COLUMN: Sparking economic growth

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District 47 State Senator

For many of Indiana’s cities and towns, finding ways to jump-start economic growth is a top priority. Indiana’s rural communities are no different. However, challenges unique to the state’s rural communities require a slightly different approach to creating the sustainable, good-paying jobs Hoosiers demand.

In a meeting of the Interim Study Committee on Economic Development earlier this month, lawmakers and community stakeholders laid out challenges and a few innovative approaches to encourage economic growth in rural areas.

According to data presented by the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, the population of young adults living in more rural communities declined by more than 7 percent between 2005 and 2010.

The phenomenon known as “brain-drain,” young adults leave rural areas, taking with them the skills, knowledge and expertise they’ve acquired. The same report noted that more rural populations tend to have older populations, lower average wages, lower educational attainment and higher commute times.

To combat these disincentives and energize rural economies, lawmakers, local officials and residents must align their economic-development efforts to conform to 21st century economic realities. That starts with ensuring Hoosiers both young and old have access to high-quality education and workforce training.

Last session I supported a bipartisan effort to match the state’s education, job skills development and career training systems to the future needs of the state’s job market. My aim is to provide any worker who wants to pursue it, the opportunity to gain in-demand skills and compete for jobs.

Setting Hoosiers on the path to success starts with guaranteeing our students arrive in classrooms ready to learn. Study after study confirms early childhood education drives future success. That’s why I have continued to support initiatives to make preschool a reality for every Hoosier child.

Finally, the best policy to spark economic growth in rural communities is to give local communities the latitude needed to innovate.

Too often, federal and state regulations and red tape handcuff local officials and subvert home rule.

By allowing local communities to apply resources such as tax-increment financing, increase broadband access and tackle critical infrastructure needs as they see fit, lawmakers can empower the folks best equipped to create communities that attract a top-flight workforce and employers that pay living wages.

As always, I’d like to hear your thoughts and ideas on the issues that matter most to you. Please contact me at (800) 382-9467 or send e-mail to s47@iga.in.gov.

Young represents Perry County in the Indiana Senate.