This column could be part three of “Why I Love My Town.” This week, the League spotlights a surprising technology partnership that will promote economic development in Crawfordsville and Montgomery County.
In a partnership with Indianapolis-based VisionThree, Crawfordsville will become the “Everytown” of VR technology used to recruit employees and market companies. Everytown alludes to the idea of an Everyman, an old literary template that brings a message meant to reach as many as possible. In this case, Crawfordsville will be the template of the quintessential US community.
It works like this: VisionThree’s mission is to provide 2D and 3D content for businesses to recruit, market and train. In the past year, they launched an education partnership for Hoosier high schools and Ivy Tech. They will provide immersive experiences to high school students, giving students a chance to try out a future career through virtual reality. They’ve partnered with a number of communities and districts around the state, from Bartholomew Schools to Elkhart, and now to Montgomery County.
What started as talks with administrators of all three of the county’s school corporations about where to locate a central site turned into talks with Cheryl Morphew, our county’s economic development coordinator, and Mayor Todd Barton’s office.
Not only did the corporations and county decide to locate the VisionThree experience at Fusion 54, but the city decided to partner up with VisionThree to make Crawfordsville the model community that users of the system will encounter in virtual reality. Users who don a pair of VR goggles are “walking” into Crawfordsville.
How does this help Crawfordsville and the entire county?
“Ten years ago, the county’s economic goals were ‘jobs jobs jobs,’” said Mayor Barton. “Now we (the economic development team and mayor’s office) can be very strategic about this. We have hundreds of jobs open and more coming. Now we can look at recruiting higher paying jobs.”
Barton is excited about this partnership. Over the next few months, VisionThree and local leaders will create content that shows off regional assets. As Barton said, “We have the confidence to do this because our community shows so well.” When industries visit Montgomery County, many commit to locating here. Other communities may have a beach or mountains, but Crawfordsville has a host of appealing assets.
“Increasing exposure through this virtual reality platform will show us off,” Barton said.
Communities like ours have a number of the following characteristics, wrote Edward T. McMahon of New Hampshire’s Municipal Association: a vision for the future, a strong inventory of its assets, a plan built around enhancing those assets, the vision to use education and incentives (not just regulation) to grow, the discernment to pick and choose among development projects, a sense of cooperation for the mutual benefit of neighbors, attention to community aesthetics, and finally strong leadership and committed citizens.
He goes on to say that successful communities “involve a broad cross-section of residents in determining and planning for the future” and “capitalize on distinctive assets — architecture, history, natural surroundings, and home grown businesses — rather than trying to adopt a new and different identity.”
We have many “broad cross-sections” of residents who are invested in developing our community. From leaders in the Main Street Association and the LWVMC Climate, Economic and Health teams, to numerous unsung heroes with the library, Carnegie Museum, Lew Wallace Study, Tennebaum Center, Wabash College, our industries, business owners, local boards, clubs, religious communities, non-profits, and the list goes on. It’s impossible to tag them all, but each contributes to success in the present and future.
Barton lauded Morphew for floating the idea to bring VisionThree here and Dr. Colleen Moran for facilitating the school corporations’ teamwork on this and other emerging initiatives.
Crawfordsville is the first, and presently, the only city to create content for VisionThree. The partnership, which synergizes the county’s economic goals with VisionThree’s project, demonstrates confidence in our community. We have an excellent parks system, a great start to a trail system, museums, libraries, a college, strong schools, a downtown that shows promise with the recent burgeoning of “home-grown businesses.” Our energy sources are increasingly sustainable. We have attracted housing developers and redeveloped a number of older buildings into housing.
We also have room to grow and improve. While high school students visit Fusion 54, put on VR goggles, and tour a place like Ellis Aviation where they will virtually take apart an engine, our city will be able to send goggles to companies looking for a new site. Those companies will save money traveling but still be able to experience Montgomery County.
All of the content created for VR experiences has costs. The city is leveraging American Rescue Plan funds and TIF-business tax revenue. Local industries haven’t signed agreements with VisionThree yet, but as the technology is more widely adopted they may find it improves their return on investment, especially if they utilize grants from the state to offset what they’d pay upfront to create marketing and recruiting content similar to the city’s. In the long run, not only will VisionThree’s educational project hopefully generate more interest in high-paying careers locally, but it will help the county attract more of those jobs.
The League of Women Voters, a non-partisan, multi-issue organization encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase public understanding of major policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy. All men and women are invited to join the LWV where hands-on work to safeguard democracy leads to civic improvement. For information, visit the website www.lwvmontcoin.org or the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, IN Facebook page.