Sunday, July 11th, 2010

The Columbus, Indiana Values Proposition

“A mediocrity is expensive.” – J. Irwin Miller

I once provoked some heated responses on a Columbus, Ohio message board when I suggested that outside the United States, Columbus, Indiana actually has higher brand awareness than Columbus, Ohio. And that among a certain international set, a mention of “Columbus” means the one in Indiana.

North Christian Church, 1964. Eero Saarinen, architect. A National Historic Landmark.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia/Greg Hume

That’s true because Columbus, a small city of about 40,000 in south-central Indiana, has one of the finest and most significant collections of modern architecture anywhere in the world. Starting in the 1950’s, a foundation backed by J. Irwin Miller, president of diesel engine manufacturer Cummins Engine Company, agreed to pay the architectural fees for public buildings such as schools, provided that the community chose from architects on his approved list. He and his company, along with many other citizens and firms, also hired top architects for private commissions. The result is dozens of buildings by world-renowned masters such as Eero Saarinen, I. M. Pei, Harry Weese, and Cesar Pelli, six of which are National Historic Landmarks, the highest designation of historic site recognized by the federal government.

Barrett Crites, a huge mid-century architecture fan and proprietor of the blog Atomic Indy, arranged to have the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau sponsor a VIP architecture tour of city, including access to the interiors of many of these normally off-limits buildings and a special early-access tour of the Miller House and Garden, a landmark recently acquired by the Indianapolis Museum of Art. I was fortunate enough to be able to glom onto this trip, which was spectacular. It would be easy enough for me to make a huge number of blog posts about the architecture of Columbus.

But this is not an architecture posting. Or perhaps it is, but at a more fundamental level. This is a post about people – the people of Columbus and their character. Because cities are about people, not buildings. As passionate as I am about good design, and for all the true and legitimate importance of design excellence, great architecture doesn’t make a city great. Great architects don’t make a city great. A great city, that is, a great people, is what makes great architecture.

First Baptist Church, 1965. Harry Weese, architect. A National Historic Landmark
Photo Credit: Wikipedia/Greg Hume

J. Irwin Miller didn’t start his architecture program as an act of charity. It was also self-interested. He foresaw even back in the 1950’s the importance of being able to get talented people to want to live in his town. He needed to recruit not just factory workers, but executives and engineers to work at his company, and he knew it would be difficult to get them to want to come to his small city. He thought that this architecture, and particularly quality school buildings that would show his town’s commitment to education, would help differentiate Columbus.

Today Columbus is widely perceived as a different sort of place in Indiana. Chicago journalist Richard Longworth summed it up when he said of Southern Indiana:

Southern Indiana, from Indianapolis on south, is Dixie – hilly, scenic, with small farms and small towns, more akin to Louisville than Chicago. It contains two of the Midwest’s gems, Indiana University at Bloomington and the architectural mecca of Columbus, but both are cultivated outposts not typical of their region.

As a Southern Indiana native, from along the Ohio River where I guess I was one of the uncultivated ones, and a graduate of IU, this passage struck me. It’s totally fair to describe Bloomington as a different sort of place. The Dali Lama’s brother lives there – case closed.

But Columbus? All I remember about Columbus growing up is that my grandparents loved to drive up there to have lunch at the Holiday Inn, hardly an upscale diversion. I know about the architecture, but what else is there? Curious, I decided to take a look, comparing Columbus to other small cities in Indiana – Anderson, Bloomington, Elkhart, Kokomo, Lafayette, Marion, Muncie, and Terre Haute – to see what is different about it.

The big one – and it’s big, no doubt – is college degree attainment. Other than Bloomington and Lafayette (home to Purdue University), Columbus has far higher college degree attainment than all of the other cities at 27.6% Given the importance of educational attainment as a predictor of civic success, some might be tempted to simply declare game over at this point.

Source: Census Bureau 2006-2008 American Community Survey

But that misses the whole other side of the story, which is not about how different Columbus is from its state, but how similar. Any Hoosier visiting Bloomington will instantly know he’s in a different sort of place. But Columbus, architecture aside, feels much like any other Indiana town. This can be a huge disappointment to out of towners who come in expecting Aspen or Burlington, Vermont. For example, a Brooklyn snob by the name of Philip Nobel castigated Columbus for, among other things, its Wal-Mart and other chain retailers, saying:

Cruising those thoroughfares, predictably, one finds the rest of the town as it is actually lived in: the fast food, the Kohl’s, the Lowe’s—all the interchangeable parts of our interchangeable sprawl….Certainly it’s not the fault of the town’s great Modern buildings that Columbus has fallen prey to the same commercial and pharmaceutical scourges that have plagued less designerly burgs. But it does cast Miller’s vision, and the wisdom of the Cummins patronage system, into doubt.

Tom Vujovich, chairman of the Columbus Redevelopment Commission, put it directly, “This is a blue collar town.” If the sine qua non of blue collar status is manufacturing work, then Columbus certainly qualifies. In 2008 Indiana was the most manufacturing dependent state in America, with 18.2% of its employees working in that field. But in Columbus/Bartholomew County it’s an astounding 36.1% – higher than any of those other small cities except Elkhart.

Source: BLS Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, 2008 Annual Average

Because of the way industry classifications work, white collar workers at Cummins probably count in these number, but there aren’t that many of those, and the many factories that line I-65 through town attest to the fact that this is a place where actual stuff is still made.

One of the people on our tour said she would love to live in Columbus “if you had a Trader Joe’s.” Vujovich told her bluntly, “It’s never going to happen.” Columbus may be a place where you can find world class architecture, but you’re not going to find gourmet food stores, independent cinemas, or high end boutiques. (They do have a farmers market, however).

In short, Columbus residents are mostly just normal Hoosier middle class folks. Someone could move there from Kokomo or Marion and feel right at home except for the strange buildings and the thicker drawl.

I happen to think that’s perhaps the most exciting thing about it. Because if it is really a successful town – and that’s a big if we’ll turn to momentarily – it offers a model of success similar Hoosier cities can imitate. And, what’s arguably more important, a model that fits the values of people who live in Indiana. Telling Terre Haute to act more like Portland – or even Indianapolis or Bloomington – is purest fantasy. But potentially they could aspire to be a lot more like Columbus.

Also, I’ve been skeptical of the ability of places whose size is below a certain critical scale to compete economically. Columbus would be, perhaps, a counter-example to show that it is possible, and how it can be done.

