This is another article in the ongoing series about collaborative economic and community development efforts between the City of Crawfordsville, Montgomery County Commissioners and Montgomery County Redevelopment Commission. This month we explore the proactive efforts these elected/appointed leaders are making to build a sustainable community where people want to live and work now and in the future.
What does it take to build a desirable rural community? One that thrives and not only has economic opportunities, but also has the preferred amenities many of us expect in the place we call home? It takes hard work, a focused strategic effort and patience. The bottom line is growth does not happen overnight and rarely does it happen organically.
The paradigm for growth has changed. Gone are the days when elected and appointed leaders only discuss economic development and growth in terms of new business attraction or new jobs. Today, discussions are also focused on building residential inventory, growing talent from within and attracting retail options. While the fruits of their labor may not yet be realized, Crawfordsville and Montgomery County are doing everything right to position themselves for the kind of sustainable growth that will attract both talent and residents. Following are a few examples of their ongoing efforts to build a thriving, sustainable community.
Elected leaders know that in order to attract new families or young professionals you need to have a place for them to reside. But talk to any Realtor or anyone who may be searching for a home and the response is the same, “There isn’t much to choose from.” It’s a challenge for existing employers as well when trying to attract new talent. Many times, those positions are filled by someone driving into the community due to the lack of local housing options from which to choose.
It’s not hard to understand why one of the top priorities shared by both the mayor and commissioners is housing. It is why the city annexed 250 acres a couple of years ago and is why the County Redevelopment Commission — in partnership with the Regional Sewer Board — is expanding the sewer main along State Road 32 to the Interstate 74 interchange. It’s also why commissioners are in the process of implementing an infrastructure development zone so Indiana American Water can expand water mains to accommodate additional growth. Finally, it’s why the mayor and commissioners are currently collaborating on a residential marketing strategy.
So why do a marketing strategy aimed at residential developers? Because those firms are no different than an industrial prospect looking to locate a new facility. Millions of
dollars are at stake, so there is a level of due diligence that occurs, a business case to be made, and a positive return on investment to be realized. And similar to the business attraction process, it’s the role of elected leaders to help mitigate the risk for that investor by being better prepared as a community.
As the city and county work through the various steps of the marketing strategy process, they will learn how the community is perceived as a place to live by those outside of the county boundaries, what potential challenges and opportunities exist for attracting residential development and will be presented hard data to support successful residential development. Once the process is complete, the mayor and commissioners will have a marketing strategy designed specifically for firms in the residential development business. As a result, they will be better prepared to proactively recruit investment in single-family housing and market-rate multi-family apartments.
On any given day, you will hear the mayor say someone stopped him to ask: “When are we getting a Chick fil-a?” or “When are we going to get a Kohls?” Attracting retail investment is a data-driven science. Professionals charged with finding potential locations do so generally from the comfort of their office reviewing consumer activity data such as level of foot traffic, disposable income, and shopping patterns between the commute to home and work. They are analyzing changes in the community’s population, growth in the residential sector, and how well other retailers are doing in the area. It is a rare occasion when those individuals do an actual visit of the community so early in the location decision process.
Mayor Todd Barton is hoping to change that. Rather than a reactive approach, he has developed a target list and a message to proactively reach out to those in the retail development sector. It’s an opportunity to tell a bigger story about the community than what can be ascertained only from data and it’s a way to differentiate Crawfordsville and Montgomery County from the “rest of the pack.”
None of these efforts have been or will be easy and results may be slow to materialize, but the alternative of a passive approach is not an option in today’s competitive climate. Communities which cannot demonstrate they are relevant will continue to decline and/or die out. Your city and county elected leaders are committed to strategies that will bring increased awareness about this location as a desirable place to live, work, play and learn.
Guests column submitted by Cheryl Morphew.