Friday, August 22nd, 2008

Deepening the Linkages Between Indianapolis and Indiana

This article is a bit out of sequence. I had intended to write at least one precursor first. But recent news and a recent experience caused me to switch things around.

As I noted in my Pecha Kucha presentation, there can’t be a successful Indianapolis without a successful Indiana. Why should the Central Indiana region care whether the state as a whole is healthy? Two reasons:

  1. Indy is ultimately dependent on the state for significant support such as money for highway construction. A struggling state won’t be able to afford these. What’s more, with only 25% of the state’s population, Indianapolis is not, like say Minneapolis or Chicago, in a position to dominate the state politically. This means it is dependent on the goodwill of the rest of the state to secure, for example, funding mechanisms for Lucas Oil Stadium. The region will no doubt be asking the General Assembly for help with transit funding and with government consolidation to pick a couple of things. But if Indy is prosperous while the rest of the state is suffering, you can believe that this will inspire resentment. It’s the same all over the world. For example, it is extremely difficult in India to get highways and airports built to serve the emerging technology industry there because the bulk of the people are in dire poverty and they don’t see why the government should be investing to help the already prosperous. It is easy to see how this dynamic could play out in Indiana.
  2. It’s the right thing to do. People in Indianapolis are culturally Hoosiers. It’s not like NYC and upstate New York or Chicago and downstate Illinois. The bonds of common culture and brotherhood if nothing else should inspire a desire to see everyone share in prosperity. While the poor we will always have with us, our sense of social justice calls us to minimize inequities where we can do so in an appropriate way.

What we see today, however, is a troubling situation. This was recently highlighted by the latest state jobs report. Indiana’s unemployment rate went up to 6.3%, and the state as a whole lost 16,500 jobs, the third highest state total in the nation. Now Indiana’s unemployment situation is better than all of the surrounding states, but that’s a low hurdle to jump. However, while the state is continuing to lose jobs, the Indianapolis region hit an all time high in employment with 918,500 jobs. The Indianapolis area actually gained 5,600 jobs. This means the rest of the state actually lost 22,100 jobs. I’ve read some accounts that suggest that the Indianapolis area accounts for about 80% of the state’s total economic growth. That’s just not healthy.

It’s no secret what is driving this: globalization. Agriculture and manufacturing have been subjected to relentless competition from around the globe. The auto industry in particular is going through a major restructuring. With Indiana the most manufacturing dependent state in America and with a large concentration in the auto sector, it is no surprise it is getting hard hit. Manufacturing output is actually up. Contrary to popular belief, the US is still the world’s largest manufacturer and manufacturing output hit an all time high last year. But the industry has experienced such productivity gains that it is producing that output with far less workers than before.

Globalization is also concentrating economic returns in large cities. Places like London and New York are prospering in the new order. That’s because these cities are where knowledge talent is concentrated, and the economic growth areas for the 21st century are in those fields that require a highly educated workforce. This plays to the advantage of Indianapolis. It is not one of the world’s elite cities by any means, but as a metro area of 1.7 million people, it has achieved the minimum scale to be successful in the globalized world. Most of the rest of Indiana, other than those counties in the shadow of large out of state based metros like Chicago, is not so lucky. Indiana’s smaller metros and rural areas are suffering because they are still manufacturing dependent and have traditionally not been homes to the new economy workforce. The national average for percentage of adults with a college degree is 27%. In the Indianapolis area, 29.5% of adults have a college degree. In the state as a whole, only 19% hold college degrees. Again, when you factor out the above average Indy region performance, the rest of the state must be even lower than that.

Indiana needs help. One logical place to look is to Indianapolis. How can the capital city become more of a motor pulling the rest of the state, or at least the central 2/3’s of it, forward? I have some ideas on this front that I’ll be exploring in this blog. But this is no charity mission. Indianapolis also needs Indiana. Why do I say that? Well, while Indy has the minimum scale to play in the new economy, it is still too small to be a major player in many ways. I’d say a city would ideally have a minimum size of 2.5-3 million people to be able to efficiently support the types of things Indy needs to have to be in the game. For example, Indy is a small market for pro sports teams. It needs to leverage an expanded statewide fan base to the greatest extent possible. It needs an extended regional pull for its airport to get more flights. It would help to have more people to patronize downtown attractions such as the zoo. The more that Indy can tap into that larger market, the better economies of scale that can be achieved. Otherwise Indy’s smallish tax and consumer base will have to support all those things solo.

So while outstate Indiana certainly needs help in getting connected to the new globalized economy in a positive way, there are plenty of things Indianapolis needs as well. This isn’t a mercy mission either way. It is a common people standing together for the common good. As they say, if we don’t all hang together, we’ll surely all hang separately.

