Making sure there are enough workers to keep local businesses operating increasingly involves turning to placemaking efforts. The role of placemaking in workforce development was a topic of discussion during the “Powering Rural” panel at last week’s Pulaski County Economic Development Summit.
Gerry White with the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs said the way people think about where to live is changing. “This current generation are a lot different than what we are,” he said. “We would go to where the jobs were. Now, they go to wherever they want to, and they’ll find a job when they get there. And we’ve heard that over the last four to six years, and it wasn’t that way 10, 20 years ago. And so that is why you see really a transformative shift to the way of thinking of how can we make our local communities more attractive.”
Industries are also looking at place differently, according to Matt Saltanovitz with the Indiana Economic Development Corporation. “It used to be the first question is, ‘Where am I going to operate?’ or ‘How can I operate?’ Now, it’s, ‘Where am I going to find the workers?’ ‘Where are my workers going to live, work, and play?’ That is, I wouldn’t say, the most important question, but it is a very significant factor when companies are deciding where to locate,” Saltanovitz said.
At OCRA, White says one of the goals is to get people to understand that rural living is not a bad thing. “It’s not slow, and there’s a lot of things that you can be doing in Starke and Pulaski county and Jasper County. And we try and we work very hard to spread that message across the state and to our neighbors, to other states, as well.”
One of the ways OCRA is doing that is through the Indiana Main Street Program. White praised the efforts of the Winamac and Francesville Main Street organizations, “They’re keeping the activity level up, so that the people who are active in those communities are spreading the word and people from outside of the communities are coming in and saying, ‘You know what? I want to live here. This is a pretty cool place. It’s not as fast as Indianapolis. It’s not as fast as Chicago. But it’s a heck of a lot safer.'” White also noted that the commute time between Pulaski County and Indianapolis isn’t much more than between Lake County and Chicago.