Irwin Union Bank, 1954. Eero Saarinen, architect. A National Historic Landmark.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia/Reywas92

So how is Columbus doing? I looked at the data – population growth, job growth, GDP, personal income, average wages, foreign direct investment – and there is no two ways about it. Columbus isn’t just out-performing these other Indiana cities, it’s total world domination. Columbus is even beating up on Big Ten college towns Bloomington and Lafayette on many measures. Let’s do a quick rundown on the numbers

Population Growth
Unlike many other small manufacturing cities in Indiana, Columbus actually experienced population growth in the last decade, albeit at a rate a bit slower than the national average.

Source: Census Bureau Mid-Year Population Estimates

Columbus also had strong net domestic migration during the 2000’s, with over 1400 more people moving in than moving out. That’s called voting with your feet. People are fleeing most of these other towns in droves.

Gross Domestic Product
GDP is a base measure of economic output. I don’t have it for all of these cities, since it is only reported at the metro area level and a couple of them aren’t big enough to make the cut for having an MSA, but most of them are there.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis. Data in 2001 chained dollars.

Not only is Columbus ahead of the pack, it is pulling away. As we’ve seen elsewhere in America, the people who are doing well, are doing well. And vice versa. Columbus was also number one for GDP growth.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis. Date range is the maximum available

Adding all the economic value in the world doesn’t help you if your job market is in bad shape. The Great Recession walloped America hard, and we experienced an overall “lost decade” of job creation. Small manufacturing cities got hit hard. Columbus has not been immune, but did far better than most other places.

Source: BLS Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages

On the unemployment front, I don’t think anyone would call Columbus’ numbers good, but they could be a whole lot worse.

Source: BLS Local Area Unemployment Statistics

Foreign Direct Investment
I don’t have dollar numbers on this, but the Indy Partnership did put together a map of foreign owned business operations by city in Indiana grouped by various countries. Columbus clearly has a huge cluster of foreign investment. For example, it has 17 Japanese owned operations alone, more than any city in the state other than Indianapolis. The next closest on my list of peer cities, Lafayette and Richmond, only have five Japanese operations each. Clearly, Columbus is the preferred location outside of Indy for Japanese investment in Indiana. And businesses from seven other countries are also located there.

Hoosier incomes have long trailed the nation, and none of these cities reaches that level, but Columbus is closest at 95% of the US average. And with its low cost of living, that’s probably good enough.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

I’m already on chart overload, but lest I be accused of leaving it out, Columbus does only rank in the middle of the pack on PCI growth during the last decade.

Lastly, let’s look at average weekly wages. Kokomo is famous for having some of the best wages in the country – it’s the number five metro area in the entire United States on this measure – because it has two large auto related plants that somehow managed to avoid getting closed. But Columbus is a close second here.

Source: Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages

Again, Columbus is in the middle of the pack on wage growth in the last decade.

Looking at the totality of the data, I don’t think there’s any dispute that Columbus is simply the best performing small city in Indiana economically. Bloomington is the only other one you could make an argument about. And it has a Big Ten university, putting it into the category of what Richard Florida calls “big government boomtowns.” While prosaic matters like jobs, income, and economic output may not impress East Coast aesthetes like Philip Nobel, these results suit the citizens of Columbus just fine indeed.

Mabel McDowell Elementary School, 1960. John Carl Warnecke, architect. A National Historic Landmark.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia/Greg Hume

Why is Columbus so different? Is it the architecture? Can buildings alone have such an influence on a city’s economy? It’s doubtful, at least not directly. I’ve yet to hear anyone argue the point. But you do hear several things posited.

Corporate Headquarters. Columbus is home to Cummins Engine, a Fortune 500 company, which clearly helps. But look closely and some of those peer cities have advantages too. Bloomington and Lafayette have Big Ten universities with over 30,000 students each and some of the world’s top minds. Muncie until fairly recently was HQ to Ball Corp, and the Ball family was as generous as the Millers to their town, even creating Ball State University, another major campus. Terre Haute is home to Indiana State University, a nationally elite boutique engineering school called Rose Hulman, and is the home base of the Hulman-George family business empire, whose assets range from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to Clabber Girl baking powder. No one can doubt the Hulman-George family’s importance to Indiana. Kokomo has those two auto plants I mentioned, with top pay rates.

Columbus has no university. Cummins is still HQ’d there but probably has only about 50% of its peak employment. Another local company, auto parts supplier Arvin Industries, was bought out and closed its headquarters and laid off many workers. Columbus has not been immune from industrial transformation.

Educational Attainment. Clearly those college degree stats are important. But that just begs the question: why did all those college educated people choose Columbus, even without a university or a Trader Joe’s? It goes back a long way. Perhaps architecture did play a role here, and the recognition that talent was importance long before other places. Columbus understood the principle of the Talent Dividend 50 years ago, and how it is harvesting its crop.

Unionization. The last traditional explanation of Columbus exceptionalism is weak unions. As Longworth put it, “Southern Indiana is beginning to draw industrial investment, particularly in cars, but mostly for the same reasons companies invest in Alabama – no unions.” Except in limited circumstances, I think organized labor is overblown as an explanation for poor economic growth. Right to work is a red herring. Alabama is a right to work state, but that hasn’t saved Birmingham. Nor has being right to work and having no state income tax done much for Memphis.

I’m less familiar with these smaller cities, but in Indianapolis organized labor is with the program. Public sector construction with lots of union jobs is big there, with major projects like a new hospital undertaken in the recession timed partially as an employment stimulus. In return, you don’t see labor problems like what Wal-Mart experienced in Chicago, nor do you hear the complaints about work rules like at Chicago’s McCormick Place. I get the impression that Indiana labor unions are mostly pro-growth.

Also, Southern Indiana does have fewer unionized manufacturing centers than central and northern Indiana, but Evansville is a strong labor town, as is Louisville, Kentucky, which has much of Southern Indiana in its orbit.

I tried to get some facts around unions in Columbus. Cummins production workers are organized, but mostly by a company specific union called the Diesel Workers Union. The company characterized its relationship with its unions as “productive”.

