At the Cornerstone Inn, located in the heart of Nashville, you’ll find a quaint wrap-around porch with rocking chairs, a friendly staff, and you might run into Bruce Gould. Gould co-owns the Inn with his wife and has lived in Brown County for more than 30 years.
“I know so many people around here and I know so many things and places, I’m familiar with things around here,” Gould says. “I really like that feeling that I don’t just live in my house, and I don’t just own this business, I mean, this is my town.”
“We know what the future might look like, what do we need to do now?”
Although Gould loves where he lives and works, he, along with several others, acknowledge the county isn’t keeping up with the passing of time. The county is struggling with a declining population. That impacts schools, businesses, and ultimately the county’s livelihood.
Data from the state paints a pretty dismal picture. Brown County Redevelopment Commission Member Tim Clark says the numbers show the county’s population decline trend will continue through 2050.
“So if you’re not growing, costs continue to increase with inflation, so when you start looking at those trends from a development stand point, we’re kind of concerned, say, ‘OK, we know what that future might look like, what do we need to do now?’” Clark says.
Now, they’re making a plan.
Members of the Brown County Redevelopment Commission say the current focus is gathering talent and thought leaders, and frankly, as many community members as possible to brainstorm initiatives and come up with future plans to better some of the problems.
The county is one of five areas in the state to receive a Hometown Collaboration Initiative grant, through the Indiana office of community and rural affairs. Clark says the HCI program will teach Brown County leaders how to improve the community.
“That’s pretty important when you look at making change within a county, within a community, what is that method, well the HCI will give us that, that pipeline so to speak of talent and leadership and a method for tackling these issues, because change is tough, it always is,” Clark says.
The Redevelopment Commission is also pushing forward with a county-wide master plan. It’s going to apply for a $40,000 and $50,000 state grant to fund it. But Clark says creating a master plan is a somewhat lengthy process. He’s currently working on a county income survey, which is needed to apply for the grants.
“Once we have the list for surveys, it’s five months to do an income survey, it’s two months to apply for a grant, it’s five months to execute the grant, so we’re looking at early to mid-2018 for the master planning that perhaps is funded by the state,” Clark says.
President of the Redevelopment Commission, David Redding, says he thinks the most valuable resource the county has is the people. In order to come up with the best solutions for the community, he says the county must work as a team.
“Where there is a board, we want to come in from an RDC perspective, and support them, help them, enable them, encourage them, be their biggest cheerleader,” Redding says.
The schools are on the team, too. The county’s population decline trickles down to Superintendent Laura Hammack’s district.
The hallways at Brown County schools are less crowded. The district is down 100 students just this year, and fewer students mean less money to cover the district’s expenses.
The big task Hammack sees is attracting young families to the county.
“There comes a time you need to quit doing studies and do something tangible.”
“We feel like they are really supporting the strategy and the system’s approach to really trying to move both the county and the school district together and forward,” Hammack says.
Redding says the county is on the right track, and more people are volunteering their time to work on these various initiatives.
“If you think about that chain and you think about all these strong leadership focal points along that chain, how can it not make a difference?” Redding says.
And Gould says he can feel the momentum, but he’s ready to see the changes actually made.
“There comes a time you need to quit doing studies, and do something tangible,” Gould says. “We’re reaching that point, I think, where something has to change and be done.”
Items on Gould’s list include better access to broadband and improved wastewater treatment. He sees those as tangible things the county needs to attract developers and more people to live in the area.