Indiana legislators are exploring ways to target economic development efforts in an attempt to boost growth in the state’s rural areas.
Lawmakers say while the General Assembly has passed plenty of economic development legislation, the results have been almost entirely focused in urban areas.
More than two-thirds of Indiana counties have less than 50,000 people, and attempts the last two years to pass bills aimed specifically at rural economic development have been unsuccessful.
State Office of Community and Rural Affairs Project Development Director Geoff Shoemaker says the struggle in rural communities is not just starting and attracting new businesses.
“Look at the hardware store in the community where somebody is going to retire and there’s no pipeline, there’s nobody to take over that business and we’re going to lose the hardware store,” he says. “We’re going to lose more economic vitality in that town.
Shoemaker says one way to solve that problem is providing young people with entrepreneurial training and community support. He says the state can help spread efforts that currently exist in various counties. That includes a program developed by the Whitley County Economic Development Corporation.
Corporation President Alan Tio says his organization recently launched a series aimed at strengthening existing businesses
“That we use to help existing companies get into new products, new market opportunities,” he says. “It’s mostly coaching and mentoring, helping people figure out the things they don’t know they don’t know.”
Rural officials and community leaders also cite a lack of quality Internet service and inadequate infrastructure as vital concerns.