Tourism and Economic Sustainability

I serve on the County Redevelopment Commission (RDC).  The following is a copy of a Guest Column published by the Brown County Democrat on  Sept  20, 2017. The purpose of the letter was to reinforce the need for a collaborative approach when considering development projects that can have long-term impacts on the community.

Economic impact studies of tourism in Indiana and Brown County reinforce the benefits of sustaining a tourism industry. However, tourism, by itself, has not and cannot provide a sustainable economic future for Brown County.  Further, too much tourism can have detrimental effects on the attributes that have attracted pioneers, artists, residents, and visitors to Brown County since 1836.

The Brown County Community Readiness Initiatives, a survey and economic assessment conducted by the Ball State Economic and Research Institute concluded that Brown County’s greatest potential for economic growth is not tourism but as a bedroom community. This option is defined as attracting individuals and families that live in Brown County but can work at home or commute to the higher paying jobs outside the county.

This is not a new phenomenon.  Past economic studies have identified that the majority of citizens in Brown County commute outside the county for employment.  This strategy is among the best strategies for having positive impacts on all five of our Community Vitality Indicators (CVIs) that include:  assessed property value, per capita income, population, school enrollment and educational attainment rates.

The study also reinforced the importance of quality of place that includes good schools and amenities where people want to live.  Identifying and maintaining these attributes must be identified in the county comprehensive plan.

A May 2017 assessment by graduate students of Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) reinforced the conclusions from the Ball State Study to include the importance of expanding the tax base to support the diversification of the business industries residing in the county.

The following chart includes data obtained from the U.S. Government Bureau of Labor Statistics.  The tourism industry is represented in the supersector identified as Leisure and Hospitality.  Comparing 2005 data with 2016 data identifies that the number of the establishments have stayed the same, jobs have decreased and wages are the lowest of the categories. Perhaps most important, the number of establishment in most categories have decreased with increases in the number of jobs in just a few areas.

U.S. Government Bureau of Labor Statistics
Brown County

In the 2014 Strategic Plan for Economic and Community Prosperity in SouthWest Central Indiana,  the Hospitality and Tourism Sector was identified as having 181 establishments in the region employing 3,506 employees with the lowest average wage ($24,477) of all the sectors.

To address the challenges within our region and with funding provided by Lilly Endowment, the Regional Opportunity Initiative (ROI) was established to: “Advance economic and community prosperity in an 11-county area that encompasses Brown, Crawford, Daviess, Dubois, Greene, Lawrence, Martin, Monroe, Orange, Owen and Washington counties.”

To prepare our students for successful careers, the Brown County Schools recently competed for and was awarded a grant from ROI to prepare our students to be qualified for the higher paying jobs.  This can lead to a business climate and a workforce that will help attract new businesses to Brown County.

A Way Ahead

The Brown County Redevelopment (RDC) commission was tasked to identify county wide strategies that would result in improvement in the CVIs.  Strategies will also need to consider courses of action if the tax base continues to decline.

The key priorities for the county include a focus on options that would provide the funding to support the capital improvements required to improve and expand the core infrastructure within the county. This infrastructure includes roads, water, sewer, broadband, police, fire and emergency services which would support the expansion of residential development and contribute to positive trends in the county CVIs.

The critical priority for the county includes broadband. Access to the internet is now considered a vital utility that is critical for leveraging the educational opportunities for our students as well as attracting businesses and new residents.

In support of this aim, the RDC has provided a proposal to the Area Plan Commission (APC) to work collaboratively in developing a comprehensive plan and economic strategy that will produce results where we will all benefit or at least, will not be any worse off.

Commissioners and Council and all their appointed commission and board members need to unite towards a common vision, plan, and strategy that has the support of the citizenry. The trend nationally has been one of polarization by wealth and political affiliation.  The challenges and opportunities facing Brown Countians cannot be successfully addressed with a divided community. The citizens of Brown County should expect the collaboration and action that will lead to a sustainable economic future.

Tim Clark
Brown County Redevelopment Commission

More info:

Survey Information:  2016 Community Readiness Initiative (CRI), Nashville, Brown County Ball State University

More Info ROI GrantGetting ready for the real world: New administrator’s job focuses on teaching workplace skills early

 

 

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Maple Leaf: Not in the plan

I serve on the County Redevelopment Commission (RDC).  The following is a copy of a Letter to the Editor of the Brown County Democrat. The purpose of the letter was to reinforce the need for a collaborative approach when considering development projects that can have long-term impacts on the community.