How do you get people to do this? Well, before you can work on specific programs, you need to have trust. And one way to establish trust is to share common values, culture, and experience. While Indianapolis is culturally Hoosier, the rest of the state has often been disconnected from it and in fact viewed the city with suspicion and hostility. But I think some things could be changing there in a positive way, and I’ll share some personal experience to show how.

I grew up in a rural area of far southern Indiana across the river from Louisville, Kentucky. In fact, we were part of the Louisville metro area. Thus, while there was a lot of cross-river rivalry, especially in college hoops, we were far more aligned to Louisville than to the rest of Indiana. I remember one day opening the Courier-Journal and seeing basketball standings showing Indiana with a record of something like 5-16, which puzzled me to no end, since I knew the Hoosiers were doing great that year. I had no idea that Indiana even had a pro basketball team, and that it was the Pacers I’d seen listed. I think I visited Indianapolis a grand total of three times growing up. I did briefly read the Indy Star during that short period pre-Gannett when they were doing statewide distribution. But I liked them mostly for the color front page (the C-J was still black and white) and their more conservative editorial stance.

I was recently back home for a high school reunion and there is a big difference. Firstly, the whole area is ga-ga over the Colts. My family has many rabid Colts fans and trips to the games are common. One person in my class who still lives in the old home town has Colts season tickets. Even my 90 year old grandparents follow the Colts. There has probably been no greater force in putting Indianapolis on the statewide map in a positive way than the Colts. Interestingly, this phenomenon seems to hit a wall at the river. The Colts made few in-roads into the Louisville market on the Kentucky side of the river.

Next, one of my classmates had opened a winery and vinyard there. This was where we held the reunion. He had recently entered his wines in the Indy International Wine Competition. He had also participated in other Indy wine events. And his plan for the future is to hopefully get some limited retail distribution in Indianapolis. I was pretty surprised to hear this since I figured his natural market would have been Louisville, but for Indiana based wineries, Indy is where the action is. Similarly I’ve noticed that Indy’s beer geek bars often have brews from around the state. For example, J. Gumbo’s has a selection of Three Floyd’s beers from Munster and Mad Anthony beers from Ft. Wayne. Similarly, Indianapolis restaurants and markets are becoming outlets for much of the local organic agriculture produced in an expanded region. In a sense, Indianapolis is becoming the cultural common ground for artisal producers of various stripes from around the state.

I also noted something similar when it comes to other things. For example, the Star noted gays from Marion and other places around the state who attended Circle City Pride this year. The more tolerant attitude in Indy versus some smaller places can make the city a refuge for those who don’t quite fit in or can’t be themselves elsewhere – and that doesn’t mean they even have to move to Indy to do it.

Not all of the expanded Indy relationships are necessarily positive for the rest of the state. For example, when I was growing up, I couldn’t name anyone in town who had moved off to Indianapolis. However, in my class of 50, multiple people have. I did some research at the reunion and estimate that probably 8-10 people got college degrees, about average for the state. Of those that did, four of them live in Indianapolis – including the top three students in the class. In effect, Indianapolis sucked up 40-50% of the college grads in my class. That leaves fewer educated workers behind for the new economy. My theory on this is that it is logical for cost reasons for people to attend in state universities. And if you go off to an in state university, the companies that recruit there are primarily Indy based. (I actually suggested to a group studying the talent attraction problem in Louisville that they should get more Louisville companies doing recruitment at Indiana’s state schools if they want to retain those grads).

Still, moving away isn’t the end of the world. In fact, that’s one way you build extended statewide connections. How do you connect many of these Indiana counties to the Indianapolis economy? One way is to leverage the embedded relationships that come from people who’ve moved back and forth.

So I think some of the deepening linkages between Indianapolis and the rest of the state are a positive sign. It is these sorts of things that set the stage for working together because you seen that common bond and common ground. How can these linkages be deepened even further in a positive way? Some ideas I have are:

  • Focus on being the market for Indiana’s artisinal producers. Every beer and wine produced in the state should be carried by some restaurant or store, preferrably multiple, Indianapolis. The more Indy distribution these products have, the more people in those outstate areas see the benefits of an Indy linkage for themelves. Plus Indy helps wean itself of mass market chain products. A win-win.
  • Leverage the heck out of the Colts. The city has just made a gigantic investment in the Colts stadium. I think part of the ROI should be that the Colts organization should go out of their way to establish themselves as a statewide team. That’s in their own best interests anyway. Make sure players and coaches are regularly putting in appearances throughout the state. Show the rest of the state that you care. When Tony Dungy joked about holding the Super Bowl in Fort Wayne, it made the newspapers in there. Those types of small gestures go a long way. Heck, the Colts even have lots of fans in downstate Illinois, which I think is another fertile ground for building Indy connections. Though that would be the equivalent of going for a masters degree when we haven’t finished high school yet.
  • Every festival, event, etc. in Indy should try to think about how to cater to an expanded geography. The State Fair is already a statewide event. I mentioned Indy Pride. Others could certainly look for ways to expand their reach. This isn’t just about marketing for more attendees. It’s about finding a way to engage at a deeper level.
  • Indy’s cultural organizations already do some work with the rest of the state. This could be expanded. For example, the ISO already plays concerts in various cities. The IMA provides conservation expertise to other Indiana museums. How can organizations achieve a greater statewide engagement in a win-win way?
  • Why not try to get more tourist synergies? The fabulous modern architecture of Columbus is only 45 minutes south of Indianapolis, for example. Why not help organize tours there that depart from downtown Indy oriented towards visitors to the capital? Again, the benefit to Indy here is that it is, to put it mildly, not exactly a hotbed of contemporary architecture. This is way to pull up the city’s woeful architectural reputation. Again, a win-win.