Remembering that auto-parts supplier Arvin Industries used to be HQ’d in Columbus and still has a plant there, I thought maybe they would be a UAW shop. But when I called the UAW regional office in Indianapolis to inquire, they refused to speak with me at all. The UAW’s reaction to someone who was actually trying to debunk an anti-labor meme, I think, says more than any facts I could collect that Columbus probably is a weak labor town, and this, along with its educational attainment, does play a role in the city’s economic success at some level.

Miller House, 1957. Eero Saarinen, architect. Alexander Girard, interior designer. A National Historic Landmark.
Photo Credit: Indianapolis Museum of Art

Yes, all of these things play a role, but they don’t explain it all. There’s something else, something that underlies all of them at a more basic level. The real difference in Columbus is in the character of the people who live there, and the values they bring to bear on creating the city in which they live. Most places would claim to have a value proposition. But Columbus has a values proposition, and therein lies the difference.

What values do Columbusites hold that made them successful? They fall in three basic areas.

1. Bedrock Hoosier Values. Let’s not forget again that the people of Columbus are, above all, Hoosiers. And the best of Indiana values play a key roles in the city’s success. These include thrift, hard work, faith, patriotism, community, hospitality, modesty, family, and yes, that uniquely Hoosier orneriness. Urban sophisticates may mock these straightforward values at times, but they are many of the values that built America. They are ones that Columbus and Indiana can take pride in. Like Southern cities that shed off their previous torpor to become America’s great growth stories, Columbus positioned itself for the future, but it didn’t forget about the things that were really important to it. Its people didn’t forget themselves and their heritage. They know that a great city, a great people, like a great wine, has to express its terroir.

2. A Commitment to Excellence. Tony Moravec, owner of Blairex Laboratories, says he’s in Columbus “by choice, not by chance.” (I don’t know the entire backstory, but he appears to have moved the business there from Evansville). Why? He said he came to Columbus for two reasons. “One, it’s pro-business. Two, we do things first class here.”

As much as I love Indiana, I must repudiate its overwhelming tendency towards the active discouragement of the pursuit of excellence and improvement. This attitude is a disease that affects the entire Midwest, and does perhaps more than any single other thing to hobble it.

It’s a long standing condition. When my father came out of the service, he was berated by my grandfather for deciding to enroll part time in college. My grandfather thought it was a total waste. Thank goodness my dad had enough Hoosier orneriness to do what he wanted. Last year I ran across an old neighbor who went to my high school about a decade before I did. He recounted how, upon telling the guidance counselor he planned to attend university, he was told there was no way anyone from such a small school could ever make it in college and he should be a welder instead. Today he has a master’s degree and a significant professional position. I remember myself in school hearing a repeated refrain of how there were lots of people “with book learning but no common sense.” Admittedly, in my case that might have been true, but I think it shows an attitude that doesn’t just not value education, but actively despises it.

Fast forward to today and I think of all the discussions on sites like the Indianapolis Business Journal’s Property Lines blog. For every lousy to mediocre project that comes along, there are a chorus of people defending its merits. People who ask for better design – and keep in mind many of these projects have heavy tax subsidies – are told that they have no right piping in or, “it’s just student housing” or some other complaint that doesn’t just indicate a lack of personal concern with low quality urban development, but outright irritation at anyone who does. Try to ask for something better, for something truly worthy of a great city or town, and you’ll be told that we can’t afford any “gold-plated projects,” notwithstanding that good design can actually cost less than mediocre, even on up front costs. (It’s like Jaime Lerner said, “If you want creativity, cut one zero from your budget.”)

Indiana doesn’t just accept mediocrity, it actively embraces it and actually demands it of its people. Indiana and the Midwest require that anyone who lives there surrender his ambitions, or else be subjected to endless questioning, discouragement and ridicule.

But Columbus is different. In Columbus, excellence is not a byword. That’s not to say it is a luxury or high end community, because it is clearly not. But it is a place where choosing what you want to do, and then doing it well is valued. J. Irwin Miller could have simply hired some local politically connected architecture firms to churn out facsimiles of modern architecture. Instead, he sought out the world’s foremost architects for his project. He wanted Columbus to be the original, not the cheap imitation.

This spirit continues. Back to Moravec, he recently bought up an old turn of the century soda fountain called Zaharakos and restored it to pristine condition, including acquiring a rare collection of top quality antique soda fountains and self-playing musical instruments. The guy must have invested millions. Let’s just say the food and ice cream aren’t exactly gourmet, but the prices can’t be beat – he knows his Hoosier customers – and the place was mobbed when I was there. Moravec picked the battle he wanted to fight, then he went out and won it.

And it isn’t just something that affects architecture. You can see it in the way the tour guide from my very first architectural tour of Columbus some years back pointed with pride to the trees in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart, the result of a landscape ordinance designed to beautify the town. Or the first class playgrounds donated by citizens. Or the top quality design of the new Mill Race Park. This is a place with high standards for itself.

This pays huge dividends in the economic development sphere. In a competitive world, only firms that deliver excellence can survive the brutal global competition. Which workers are more likely to produce excellent products, ones that demand excellence in their own communities, or ones who disparage it? How can any investor believe that residents who tolerate a run down, mediocre community for their own family to live in will suddenly start taking pride in the products coming off their employers’ production lines? It makes no sense at all.

Also, I believe this belief in excellence played a particularly crucial role in establishing Columbus’ role as a hub of Japanese business. The Japanese are notoriously fastidious about quality. They certainly don’t compete on the basis of labor costs. I can’t prove this, but I’d also speculate that the architecture itself has affected Japanese investment decisions. The Japanese are hugely design conscious, and Japanese aesthetics have heavily influenced modernism generally.

Think about it. When a foreign company is deciding to open a major overseas operation, they’ve got to convince some of their executives to move there, usually meaning their families and children will be with them. I’ve got to believe that seeing the architectural and overall excellence of Columbus, the Japanese simply decided this was a great cultural fit for them. The people of Columbus shared their values and their passions. It was a place they believed would deliver good work, and where their families could find a home.

Today, of course, Columbus has a mini-community of Japanese residents, which creates a huge draw by itself. That’s the self-reinforcing nature of industry clusters. Today Columbus/Bartholomew County is 3.6% Asian, trailing only Bloomington and Lafayette, and its 2000’s growth in Asian population of 85% blows away any peer city.

Unfortunately, too many of the folks in this part of the country just don’t get it on this. J. Irwin Miller said that “a mediocrity is expensive.” For all too many Hoosier towns and families, the price of their embrace of mediocrity has been staggeringly expensive indeed.

