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IU Public Policy Institute project provides blueprint to maximize Indiana’s potential

IU School of Medicine • 3/22/16


INDIANAPOLIS — Looking ahead at what can be done to help Indiana communities succeed now and over the next 10 years, the Indiana University Public Policy Institute has shared results from its Thriving Communities, Thriving State project. More than 200 local, regional and state leaders joined the Institute at the Indiana State Museum to discuss ways to maximize Indiana’s potential.

“The adage ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there’ should not be good enough for building Indiana’s future,” said Randall T. Shepard, former chief justice of the Indiana Supreme Court. “Thoughtful leaders from many different walks of life have committed an entire year to examine how we might build thriving communities for the years ahead.”

Shepard and Kathy Davis, a former Indiana lieutenant governor, serve as co-chairs for the project that launched in 2014 as an effort to evaluate what’s needed to uplift and sustain urban, midsized and small town/rural communities, with solutions tailored to their unique challenges.

A nonpartisan 53-person commission — composed of statewide leaders representing the public, private and nonprofit sectors — recommended investments in education and infrastructure and making policy changes that remove political, geographical or technological obstacles to success. The commission’s work began in early 2015.

“Communities in Indiana differ in many ways,” said Mark Lawrance, director of the institute. “Our hope is that people around the state will look at the recommendations in Thriving Communities, Thriving State as a to-do list, to see what might work for their community.”

In the report “Recommendations for a Thriving Indiana,” all three commissions prioritized important topics for Indiana to focus on during the next decade, including education/workforce preparation; leadership and engagement; and quality of life and quality of place.

Here is a sample of the Thriving commissions’ recommendations:

Urban communities:

  • Talent development is critical, and the job begins with better preschool. Talent drives the new urban economy, and without more than our fair share, urban Indiana will flounder.
  • A community is only as strong as its leaders. To create a successful 21st-century Indiana, new urban leadership must build networks of leaders who are plugged into an intentional system that addresses civic, elected and nonprofit sectors.
  • To ensure that Indiana’s urban counties are attractive to a diverse collection of individuals, cities must have increased flexibility so they can focus on infrastructure and place-making.

Midsized communities:

  • Address specific impediments to post-secondary enrollment and attainment for low-income, minority and immigrant, and first-generation-to-college students and their families in the K-12 education system.
  • Expand participation in and build renewed civic infrastructure. This would allow midsized communities to take action on often-complex problems and shared priorities essential to creating robust, livable communities and a stronger state.
  • Intentionally plan, implement and track quality of life/place improvement efforts and outcomes.

Small town/rural communities:

  • Ensure that students leaving high school are life-ready and can pursue post-secondary education without need for remediation. Designated “success coaches,” for example, can help students learn life skills and prepare for individualized post-secondary pursuits.
  • Build individual, organizational and civic leaders to develop community approaches and a civic vision to problem-solving, and generate funding.
  • Well-maintained physical assets and wired technology are vital to the success of rural and small towns.

“Rural and small communities need assistance from state and industry leaders to ensure our residents have access to 21st-century infrastructure like adequate broadband, water and sewer as well as roads and bridges,” said Bedford, Ind., Mayor Shawna Girgis, who serves as co-chair of the project’s rural/small-town commission. “It is imperative that rural communities acknowledge our population is declining and identify ways to combat this trend including nurturing our main streets, making workforce training available close to home to support local business and industry, and embracing our growing immigrant populations.”    

To stimulate discussions about the Thriving Communities, Thriving State recommendations, the institute will soon kick off a statewide tour to inform civic and economic development groups to develop state, regional and local collaborations and engage support.

“I have been enlightened and inspired by the Indiana community leaders who serve on the rural, midsized and urban commissions,” said Davis, principal of Davis Design Group, who served as the state’s first female lieutenant governor from 2003 to 2005. “They show us what it takes — from the ground up — for Indiana communities and the state to succeed. Next, we must orchestrate the grand collaboration that directs resources and support to their initiatives.”

Thriving Communities, Thriving State is the second project of the institute’s Policy Choices for Indiana’s Future initiative, which encourages discussions about issues that matter to Indiana, specifically focusing on quality-of-life issues.

Visit the institute’s website for more information about the IU Public Policy Institute and Thriving Communities, Thriving State.