For at least a decade and a half, northeast Indiana was in the unfortunate situation of falling behind the rest of the country in terms of personal income. New data just out Monday, however, suggests that is turning around.
According to numbers from 2011 released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, northeast Indiana’s per capita personal income was 79.9 percent on the dollar compared to the rest of the country. Basically, we’re making 80 percent of what people in the country make on average. That doesn’t sound good -and it’s not- but it’s better than the 79.4 percent on the dollar northeast Indiana was taking in back in 2010.
The main group responsible for marketing our region, the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, saw it as such a positive development that it sent out a news release with a headline that trumpeted: “New Data Shows Northeast Indiana Has Stopped Decline in Per Capita Income.”
The release also featured a quote from John Stafford, who heads up the Community Research Institute at IPFW: “We now have three years of data that indicate that we have arrested the decline in per capita personal income… We now have reason to believe that we have turned the corner. We must stop the decline before we can begin the trek upward, and that is what this new data shows us is happening.”
I hope that’s true. Millions of dollars have been spent over the past few years on efforts to coordinate the economic development efforts of northeast Indiana’s ten counties. The overarching goal of it all has been to get the area’s per capita income back in line with the national average. A closely-related goal has been to bring down unemployment in our area.
I covered this effort extensively in a special report a year and a half ago. At the time, northeast Indiana business and political leaders said whether the turnaround effort is successful would depend on a couple factors:
1) Attitude. Will leaders of counties, cities, and schools in our area stop viewing one another with suspicion, and start collaborating to win jobs instead of competing with one another for them? The main goal of the Partnership is to bring this about.
2) Mindset. Will the rank and file in northeast Indiana be okay with new types of jobs fueling growth in our region? That means transitioning from being anchored by traditional manufacturing to building a knowledge-based economy; nurturing key industries like defense, advanced manufacturing, transportation, and logistics.
There’s evidence these shifts in attitude and mindset are beginning to take hold. For example, here in Fort Wayne, there’s a lot of talk going on behind closed doors about better integrating the efforts of groups like the Downtown Improvement District, the Fort Wayne-Allen County Economic Development Alliance, and the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce. There should be a plan in place for weaning these groups from some of their territorialism soon. Back in September, Mayor Tom Henry said to expect an update by the end of the year.
Just remember that this is a long-term effort that could take a decade or more to accomplish. Changing attitudes and long-held ways of thinking will require time, and it will be an uneven process. There will be setbacks and instances of failure. It appears most leaders in our area know all of this and are prepared for a long slog, as long as the overall trend line appears to be going up. The data that just came out should be an encouragement for them to keep plugging away.
The bottom line is that Monday’s numbers appear to be cause for hope along the pathway to progress, but we’re still a long way from having cause for celebration.