Economic summit indicates county needs change for the future
A warning was given to Pulaski County leaders as the county economic forecast seems to be following the pattern of Indiana weather.
At the Pulaski County Economic Summit on March 14, community development commission members along with several community leaders such as the county commissioners, gathered to hear the potential economic storm that could be brewing if changes are not addressed. There was also a bit of a silver lining as Pulaski County Community Development Commission (CDC) Executive Director Nathan Origer noted a handful of accomplishments local manufacturers have made. Guest speaker Indiana State Department of Agriculture Policy and Regulatory Affairs Director Jeff Cummins also predicted sunny days if the county focuses on what they do best — agriculture.
Origer began the night by saying the tone of the state of the county address is darker than in previous years.
Although there are many positives, Origer said, “The Pulaski County economy is increasingly vulnerable.” He noted several reasons for the vulnerability include a decreasing population that results in a diminishing labor pool, an aging population, a drug abuse crisis of the potential workforce and the current state of the county politics whereas the county appears to be one-party.
Origer and the CDC organization believe that tourism is a first step in attracting people to Pulaski County. Origer said people cannot relocate to Pulaski County if they don’t know the county exists. He noted that the progress of tourism promotion is currently at a standstill because of the skepticism and disinterest of the county commissioners, who would approve such spending.
Origer recalled the 2010 economic-development strategic plan that proposed a rail-served industrial park. The plan focuses on adding value to the strong agricultural economy. Origer and CDC have been working countless hours to make the park a reality by contacting landowners, commissioning feasibility studies and appraisals, negotiating with landowners, and meeting with potential tenants. Origer also proposed a funding alternative that would have a low impact on tax-based funds, as a way to pay for the property.
He said if there is not an interest, the county could cash rent the property and could put the land back on the market if the project fails. If the project succeeds, the county would receive more property taxes and spur some new commercial growth with an increase in population.
Cummins was then introduced and his message echoed the focus of the strategic plan. Cummins said he was raised in a small community and he understands what small communities are going through. He said similar stories are being heard all around the state. He commended those who were in the audience for their work in making their communities better.
He cited the Indiana Association of Regional Councils (IARC) and the Kankakee-Iroquois Regional Planning Commission (KIRPC) industry cluster analysis that highlights what economic development areas that regions excel in and what they could be doing better. Pulaski County is currently in a region with Benton, Carroll, Jasper, Newton, Starke, Warren and White counties.
According to the cluster analysis, the region is 5.5 times more competitive in agribusiness and food processing than the entire nation. The region is also about 2.5 times more competitive in manufacturing. Cummins defined competitive as the region doing things better and bigger than everyone else in the country.
He said there is opportunity to serve the region better in ag and food processes. According to the cluster, the region requirements for ag and food processing are about $1.2 million but the regional businesses only meet about $250,000 of the requirements.
Cummins suggested that the county conduct a self-assessment and decide what direction to travel.