With the dawn of the new year, the light again shines on how to improve Grant County. What that means, exactly, depends on who one asks.
Tim Eckerle, Grant County Economic Growth Council executive director, stated that the main focus for the year is the job market.
“We see continued reinvestment and job growth in the community,” he said.
Local businesses seem to suggest this such as the Dollar General and Walmart distribution centers that consistently have openings.
Eckerle went on to state that he did not wish to speak on what the council will focus on before the other members have a chance to meet at their first meeting on Jan. 16 at 7:30 a.m., though he did state that the community will “continue seeking to bring in new jobs.”
However, Mike Hicks, director of the Ball State University Center for Business and Economic Research, sees a different issue at the heart of economic development in Grant County – quality of life.
“(The county should) re-shift their focus on people, not jobs (because) real growth comes from household locations, not where the factories are,” he said.
This is an issue Hicks talked about in August and one he reiterated on Thursday. Improving education systems is the key to economic development.
Hicks mentioned that Grant County already has jobs, just not enough employees and the county needs to entice people to want to move in because it, “has not done a good job of making people want to move there.”
And factories and jobs alone do not bring people to an area, according to Hicks. Good schools and a high quality of life does. But when school systems suffer the quality of workers suffers, populations decrease and businesses find themselves without an attractive employment pool, Hicks explained.
The key then is, not bringing in more businesses, especially if there’s not enough workers to fill the openings, it’s bringing people in. If a community, city or county does that, businesses will follow, Hicks explained.
John Lightle, director of the Grant County Visitor and Tourism Bureau, said the bureau is expecting more growth in tourism, and said a third-party study showed growth over a three-year period. He expects that trend to continue with events such as the Fly/In Cruise/In and James Dean Festival weekend that draw large crowds each year.
Lightle said that the city is hoping to bring the Airstrip Assault back to the Marion Airport for the third year this August and that, “it usually takes some time for an event to make a fingerprint on a community, and last year’s attendance was much higher than the year before; we expect even more growth from it this year.”