3. A Broader Vision. Columbus just also seems to have a broader vision than the rest of the state. This goes back to Miller and his embrace of a modern architecture very different from Hoosier traditions. He knew what was going on in the world and was willing to embrace the new, something Columbus still does today.

Contrast with Kokomo. Economist Morton Marcus recently lamented Kokomo’s inability to convince factory workers there to live in town. Marcus actually has it wrong on his framing of the problem, but take it at face value and consider this. Kokomo’s mayor had to publicly pledge in the local newspaper not to consider a modern roundabout at a local intersection after a local uproar at the thought of one. Just 25 or so miles south by four lane highway, Hamilton County is the nation’s leader in embracing this new and better approach to intersection design. This difference in attitude tells you everything you need to know about why those high wage workers aren’t living in Kokomo, and why Kokomo is struggling while Indianapolis is thriving.

But you see it in other ways. Reading articles about Midwest towns, I’m frequently struck by the bitterness about NAFTA. Longworth has described NAFTA as a “code word” people use to talk about what’s happening to them. But NAFTA is yesterday’s news. The plants are now decamping from Mexico and heading to the Far East. The real competition isn’t just Mexico or Japan, it’s global.

Columbus gets that. Describing a new Cummins office building, Vujovich told me, “They could have put that facility anywhere. It could have gone to China or India.” Columbus knows it is competing on a global level. Too many Indiana towns think they are still competing against their high school basketball team’s next door arch-rival. Or, you’ll hear about competing against Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois.

This is easy to see in some respects. Indiana and Iowa are like the two best houses on a bad block. They are more pro-business and cheaper than places like Michigan. With a certain amount of inbound Midwest investment that will happen anyway, this leads of a mindset and economic development strategy of, “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you.”

This is naive thinking. As David Waymire at Michigan Future put it:

The lesson from the Gateway job contraction is that even in South Dakota, the state with the lowest state and local tax collections per capita in the nation, the Gateway factory couldn’t survive. Ditto Tennessee. When Americans, no matter how “skilled” they may be in factory work, have to compete against $4 an hour labor overseas, they lose the competition.

I’m less pessimistic on industry that Waymire, but that’s a legitimate point. Columbus is actually overly dependent on manufacturing, but at least they get what’s going on out there. Too many other places don’t.

Nothing shows Columbus’ broader vision on this more than its approach to public sector expenditures. As Hoosiers, Columbusites are as thrifty as they come. But they take a life cycle view of costs. They look at things, as private sector businesses do, on a total cost of ownership basis. They know that their town isn’t going out of business tomorrow. They will still live there, and one day their children and grandchildren might still want to live there. And they think about what the long term implications are of decisions they make today, where it is taking them. They know that saving a nickel today can lead to higher costs down the road. They know it’s not a good idea to be penny-wise, pound-foolish.

They also get that their town is already cost advantaged versus regional competition, and that there’s little competitive marginal return to be gained through slash and burn economics. The places where they are at a cost disadvantage to, like China, are those where the gap can’t be closed in any material way. So Columbus has chosen to fight a battle on different fronts.

This can be summed up simply by the data in the following table. I could do an entire other series of charts on it – and someone should. But in the interest of space, I’ll just leave it in tabular form.

City Residential Property Taxes as a Percent of Income 2010 Municipal Property Tax Rate* 2009 City Spending per Capita** 2010 County Assessed Value per Capita
Columbus/Bartholomew County 1.21% (3rd lowest) 2.57 (2nd lowest) $2391.09 (2nd highest) $50,797 (highest)
Elkhart/Elkhart County 1.28% 3.28 $1,258.15 $26,369
Muncie/Delaware County 1.30% 4.23 $1,773.64 $42,306
Marion/Grant County 0.90% 3.34 $1,784.87 $30,129
Kokomo/Howard County 0.94% 3.07 $1,313.38 $44,710
Anderson/Madison County 1.38% 5.00 $1,430.92 $24,680
Bloomington/Monroe County 1.52% 1.90 $1,897.07 $46,113
Lafayette/Tippecanoe County 1.49% 2.40 $2,602.26 $38,722
Terre Haute/Vigo County 1.27% 3.60 $888.36 $34,042
Richmond/Wayne County 1.22% 3.46 N/A $33,885

Source: Indiana Department of Local Government Finance, proprietary analysis.
* Tax rate is unweighted average of reported municipal rates. District names were not always clear, but a best effort mapping was undertaken.
** 2008 data for Munice and Lafayette

It’s pretty clear. Columbus spends more – significantly more than the Indiana median of $827.89 – but its tax base is the biggest and its tax rates just about the lowest. Huh? How is that possible?

Alexis de Tocqueville said Americans practiced enlightened self-interest, not simply raw, naked self-interest. They understood the need for a system in which everyone could thrive together. Similarly, Columbus practices “enlightened fiscal conservatism.” While other Indiana cities and towns simply reduced the quality and quantity of services, or otherwise cut corners – such as through subpar designs that won’t stand the test of time – in a short term quest to save money in the now, tomorrow be damned, Columbus took a different path.

I am a fiscal conservative. Make no mistake about it, I think we’re spending too much money on too many bailouts in Washington. But I’ve also always said there are two separate questions: service levels, and efficiencies. You can’t confuse cutting service levels with efficiency gains. That sounds nice in theory, but can it work in the real world? Places that start growing public sector spending tend to turn into runaway trains. The risk of the targeted investments approach is that it will end up devolving into bloat, as a sort of incarnation of the “true communism’s never been tried” dilemma. But Columbus shows a real life example that it is possible. And perhaps Indiana is actually the ideal place for it, since the fundamental conservative nature of its residents will be a bulwark against excess in most cases.

The people who live in Columbus are as frugal as those anywhere else in Indiana. But they understand that the best way to keep their tax bills low is to keep general prosperity high. It goes something like this:

An aggressive, pro-business attitude +
A commitment to excellence +
High quality, efficiently delivered public services +
Competitive costs +
A rich awareness of the global world we live in +
Striving to create a community outsiders might choose to live in =
Population growth
Economic growth (jobs, output),
High wages,
Tax base growth,
Quality infrastructure and services,
Low taxes

This is no secret formula. I talked about the exact same thing in suburban Carmel, Indiana. But since Carmel is a wealthy suburb, its approach can be seen as that of an outlier that isn’t more broadly applicable. But Columbus shows how a blue collar, workaday Indiana city can put the principles to work.