Ok, so maybe these suggestions are of the “more of the same” variety, but that’s ok. The trend lines are already positive here. Anyone have other ideas?

Again, I believe Indianapolis and Indiana need each other. Part of figuring out how to work together is establishing trust. These cultural linkages are a big part of making that happen.

Topics: Economic Development, Globalization, Regionalism
Cities: Indianapolis

10 Responses to “Deepening the Linkages Between Indianapolis and Indiana”

  1. Gary says:

    Remember when I wrote about the building of the “city-region” or “sprawl” as being a good thing? What you just blogged about here is exatcly what I was talking about.

    The so called “sprawl” of Indy is the result of the fact that not everyone want’s to live “in the city” but, in a succesful economic region. The Indy Metro certainly at this point is one of the most succesful metros in the Midwest.
    We should embrace that expansion instead of fight it or look at it negatively just because someone else’s definition of it is different. It’s a sign of health. I do not think this should be done at the expense of the “core” city but,I don’t that see happening at this point and the “core” as being unhealthy. We have a vibrant downtown that is expanding. We are dealing with the issues we need to.

    There have been people that have scoffed at Indy because they see it’s sprawl as bad. I see it very differently. The core is good and the region is expanding at a healthy clip. This is good for Indianapolis, Central Indiana and hopefully Indiana.

    If you look at census numbers. The bureau list the Indy CSA as just above 2 million. Interestingly the Indinspolis CSA is now listed as the Indianapolis-Carmel CSA. So the “region” has reached a critical mass point that allows it to compete on a larger stage. My point that we not only are growing but actually have connected cities establishing their own identities is a great thing. But, it was not received well…”I don’t see people going to Napierville let alone Carmel or Greenwood” is just doesn’t hold up and is short sighted. Napierville is in fact a destination for 100’s if not 1,000’s of Lesbians and Gays. It has a niche. It’s not a niche for everyone but, a niche. That is healthly. Communites each have their own draw for various reasons.

    Articles in the paper this week reported both Nortwest and Delta are continuint to add service to the airport and our port is actually one of the few ports growing and expanding. I hardly think this is being driven by the MSA alone.

    I have to cut this short for now but, I just wanted to start and continue the discussion about the Indianapolis “city-region” and was we could strengthen it and help not only the Indy region but all of Indiana.

  2. thundermutt says:

    I agree to a degree with Gary. Indianapolis has effectively “captured” the seats of the surrounding counties into its orbit, and some of the “sprawl” could be seen as infill between those county seats and I-465.

    When I moved to Indianapolis as a young adult (in the last century), Lebanon, Danville, Franklin, Shelbyville, Noblesville and Greenfield were distinct and separate from the metro…which is to say that along the highways to those other cities, there were corn and bean fields and not vinyl villages, strip malls, big boxes, and mega-warehouses. That infill has been the growth of the metro.

    The next ring of expansion to Mooresville, Greensburg, Anderson, Columbus, Lafayette, Muncie, and Bloomington is underway. Not a minor issue is that three of the five big state universities are in that next ring out (IU, Purdue, and Ball State) and one is already at the center (IUPUI).

    Not coincidentally, IMO, Indiana State is hurting for students and just convened a task force to figure out why. I can tell them: ISU doesn’t really offer a USP like the other state schools, and it’s too far from Indy. All of the other schools have some specialties that draw people from around the state and prepare them for life in the big city.

    Once the second-ring counties are more firmly in Indianapolis’ orbit, I think the political calculus on Capitol Ave. will change in Indianapolis’ favor, but that will probably take another 20-25 years. Maybe less if the “second cities” (Ft. Wayne, S. Bend, Richmond, Evansville, Terre Haute) at the edges of the state keep shrinking relative to Indy.

  3. The Urbanophile says:

    This is what I get for blogging out of sequence.