Letter: ‘Zoning for Maple Leaf: Not in the plan’

The Brown County Comprehensive Plan states that the purpose of the plan “is to provide guidance on decision making regarding Brown County land use, public service and zoning that enhances the quality of life for the residents based on the county’s natural beauty and rural atmosphere.”

The comprehensive plan further states that “the desire to preserve” is the major element in guiding the comprehensive plan for the county, and states: “People continue to come to Brown County to visit and live. We must plan to ensure that the residents’ reasons for choosing Brown County as a place to live are protected and preserved.”

The Area Plan Commission approved the zoning for the assisted living facility and the senior apartments. The zoning request for an adjacent property from agriculture to commercial to accommodate an entertainment venue is incompatible with the planning principles stated in the comprehensive plan, and the commitment made to the senior residents and neighboring property owners in the area.

Further, given the intent for Mr. Snyder to sell a section of his farmland for commercial purposes, it’s possible that he may choose to sell more land in the future. Now may be a good time to update the comprehensive plan to identify community expectations for the types of development for Snyder farm that the community will want to support. The update to the plan should also include a tourism-related policy and strategy.

The “voice of county residents” is captured in the comprehensive plan that guides any zoning related changes.

Although the proposed Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center has not been formally approved by the commissioners and council, advocates of the project will be requesting a zoning change at the APC on Tuesday, Aug. 22 at 6 p.m.

This request should be denied.

The APC should consider beginning the process of involving the community in making any needed updates to the county comprehensive plan.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this letter are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any commission or board.

Tim Clark, Brown County

Failing to Plan: Planning to Fail

I serve on the County Redevelopment Commission (RDC).  The following is a copy of a Letter to the Editor of the Brown County Democrat. The purpose of the letter was to reinforce the need for a collaborative approach when considering development projects that can have long-term impacts on the community.

Maple Leaf Proposal: Let’s Not Fail to Plan
By Tim Clark

At the June 20, 2017, presentation to a crowd of approximately 100 people on the proposed Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center (MLPAC) at the Brown County Playhouse, Commissioner Diana Biddle stated:

“We have planned ourselves to death: Strategic planning, strategic planning, strategic planning.”   “It is time for strategic doing,”  

Although this statement received a round of applause, and may accurately reflect the perception held by many in the community, there can be more to the story.

The Purdue University, Center for Regional Development has described “strategic doing” as including “engaging the community in building a prosperous, sustainable future for ourselves and future generations.” This future must be identified in a comprehensive plan and strategy. The last revision to the county comprehensive plans was in 2011, and the county does not have a published strategic plan.

Regarding the proposed MLPAC, the community at large has not had the opportunity at official public meetings to provide input on the best investment options for the revenue collected from the inn keepers tax nor were they involved in providing feedback on the size, scope, and location of a venue.

Further, citizens have not been provided with sufficient details on the nature of the $10.2 million dollar debt including information about the right, if any, to remonstrate. Although principal and interest on the debt can be paid with revenues from the inn keepers tax, taxpayers are likely at risk for the total debt.

Despite this lack of community engagement, advocates for the proposed MLPAC are on the Area Plan Commission agenda on August 22 and intend to request a zoning change for the Snyder Farm site.

An initial outline of the “proposed” MLPAC review and approval process was developed by the county attorneys – Barnes and Thornburg.  The Brown County Redevelopment Commission (RDC) initiated a review on the proposed MLPAC in the context of a county wide perspective. This review included an outline of an initial action plan that involves collaboration among all affected government offices to ensure the due diligence expected from taxpayers.

At the July 13, 2017, RDC meeting, Commissioner Biddle stated that the initial process that was outlined by Barnes and Thornburg was changed to the extent that project reviews and approval no longer required the involvement of the RDC.   An updated outline and timeline has yet to be shared with the public.

The RDC is pursuing federal grants to fund updates to the county comprehensive plan and to fund development of an economic development strategic plan.  These plans along with a five-year budgeting capability would include the key elements of a county strategic plan –likely the first ever such plan in the history of Brown County government. Because of the long lead time involved with government grants, self-funding the development of these plans may be an immediate and needed course of action.

To support the aim of “engaging the community in building a prosperous, sustainable future for ourselves and future generations,” either the RDC or another objective third party should be asked to take the lead in facilitating the review and approval process. This will help ensure community support for the proposed MLPAC and its alignment with the existing or updated county comprehensive plan.

For those where planning may be an abhorrent concept, Benjamin Franklin is credited with the axiom that: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” Let’s not plan to fail.

Disclaimer:  The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any commission or board.