Other cities should be studying the Columbus example and taking good notes. I don’t suggest that anyone run out and just hire a famous architect or spend a bunch of money. In this recession, new spending programs are clearly not on the table.

But again, the real lesson of Columbus isn’t about architecture, or spending, or anything else on the outside. It’s about what’s on the inside, about the values that produced the results. It doesn’t take any money to engage in self-reflection. And unless there’s a transformation of people’s approach to civic development, and their thinking about what they want their community to be, simply aping the surface elements of someone else’s strategy would be money down the drain. The real change that needs to happen is the hardest change of all: changing ourselves.

Time will tell if Indiana and Midwest cities can pull it off. In the meantime, mediocrity and short term thinking will remain as stunningly expensive indulgences Indiana can ill afford.

First Christian Church, 1942. Eliel Saarinen architect. A National Historic Landmark.
Photo Credit: Flickr/pntphoto

Topics: Architecture and Design, Civic Branding, Demographic Analysis, Economic Development, Public Policy, Strategic Planning, Urban Culture

41 Responses to “The Columbus, Indiana Values Proposition”

  1. Mordant says:

    Fabulous article. Thanks for writing it.

  2. Pete from Baltimore says:

    MR Renn
    Thank you for posting this interesting article.

    Too often, most articles in the media nowdays tend to focus on the economic problems that this country face ,without looking at possible solutions or stratagies.Thank you for focusing on the type of stratagies that might help our industrial towns succeed.

    Too often many people seem to offer the false choices of the two extremes. Either massive government bailouts of industry or complete neglect of our country’s industry and industrial towns.

    I am glad that you make clear that there are other ways to help our blue collar communities without resorting to the two extremes that i just mentioned.

    I would like to say that i think two of your best points were about atitudes of residents and creating an enviroment that is pleasant for ALL of the inhabitants ,be they executives, or assembly line workers.

  3. Fredricka Joyner says:

    Really enjoyed this article. I moved to COLs from LA in 1991 and have experienced much of what you describe first hand over the years. I might take exception, though, with you comment that Columbus doesn’t have a University. I am on faculty at IU and have taught on the campus in Columbus for the past many years. Columbus even has its own stand alone MBA program — the IU MBA Columbus — an interesting story in itself since it was the community and corporate leaders that put enough pressure on the legislature and higher ed commission to get it passed and funded. Columbus also has a huge grant from Lilly that they are using to create new educational models, including types and levels of collaboration between higher ed institutions not seen anywhere else in the state. Thanks for your great work on this post. FJ

  4. John Morris says:

    Amazing post.I need to read it more in depth. Like, a lot of us on here, Columbus, Indiana is always a place I was always curious about. I have been to Bloomington, once.

    I think this sort of built to last practicality was once very common in most of America. What happened to it?

  5. Aaron……..Columbus indeed is a terrific place. Your point that it has achieved such visual beauty while remaining a solidly blue-collar town is fascinating. We do seem to equate architectual excellence with upscale communities and Columbus proves this isn’t necessarily so.

    You’re right about those good old Hoosier values — thrift, hard work, faith, patriotism, community, hospitality, modesty and family, which I’m sure are unique. Except that these same values seem to characterize Iowa and Minnesota and North Carolina and Oregon and, for all I know, Bangladesh and Slovakia. Visitors to Indiana, non-Hoosiers like me, are often more struck by the other values you mention, which are an outright hostility to excellence and a stultifying complacency.

    So how does one explain Columbus? You touch on the reason but skip over it too soon. The key to Columbus is Cummins’ commitment to the town and, especially, Irwin Miller’s leadership. He treasured excellence and opposed complacency, and he was in a position to turn his town around, which he did. What’s happened in Columbus simply wouldn’t have happened without him.

    Old factory towns without this leadership and vision and commitment are in trouble. The Midwestern towns and cities that are making it have this committed leadership. Warsaw, Indiana, where two of the three big orthopedic companies are still locally-owned, is an example. So are Grant Rapids (the DeVos and van Andel families), or Kalamazoo (Strykers) or Pella, Iowa (Pella Windows) are others. Peoria is making progress partly because Caterpillar stays there, as does John Deere in the Quad Cities. All are solidly blue-collar places.

    Towns abandoned by their signature companies are struggling. Think Newton (Maytag) or Muncie, where the Balls bailed out and the university, despite its name, has definitely not taken the family’s place in community leadership. South Bend may have Notre Dame but the town’s been in trouble ever since the Studebakers closed shop.

    The key here, then, is (1) a dominant and committed company or industry that underpins the local economy and (2) a leader or leading family who focus their philanthropy and use their prominence in the community to shape it according to their vision. Obviously, there’s nothing remotely democratic about this. Rather, these families play an aristocratic, seignorial role. No university or other public or quasi-public institution can do this.

  6. jason tinkey says:

    Excellent post as always, I can only hope some of the folks in charge around the Midwest are actually listening to what you & Mr. Longworth are putting out there.

  7. Donna Winsted says:

    Thanks for this article! I lived in Columbus from 2005 to 2009 and really loved it there. I left due to medical problems. If I hadn’t become ill, I would still be there – as you said in the article – not only for the architecture (which I LOVE!), but also the people! It’s a wonderful place to live!!!

  8. Aaron M. Renn says:

    Thanks for all the comments.

    It would be interesting to do a historical study. The Columbus story clearly pre-dates J. Irwin Miller himself, though not his family. It was Will G. Irwin who bankrolled Cummins for about 20 years before it turned a profit, for example.

    The First Christian Church is a particularly interesting case. Look at the completion date: 1942 – in World War II. Perhaps it was under construction when the war started. I don’t know. J. Irwin Miller did not become president of Cummins until 1947. I’d like to know more about how this all came to be in its early days.

    The Hulman family rescued the moribund Indianapolis Motor Speedway and created the Indy 500 as we know it. How is it that they accomplished that, and retained a commitment to excellence in that venture, but Terre Haute did not thrive? Did they abandon that town? Did the Balls abandon Muncie or did Muncie abandon them?

    I agree with your overall hypothesis, but I think we’re also fairly easily tempted into the “great man” theory of history. There have been many great men in American history, indispensable ones like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. But America was a great nation too. It is about the right person at the right time, but also about being in the right place.

