Message From Rachel J. Leslie: A New Year. The Time Is Now.

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A new year. The time is now.

The state of Indiana is shining light on rural communities, perhaps more than ever before. Governor Eric Holcomb, Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch, IEDC President Elaine Bedel, United States Department of Agriculture Director Michael Dora and members of the General Assembly have all underscored the significance of investing in rural Indiana.

Sitting in West Central Indiana with only minutes of driving between six counties east of the Indiana/Illinois border, rural represents various ideas from outdoor recreation on trails, waterways and a nationally-known bike park, to farming and hidden eateries on back country roads. The unique downtown developments that encompass both historical buildings and new infrastructure add to the niche market for visitors. Without having to look, it’s easy to consider known rural hubs such as Santa Claus (Holiday World) and Monticello (Indiana Beach). The millions spent to attract visitors in those areas were developed and funded by private investors, as the popular jingles tell us, we are “The Best in the Midwest” and “There is more than corn in Indiana.” Of course there are many more including French Lick (Miracle Waters and Casino), yet still privately developed and marketed by the Cook Family. So as a benchmark, if private investors are the jewels to big marketing spends and known tourist commodities, how do rural communities attract more?

So, the time is now for rural communities to hold hands and walk together.

Capitalizing on some Sunday reading time, I found different articles that do a deep dive into how investors make their community choices. The centreforcities.org developed a study titled “What Investors Want.” It outlined the expected outcomes such as: economic fundamentals, city governance, practicalities of investment and broke down each segment to explain additional rationale. One section, titled “Pro-investment city leadership” described a community’s readiness to be competitive. It made me consider the millions upon millions of dollars it takes for a community to be competitive. First, a community must develop a community-ready mentality for growth, and second it must market its best assets.

So, this is where our state leadership comes into play.

Within the last few years the state has made significant investments in transportation, workforce development, regional development, and initiated new funding programs through the Office of Community and Rural Affairs. Most recently they’ve shared new investment strategies through the Governor’s Next Level initiative with innovation, broadband and trail funding. They’re encouraging a regional approach to competing for these funds. It seems for rural communities to be more successful they need to figure out how to get along with their neighbors. So, the time is now for rural communities to hold hands and walk together.

Basic steps for success.

  • Make friends across county lines

  • Develop shared concerns and opportunities

  • Plan. Plan. Plan.

  • Support leaders who are prepared to support private investment

  • Recognize the state’s assets that are currently available to rural communities through grants/other

  • Compete and Attract

  • Initiate

  • Celebrate

As rural communities determine where they belong in the regional landscape, begin crossing county lines, sharing information and developing competitive plans to collaborate with the state, its private investment that makes every dollar go farther.

West Central Indiana.

As rural communities determine where they belong in the regional landscape, begin crossing county lines, sharing information and developing competitive plans to collaborate with the state, its private investment that makes every dollar go farther.

My home is full of outdoor recreational opportunities key to my region. Recently, the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce established West Central 2025 drawing attention to the region’s shared assets. The SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) were more alike than some expected. The points of shared understanding and opportunity opened up new conversations for collaboration. Through that process they determined three, key focus areas – broadband, trails and downtown development. Each of these areas are selling points for developers – internet access (fast and reliable), outdoor recreation (attracting visitors) and quality of life (attracting residents/workforce). Each of these play a role in the foundation of a community ready to attract private investment.

Remember, “There is more than corn in Indiana,” certainly that is the case in West Central Indiana. However, there is no doubt we admire our farmers and their families for serving in the agriculture industry, day-in and day-out.

 Let’s consider just some of our tourism assets.

  • Bird Gibson Cross Country Facility at the Wabash Valley Sports Center

  • C Bar C Expo Center

  • Golf Courses (Forest Park, Hulman Links, Rea Park and more)

  • Griffin Bike Park

  • Heritage Trail

  • Nationally Recognized Parks (Vigo, Sullivan, Vermillion, Parke, Putnam, Clay Counties)

  • Quarter Midget Track

  • Raccoon Lake State Recreation Area

  • Redbird State Recreation Area

  • Renovated Hulman Center on the campus of Indiana State University

  • Rex Baseball

  • Springhill Soccer Complex

  • Sullivan Lake

  • Terre Haute Action Track

  • Terre Haute Convention Center (coming soon)

  • Terre Haute Symphony Orchestra

  • Thousand Trails Campground

  • Turkey Run State Park

  • Turn to the River (an initiative of Arts Spaces)

  • VCRC Raceway

  • Veteran’s Museum, Larry Bird Museum (coming soon), Vigo County Historical Museum, Swope Art Museum, Candles Museum, Children’s Museum, Railroad Museum, Clabber Girl Museum, Eugene V. Debs Museum, Art Spaces, Arts Iliana, Holocaust Museum

  • Wabash River

  • Wabashiki Wetlands

The time is now.

West Central Indiana is finding their way. It’s not easy creating new relationships, strengthening established relationships and building trust. However, it seems the collective bodies establish the best competitive edge for what the state is making available. The investments made by the state, aligned with local/regional planning and funding are what creates the story. The story, matched with leaders ready to work with private investors, are the cherry on the top. The private investors who spend money to attract those visitors and growing assets is what creates the best and most memorable destinations.

 

Betsy Peperak