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By VINCE LUECKE, Editor
Surveys conducted as part of Perry County’s Hometown Competitiveness Program turned up some interesting data about the challenges facing our community – as well as many of its strengths. A public presentation of findings by five committees was conducted Feb. 21 and we’ll share the details of the findings in a story soon.
For those not familiar with the project, Perry County was chosen to participate in HTC, which works to help rural communities develop a comprehensive framework for development. The program emphasizes five key “pillars” to create economic success: youth engagement, leadership development, entrepreneurship, rural family success and building community wealth.
Here are a few of the findings I found most interesting. Findings were developed by the pillar committees from the results of their surveys. I am a member of the HTC coordinating committee and serve on the leadership pillar committee.
The group’s findings indicate a belief by youth and adults that there are too few employment opportunities in the county and not enough opportunity for advancing careers. That’s certainly important to youth, who will one day face choices about where they will settle, find jobs and raise families.
Youth and adults also pointed to a need for more recreational and cultural opportunities. That’s something I hear often.
The youth pillar team has charted several opportunities they would like to see pursued, including promoting economic development to attract and retain jobs, provide activities for teens and adults and studying local housing needs. The group also points to a need for a Web site that integrates, school, housing and employment information.
Other ideas include fostering community pride and working with Ivy Tech Community College to ensure the Tell City campus continues to thrive.
Rural Families Economic Success
This group’s findings were similar in some areas: the county needs more jobs and a wider variety of employment opportunities. At the same time, the group’s surveys seem to show that some employers have trouble filling positions with qualified workers.
Also, overall education levels are not always where they should be. For example, only 9.6 percent of the county’s population has a bachelor’s or a higher degree, compared to a national rate of 24.4 percent. On a positive note, the current high-school graduation rates for the county’s three schools are higher than what the county average has been in the past. In time, that will reduce the percentage of county residents who don’t have a high-school diploma or a GED.
Opportunities identified by this group include promoting college- and career-readiness skills and finding new ways to tap the Hoosier National Forest as a resource for county growth. As is often pointed out, the county receives tourism benefits from the forest, but receives little federal money in lieu of the taxes that would be paid if the land was in private hands.
Leave a Local Legacy
Originally known as charitable wealth, this pillar also circulated surveys and focused on the benefits of planned and charitable giving and endowments as ways to support the community now and in the future.
Findings show that some residents aren’t that familiar with opportunities to pass along their wealth and point to the need for community unity instead of Perry Countians identifying primarily with a hometown or portion of the county. Other goals are tackling drug abuse and bringing more youth back to the community after they finish college.
A major finding of the Leadership Pillar was that too few people in the county are familiar with opportunities to get involved in leadership activities – or to hone their own skills. While Leadership Perry County has been active in the community for about two decades, there are other civic, fraternal and educational organizations that provide opportunities for growth and development.
Although those groups are active and regularly have notices posted in the newspaper, many people indicate they are not familiar with them or don’t know how to join them.
Surveys also indicated the perception that only “in crowd” members can take part in organizations. I don’t think that is true.
Opportunities for the group include working with Leadership Perry County on recruitment and conducting a public forum in which community leaders can hear updates about local community-service groups. The pillar committee may also sponsor a gathering of groups active in the community, such as the Moose Lodge, Knights of Columbus, Tri Kappa and Junior Women, who can meet and greet prospective members. Similar to a job fair, the public would have a chance to learn more about the organizations serving the community.
Another major effort for the group would be to find ways to use Facebook to share projects and activities of community groups and working with The Perry County News on ways to make it easier for people to join local groups.
This group’s findings focused on the county’s business climate and opportunities for entrepreneurial ventures.
Key findings include roadblocks to support of business ventures, including a lack of support by local shoppers to support area businesses. Others pointed to a lack of financial resources for business startups or expansion and a lack of people to support businesses.
The group’s surveys pointed to a lack of information on the programs offered by the chamber of commerce to business startups, the need for more signs to point the way to businesses for visitors and a lack of affordable health care for businesses to provide themselves and employees.
Potential entrepreneurs in the northern area of the county faces the challenge of a lack of infrastructure.
Opportunities for the group include education awareness for entrepreneurs, legal and tax assistance, attracting business owners and investors from other nearby areas interested in opening businesses locally and providing high-speed Internet access, signs and more infrastructure.
Better communication with local government was also cited as an important goal.
These are just highlights. Watch for a story in upcoming issues, as well as the next steps in the Hometown Competitiveness process. Volunteers are sought for each of the pillars as they chart projects.
To get involved, call Cheri Taylor at the Perry County Chamber of Commerce at 547-2385.
Thousands of Buzzards
Clarence VanWinkle called last month to report that he had seen a large flock of turkey vultures, often dubbed buzzards, fly over Locust Road.
He said there were thousands of the birds. I’ve never seen that large of a flock of buzzards.