  9. cdc guy says:

    When I worked for one of the Japanese transplants in Columbus, a local business owner and civic leader told me that the city is “business-friendly, and I’m not talking about the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker”.

    He meant manufacturing.

    On a personal level, I have to say it was inspiring to attend an Edward Larrabee Barnes school, use an I.M. Pei public library, bank in an Eero Saarinen office. But I don’t think that’s why my parents moved to Columbus.

    My dad often said that the ratio of highest to lowest salaries in Columbus was lower than most places. That is, most everyone was middle-class (if not above-average :) ).

  10. Aaron……….As I was told in Muncie, the Balls and their company abandoned Muncie, not vice versa. Very similar to the Maytag story in Newton.
    Five Ball brothers founded the glass-making business in Buffalo in 1880, then moved to Muncie in 1887 to be near the natural gas fields of northeastern Indiana, gas being a crucial element in glass-making. Over the next century, the Ball family and Muncie pretty much defined each other (although there always was more to the town than Ball: Warner Gear, a forerunner of Borg Warner, was founded there in 1901 — and the last surviving Borg Warner plant there closed a couple of years ago.)
    Over the years, both the Ball family and the Ball company gradually left town. Ball, using its expertise in high-temperature materials, got into the aerospace business. In time, this tail began to wag the dog. Ball got out of the glass business in 1998, the same year as it moved its headquarters to Boulder, Colo., to be near its biggest customer, the Air Force. The last time I was there, there was one elderly Ball left in town.
    Curiously, ownership is not a crucial issue here. The Ball Corp. went public in 1972, long before it cut its ties with Muncie: Cummins, of course, is public. What’s crucial are two other things. One is a corporate decision to stay in town, instead of moving away. Since this decision often is taken long after the founding family stopped playing a major role, this truly is a corporate decision, and reflects the corporation’s ties to the community. The second is the continued presence of a dominant family or leader, like Irwin Miller. This doesn’t necessarily have to be old money: the philanthropy that is transforming Grand Rapids comes from Amway, not from the old-line furniture companies tere.
    I agree that this leans toward the “great man” theory of history. So be it. Americans certainly responded positively to the leadership of Washington or Lincoln, but can we argue that American history would have been the same without Washington or Lincoln? Leadership really does make a difference: have a look at China from Mao to today. History tells us that many cities and countries are capable of greatness, but the key variable, for better or worse, is almost always the leadership.

  11. AF says:

    Great article. I went to college in a small rust-belt city of similar size to Columbus, IN. I think the 30k-50k class of Midwestern cities is a fascinating group, but also a depressing one, due to the current state of so many of them. I like that the article does not try to make an apples-to-oranges comparison between Columbus and Carmel.

    It’s heartening to see a small city that finds success for what it is, not by trying to sell itself as a far-flung suburb of a distant city. All of the Mansfields, Beloits, Limas, and Galesburgs could learn from Columbus, IN.

  12. John Morris says:

    I still haven’t read this through as carefully as I should, but I think one big thing is that relative to the results, this commitment to lasting design likely didn’t cost that much.

    Also, it’s interesting that Miller did not attempt to control or influence what would be built–a school, a church, a firehouse or pile money into a few giant attractions. He just said that here’s some money to get a good innovative designer for what you feel is needed.

    Hopefully, this type of block and tackle type investment will be done more often since as you say, it doesn’t always cost more.

  13. Alon Levy says:

    I think Richard’s comment is on to something. When he says,

    The key here, then, is a leader or leading family who focus their philanthropy and use their prominence in the community to shape it according to their vision,

    what I understand is that the civic leadership of Columbus acts like a university, leading Columbus to display a college town’s economic results. The comment is dead on, except for the last sentence: those leaders have the same role as a university in a non-university environment, instead of doing something universities don’t.

    My take on values is similar. But I’d modify it and say that every successful region claims that its success is based on its values. A successful Minnesota city would probably attribute its success to shared Nordic communitarian and even socialist values, a successful Mid-Atlantic or Californian city to diversity, and a successful New England to shared cultural liberalism.

  14. Alon Levy says:

    Sorry, in the above comment, “a successful New England” should read “a successful New England city.”

  15. Jim Russell says:

    Did the people of Columbus in any way underwrite all the wonderful architecture?

  16. Jim, I don’t know. Clearly, city leaders realize that the public has no appetite for major spending programs. The architectural fees for the buildings were paid by the Cummins Foundation, but did the buildings themselves cost more? I tried to find that out with regards to school buildings, but ran out of runway to get the data before I had scheduled the piece. It’s not an easy thing to benchmark. I can say, in a state where school building referendums have been getting voted down, Columbus passed an $89M construction program not that long ago.

    Zaharokos was restored with purely private dollars (the owner received a tax abatement, however). I was told that for Mill Race Park, contractors did the work for cost. I don’t get the impression, as is the case in other places, that a sort of growth machine nexus has used public dollars to recycle into their own pockets, or anything.

  17. Jim Russell says:

    I think of world class architecture as a top-down enterprise. Are there any bottom-up, organic examples?

  18. Carl Wohlt says:

    Great discussion. I’ve been visiting Columbus since I was a grad student at IU in the late 70s I’t’s always been a mystery to me as why J. Irwin Miller’s program of underwriting high quality design was not adopted by other Midwestern cities (it wasn’t just architecture – Paul Rand designed the “floating c” identity for the city’s promotional materials).

    This is off topic, but…

    I think there’s an interesting regional geographic dynamic between Columbus and Indy (46 miles), Columbus and Bloomington (36 miles) and Indy and Bloomington (52 miles). Bloomington and Columbus are practically exurbs of Indianapolis, or within an hour’s drive.

    In the Chicago metro area, Elgin is 42 miles from Chicago, Naperville is 35 miles from Chicago and Elgin is 25 miles from Naperville. Depending on traffic, the drive from Elgin and Naperville to Chicago is about an hour.

    I’m not sure that the geographic vastness of the Midwest is fully appreciated. St. Louis to Chicago is 300 miles, roughly the same distance between Paris and London (257 miles), Paris and Cologne (316 miles) and Paris and Amsterdam (319 miles).

    Because of the great expanses of open cpace between cities in the Midwest, the dynamics of urban clusters (like Indy/Bloomington/Columbus) seems to be more significant than the densely packed cities of the east coast.