    Gary, I won’t say that I’m pro-sprawl, but I will say that successful, prosperous suburbs and successful, prosperous surrounding areas are not a threat to the core city of Indianapolis. Rather, they are an asset. The periphery can’t survive without a successful core and the core can’t survive without a successful periphery.

    I am somewhat on board with the city-region concept. I want to be cautious not to suggest that this means all outlying areas have to view themselves as subservient to the core. However, I think the logical economic unit is the BEA economic area, of which Indiana has seven. It is really the central 1/2 to 2/3 of the state that are logically where Indianapolis needs to engage. The regions near Chicago, Louisville, and Cincy should align themselves with those cities. And Ft. Wayne, South Bend, and Evansville need to lead their own regions. I’ll blog more about this later. That was the first posting I mentioned that I didn’t get around to.

  4. Anonymous says:


    By all means please keep sprawling along.

    In regards to air service…there is no mention of new flights…in fact Cape Air is suspending all Intrastate flights. DL/NWA is moving to larger aircraft. 757 has about 30 more seats than an MD80.

    Any RJ flight with less than 50 seats will be cut. None of them can make money at current fuel prices.

    Focus city by NWA days are numbered imo. Will see…

  5. Anonymous says:

    Could it be that the sucess of Indiana brewers/vinters in Indy be a result of people in other states seeing “Hoosier” products as having a stigma?

  6. The Urbanophile says:

    Could it be that the sucess of Indiana brewers/vinters in Indy be a result of people in other states seeing “Hoosier” products as having a stigma?

    Uh, no.

  7. CoryWilson says:

    The two most definitely need each other. I would say that most of Indy’s growth the past decade is a result of in-state migration and/or regional migration from the other near-by cities. It is shocking to think of what Indiana would be like without its capitol city as large and healthy as it is.

    In terms of the Colts, they have been making a state-wide/regional push for the past 3 years. The Lombardi Trophy visited Louisville and western Illinois, not to mentioin every metro-area suburb and bedroom community. I would argue that the Colts seem to be making inroads “across the River.” While I was in Louisville this past spring, IU did see some Colts garb on people and it was prominently for sale in the mall I visited.

  8. thundermutt says:

    From Wikipedia article on Indianapolis:

    “The Indy International Wine Competition, the largest U.S. wine competition outside of California, is held in Indianapolis every July at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.”

    This might argue that Indiana is rather more sophisticated than anon might believe regarding wines and wineries. If Indiana wineries are finding a market in Indianapolis, it is the result of producing good wines and not of some “Hoosier stigma”.

  9. Katrina says:

    Very nice write-up Urban. I have actually sat around often and thought what would happen if Indianapolis were able to truly “capture” the doughnut counties by means of consolidation. I know it would sure make regional transportation planning a little easier, and maybe more cost efficient. I haven’t thought out the details, but a nine-county City of Indianapolis of 1.9 Million people sounds good(we’d surpass Phoenix for 5th place – at least for a few years).

    I think that such a thing could make it easier and more cost efficient to have a “sense of place” like you always talk about. And if you could cut services that overlap, then that would be a plus. I believe that infrastructure and services in high-value areas of the outer counties would be more likely to see significant investment. To stimulate variety in the different areas of the cities, devolve non-arterial planning to small, community-based boards instead of the blanket-planning MDC who often fails at creating a plan that truly fits in any specific area of the city. That could also limit the running up of property values due to the “city limit wall” and end bickering between municipalities over annexation.

    I’m just spouting off ideas as they come to head, but thanks for the stimulating read. Might have to blog about this myself.

  10. The Urbanophile says:

    katrina, thanks for reading and the thoughts. If you write something in your blog about it, please send me the link.

    I do want to be clear that I do not support any type of “mega-Unigov”. Not only is this a political non-starter, I don’t think it is a good idea. The current city government more than has its hands full just with Marion County. Expanding its scope of responsibility would only make things worse.

    I do think there is great scope for better regional collaboration. The key is that it has to be for the benefit of everybody. So often “regionalism” initiatives are really about propping up the central city and limiting development elsewhere, or getting suburbanites to pick up the tab for the core city.

    I, on the other hand, believe in a more balanced approach, where we invest in our suburban and rural areas as well as downtown. It isn’t about “capturing” outer regions. It’s about having a thriving urban core, thriving suburbs, and thriving surrounding towns and countryside. Growth in the collar counties does not necessarily come at the expense of Marion County. And vice/versa.

    I also do support voluntary collaboration on regional projects like the Lucas Oil Stadium, which is a model for how the region can get things done.

    It is very important to get the messaging right. People in the outer areas of the region, particularly outside of the collar counties and statewide, are very sensitized to any hint that their money is getting diverted to Indy, or that they are being viewed as some type of vassal territory. I certainly don’t view them that way, but it is important to make sure the messages are right too.

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