attracting new residents and businesses,” Northwest Indiana Forum Economic Development Director Joe Rurode said. “A lower cost of living, a pro-growth business climate and lower taxes have all played the traditional part, but in combination on the back end, we’re really starting to see people recognize and flock to Northwest Indiana because of the significant quality-of-life improvements that are taking place.”

But that does not mean there is nothing left to do or that the state has miraculously solved the mysteries of human migration habits and patterns.

Data from a just-released U.S. Department of Census report shows how the state’s modest overall growth of 20,285 people, or 0.31 percent, remained stagnant last year. That’s fewer people than the number gained from Illinois, so we can deduce that a lot of people are moving away.

“The last couple years have been the slowest growth years since the late (19)80s,” said Matt Kinghorn, demographer with the Indiana Business Research Center at Indiana University in Bloomington.

That’s partially the result of a long-running trend of people moving from the Midwest to the South and Southwest, he said. He noted that Indiana still outpaced its neighboring states.

Indiana does not have the type of climate people want to live in or the geographic features they love to marvel at. That means state officials have to do everything in their power to make the state as attractive as possible.

And that means an “all of the above strategy.” Low taxes. Sensible regulations. Taking public safety seriously. Amenities like parks and a downtown nightlife. Low housing and rental costs. A family-friendly environment.

Basically, to figure out how to lure new businesses and individuals, officials should determine what would make life better for existing businesses and individuals, then put everything they have into it.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.