    I understand the concept of mega region concept, but there are subregions throughout the Midwest whose regional clusters have not been fully examined for their dynamics and economic significance – (KC/Lawrence/Topeka, Madison/Milwaukee, Des Moines/Ames, Jefferson City/Columbia, Columbus/Cincinnati/Dayton, Peoria/Urbana/Springfield, Detroit/Ann Arbor/Toledo, Grand Rapids/Lansing/Kalamazoo, to name a few).

    Altogether, the Indianapolis/Bloomington/Columbus cluster (others might suggest Indianapolis/Lafayette/Kokomo or Indianapolis/Kokomo/Anderson/Muncie) are diminished by the demise of manufacturing, but nonetheless unique and powerful – if they can understand and leverage their collective dynamics.

  19. Wad says:

    Jim, there are lots of examples of bottom-up, organic architecture.

    One is jury-rigged shelter. It could be shantytowns cobbled together from materials lifted from scrap heaps, soddies, adobe, etc.

    Another is vernacular architecture. This often bridges the gap between organic architecture (the need for its constituent parts is need itself) and world-class architecture. Think of New York’s brownstones, San Francisco’s Victorians or the DC and Baltimore rowhouses. You mention these cities and you immediately associate a type of building with them.

    Of course, with a rising level of affluence and/or interest, vernacular architecture gets a special status. In some places, vernacular architecture becomes an orthodoxy imposed by fiat (colonial Williamsburg, mission-style in Santa Barbara, etc.).

  20. skw says:

    Thank you for a wonderful article. Friends and I were just discussing how wonderful our small city of Columbus is as we left Zaharakos, admired the new Commons being constructed, and walked toward the historical Columbus Courthouse. Your article just helps us stop and appreciate our city more. We hope many others will come and enjoy what we sometimes take for granted.

  21. Dennis Orwin says:

    Having lived in Columbus since 1971, I appreciate the insights on how and why Columbus works. I might add several other aspects of our success as a community. The architecture is significant in another way that is not mentioned: the tourism it engenders on the part of architects who see it as a mecca of design, architecture students who come by the busload with their professors to study the intense concentration of mid-century modern designs, and a general public with a less professional but highly informed sense of built places. This tourism is further enhanced by our proximity to Brown County and Nashville, Indiana, and our fortunate location in the Louisville-Cincinnati-Indianapolis triangle. Yet another component of our success is in youth sports. With the country’s best Parks and Rec system for cities our size, we have exceptional facilities that leaders decided years ago could be better utilized by encouraging youth sports to conduct tournaments here, so that we have 50 or more here every year, where not only players and officials come to town, but siblings, parents, and grandparents, all using lodging and restaurants. Moreover, we are fortunate to have several military bases very close by, Camp Atterbury and the Homeland Security Urban Warfare Training Center. While some elements of the success of Columbus are the result of luck, such as our location, most of our success is the result of creative and inspired leadership at every level.

  22. Chris says:

    Very interesting article, Aaron.
    I’m from Terre Haute, and the Hulmans have an interesting relationship with the city. Most of them have decamped to Indianapolis to be closer to the Speedway, but the family has made consistent contributions to the community over the last century: re-endowing Rose Polytechnic to create ’boutique’ engineering Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (consistently ranked the best undergraduate engineering college in the US); land for the city’s airport was donated by the Hulmans, a gift from the family helped fund ISU’s student union, Hulman Links golf course, and many others.

    On the flip side, there has been consistent chatter in town that the family has not done enough. For many years they owned the empty Terre Haute House, which until it was demolished a few years, was a daily reminder of the city’s failures. Many in town were convinced that the Hulmans wanted too much money for the old building, and impeded redevelopment efforts. The Hulmans also have historically held a large stake in the city’s largest bank, the Terre Haute First National Bank (now First Financial Bank), though I’m less familiar with complaints about that relationship.

    Some people still complain about the power of the Hulmans, though not living there now, I’m not sure how much power they wield these days. Perhaps the biggest difference between the Irwins of Columbus and the Hulmans of Terre Haute is that manufacturing diesel engines is a more complicated and profitable enterprise than baking powder. The Hulmans never needed great minds or world-class workers to make their products, and the few professional jobs created by Clabber Girl could be filled locally.

    Great job again, Aaron.

  23. David says:

    As a musician, it is also interesting to note that Columbus has one of the largest orchestras for a city its size. The attendance for concerts is up near 1,000 which is a considerable portion of its population. Maybe another manifestation of what other people have been talking about.

  24. Lynn Bigley says:

    Your posting grasps the intricate synchronicity of people, policies, and commitment. The Columbus Indiana Architectural Archives is assuring the elements are being preserved and offered for study. We are preparing a 200 year timeline of the economic development and built environment for our

  25. Dennis Orwin says:

    I want to add to David’s comment that we actually have both The Columbus Symphony and The Columbus Philharmonic, as well as the City Band, and a great folk music series, the Americana series.

  26. Gary Reynolds says:

    In response to:

    Jim Russell says:
    July 12, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    Did the people of Columbus in any way underwrite all the wonderful architecture?

    The answer is no. In fact, there was a pork-barrel project, written in by former representatives of the area, which was constructed in the early and mid ’90’s. It was a renovation of the I-65/State Road 46 interchange on the west side of the city. Designated as ‘The Gateway’, it’s ostentatious, and does not promote any sense of continuity with Columbus Proper. It was and is widely panned by the public, and reflects the values of how we natives of Columbus will do things our way, in our time. I haven’t lived in Columbus in 10 years, although I was born there and when I visit home, people still complain about that eye-sore.

    Also, kudos to Dennis Orwin to mentioning the commitment to the Arts as well. I love the symphony and the philharmonic, and hopefully will be able to go to Popfest again soon!

  27. Gary, I must say that I think the I-65 interchange is wonderful. It’s possibly the best looking interchange in Indiana. Your description of it as pork barrel implies a waste of funds. To the contrary, it illustrates my point that good architecture doesn’t need to cost more. This interchange actually cost less than a traditional interchange would have at the same location. This is because of the proximity to the nearby Driftwood River bridge. A former commissioner of INDOT told me that directly some years back when I complimented the agency on such a nice design. The implication, I think, is that they wouldn’t have done it if it hadn’t been cheap.

