Question of the day: Can Indiana ever truly be cool, or even semi-cool? Is that really the answer to our population problem?
Before we dispatch that notion with the firmness it deserves, let's at least agree on the problem.
Indiana has a predicted growth rate of only 12.5 percent between 2010 and 2030, compared with the national predicted average growth rate for that same period of 30 percent, with states such as California ranging into population increases of nearly 50 percent, Senior Policy Analyst Drew Klacik of the Indiana University Public Policy Institute recently told a Kokomo economic development group. As millennials prepare to exit Indiana in droves, baby boomers are set to begin retiring in droves. Over the next five years 1 million jobs will open up in Indiana. Only 300,000 of those will be due to economic growth, with 700,000 attributed to retirement. So when the older generation retires, there likely won't be enough millennials to fill the vacancies in the workforce.
So we desperately need to recruit replacement millennials. The solution, Klacik says, is to focus on a set of primary factors. Cities and towns throughout the state need to figure out how to be “semi-cool, convenient, affordable and marketable.” The “semi-cool” part is something we've heard a lot in recent years. We must provide things young people say they want, like trail systems and brew-pubs.
But let's consider the “affordable and marketable” parts for a moment. What Fort Wayne already has that's attractive, says John Kessler, an economics instructor at Indiana University-Purdue University in Fort Wayne, is such affordable housing that a couple could buy a 3,000-square-foot house with a three-car garage and a quarter acre of land here for the same price it would cost to rent a small two-bedroom apartment in a place like San Francisco.
“We should go to San Francisco, Chicago and New York and advertise the low cost of living and how college graduates can move here and build the life that they want,” he wrote in a column for this page on Tuesday “They don't need a city created in the image of what politicians of a different generation think is attractive. Instead, they will create the 'cool' city that they want. They will come and they will make the city fun and exciting just by being here.”
Try to lure them with cool? Or get them here and let them be cool? It's something worth having a much longer discussion about.