  28. JG says:

    How could anyone say that is an eyesore… The Wal-Mart and Menards boxes at the exit are eyesores. I’m almost speachless here. Post a picture of it if you have one Aaron.

  29. Marilyn Hayes says:

    I’ve lived in Columbus for 38 years and I learned some facts from your article. Enjoyed it immensely. But I do disagree somewhat with your premise that Columbus is a great small community not because of its architecture but because of its people. Irwin Miller famously quoted Winston Churchill’s comment that “First we shape our buildings and then our buildings shape us.” He believed that the presence of buildings of excellence in a community would eventually shape the way the citizens felt about their community. And, fortunately, he lived long enough to see his vision come to fruition. The pride Columbus residents feel in their community has led to an extraordinary level of volunteerism and additional philanthropy that would not have happened without Mr. Miller’s vision. He planted the seeds from which the flowers of Columbus have bloomed.

  30. Gary Reynolds says:

    But the point remains that this was an outside project. This is not something that the Columbus natives asked for. Because of this, this project was something that was thrust upon us. The old interchange definitely needed to be updated, to be sure, but the way it was handled was not the Columbus way. Because of this, it is inherently not reflective of our community or our culture, and remains an example at its finest.

  31. JG says:

    Gary: ( You might refer to the Columbus visitors bureau website. Apparently your opinion of the “Columbus way” is not shared by all. The bridge is listed as one thing to see before you die in Columbus.

    All: This fellow Gary (probably an OK guy and community minded) is an example of the a significant set of Hoosiers who favor mediocrity and scorn great design even in light of a cost benefit. It goes against “common sense.” Refer to Urbano’s post above regarding this.

  32. JG, it is pretty clear that there are people in Columbus who like the interchange.

    OTOH, I’d give Gary the benefit of the doubt. I want people to be passionate enough about design to have an opinion. He can speak for himself, but I didn’t get the impression he didn’t want any type of an enhanced interchange there, but rather that he doesn’t like the current design or process to choose it. If he just wanted a classic INDOT interchange – and I hope he didn’t – then I’d be more inclined to agree with you.

  33. Gary Reynolds says:

    I’m quickly getting the impression that one of the three of us actually lived in Columbus. JG, what Visitor’s Bureau would be doing its job if it said, “Hey, don’t come see this?” It’s like McDonald’s telling children to stop eating Happy Meals. And where do you get the right to lump me in with the rest of the state? I’m Columbus, proud and true. The traditional INDOT interchange is not acceptable either, but the current interchange remains, at the very least, a safety risk. You want an effort at mediocrity then go see it and drive through it for yourself. Keep in mind that this is supposed to a safe, welcoming gateway to the community. There is nothing underneath to direct traffic except worn lines and oddly angled traffic lights. Whatever happened to Form And Function? Just because something is listed on a website does not make it great or important. I will admit that the designers tried, but the process and the product remain a stain on what Columbus really stands for.

  34. Gary, apart from not liking the interchange, do you have any crash statistics or other data indicating this interchange is unsafe? I have not heard anything to that effect.

    The basic design is called a Single Point Urban Interchange. It’s a tried and true design. The “oddly angled” parking lights are a standard design feature in order to enable simultaneous left turns from both sides of the interchange across the highway. These types of interchanges are less friendly to pedestrians, but this one has a protected pedestrian path that actual tunnels under the ramps to avoid traffic conflicts. I’ve driven through this interchange many times and see no indication that its design is unsafe.

  35. JG says:

    Gary there are certainly plenty of other designs that could have had excellent form and function. What did you (or others) advocate at the time?

  36. Gary Reynolds says:

    Well, I was in my mid teens when it was being created, and as memory recalls, there was not a lot of consultation with the community as to the final design implementation. As for crash statistics, one would have to consult with CPD and/or the state police, since it involves an interstate. However a search through the archives of The Republic, Columbus’ local paper, reveals that the interchange is in the top 10 for most collisions on a yearly basis. I tried to find more detailed crash statistics, but could only find numbers involving fatalities, and since it is a slower speed limit through that part of town with turns necessitating exiting drivers from the interstate to slow down before entering the state road, fatalities will be limited. I do vividly remember weeks after the opening, a driver was able to turn on to the exit ramp of I-65 and drove into oncoming traffic and died in a head on collision with a semi. The design of the interchange was cited as a contributing cause of the accident. It’s interesting you mention the pedestrian-centric aspect of the interchange. That part of town has only in recent years increased in activity and Columbus has been pursuing growth in that area (it was concentrated South and East in earlier years, and of course Taylorsville and Columbus continue to merge into one in the North). None of the pedestrian accessible options (the tunnels, the sidewalks, etc.) existed in the first years of interchange upgrades. Please refer to The Republic editorial published on April 6, 1999 titled, “Tragedy strikes the pike again”. Those all are additions in later year phases of aggressive development by the city. That resource management oriented system of problem solving is more reflective of the Columbus I know and love. “What do we have and how can we make it better?” is a value taught throughout our community. Maybe I still have a bad taste in my mouth and eventually will come to love the interchange as a kind of Scarlet Letter…at first a badge of shame, but as the city learns to grow and modify around the interchange, that it finally becomes an integral part of who we are.

  37. aim says:

    “These types of interchanges are less friendly to pedestrians, but this one has a protected pedestrian path that actual tunnels under the ramps to avoid traffic conflicts.”

    Compared to the standard clover-leaf? I’ve seen several SPUI interchanges with pedestrian paths across them and they strike me as being a lot safer for pedestrians than other interchange designs.

  38. AmericanDirt says:

    Excellent piece, Aaron, and well overdue by you, or someone else with the ability to scrutinize on this fine community (though all the better that it was you). You have inspired me at some point–no doubt the distant future–to craft a similar feature on Tupelo, Mississippi, which boasts a distinct prosperity that defies the economic malaise that afflicted similarly-sized cities in the Deep South around it as they came to grips with school desegregation.

    And for the record, Columbus did have a quasi-independent movie theater when I was there last summer, downtown not too far from the Commons. It plays independent/foreign films fairly frequently. The city also has a deceptively good independent dining scene.

  39. flavius says:

    You are correct that Columbus should not be criticized for having a Wal-Mart. How about a Super Wal-Mart across the street from an abandoned Wal-Mart, with the other two corners occupied by a Super Lowe’s and an abandoned Lowe’s? That is what Columbus has. And you want to ask Terre Haute to follow their example?

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