Community leaders and representatives met Thursday evening at the Harrison County Community Foundation building in Corydon to talk about a vision for community development with county residents. The forum was the second in a series of three to be hosted by the Foundation. The first focused on the opioid addiction crisis, and the third, slated for Oct. 24, will center around education.

A panel consisting of Darrell Voelker, executive director of the Harrison County Economic Development Corp., Rand Heazlitt, Corydon's town manager and planning and zoning administrator, Lee T. King, broker/sales manager at Schuler Bauer Real Estate Services, and Lisa Long, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Harrison County, led the discussion.

Dominating the conversation was the county's need to meet a shortfall in available housing.

Panelists were in agreement that the county's infrastructure needs improvement in order to attract developers and address the demand.

"(People) want to live here; they want to work here. Their kids to go to school here," King said. "And you need development to bring them in to contribute to the community."

Long said high-speed internet coverage has become an essential part of infrastructure just like water, sewage and electricity. She said though it has come a long way in recent years, the coverage — and lack thereof in some parts of the county — leaves much to be desired.

"We believe (infrastructure) is important for staving off population stagnation and growing Harrison County," Long said. "However, we want to have smart growth."

She said she doesn't think anyone wants the county to resemble a place like Clarksville with large commercial districts and heavy traffic.

King said a lack of sewage lines in some parts of the county also is an issue because developers are choosing to build in Floyd or Clark counties on land already connected to sewer services. She said it's hard to expect a developer to shell out $10,000 to $18,000 for sewage on top of construction costs when they have the option to go somewhere else.

The housing issue is urgent, Heazlitt said, because projections show a large number of people will spill out of the Louisville Metropolitan area and into the surrounding region in the coming years.

"Corydon has taken some bold moves to position themselves to be prepared for that influx of people. And, it's not 'if,' it's 'when?'," he said. "And the 'when' is now."

He said the town has made significant strides in preparing for the future by investing in sewers and parks and preserving historic features downtown.

Heazlitt said he encourages leaders to drive development in a progressive way rather than simply acting as "caretakers" of the present situation.

Voelker said one of Harrison County's greatest resources is its location, because it's close to Louisville but still maintains a rural setting.

"But a community can't survive on just residents," he said. "It's not enough."

Voelker said in order to leverage its location for the betterment of the community, the county must do anything it can to bring in more jobs.

"We've got a few good business here; we need more good businesses here and we want the ones we've got to get better," he said.

Voelker said Harrison County doesn't have enough deliverable, site-ready land to attract large employers and a low unemployment rate — 3% — doesn't appeal to businesses because site selectors know they'll have a hard time filling positions.

"As a region, we need to come together to address these issues," Long said.

She said commercial land in Clark and Floyd counties is expected to create an estimated 50,000 jobs in the coming years, and, if nothing changes, the county won't be able to help meet that demand.

"I don't know that we're missing the boat compared to other counties in Southern Indiana," Long added. "I think we're all facing the same issue."

The topic of conversation at the forum took a turn when panelists opened up the floor for questions as multiple attendees asked about what the county plans to do to adapt to the ever-increasing role of artificial intelligence and automation in the workplace.

"We need to bring younger people into not only the workforce, but into leadership roles, so they can show us the way," Heazlitt responded.

To this point, King said attracting younger people to the community has its own share of challenges.

"Young people do not want to live where there's no cell service," she said.

From the audience, Herb Schneider, president of the Lanesville Town Council, agreed, saying better cell service might attract more residents and developers to the town.

"We're in a hole up there," he said.

Long said a good infrastructure, including cell coverage, is important to have in place to attract businesses and residents alike. She said, however, the most basic needs must be met before homes can be built.

"I think we need to start investing (more) in sewers," she said.

Harrison County Commissioner Charlie Crawford offered a metaphor to describe the county's dilemma when it comes to infrastructure. He said when someone gets a car for the first time, eventually they'll forget about their old horse.

"And many people in the county are still on the horse," he said.

To this, Heazlitt said Harrison County needs to determine its identity on all levels. He said he'd like to see county, town and small community leaders get together to plan for development as a group.

"We need a cohesive and comprehensive plan," Heazlitt said.

Voelker agreed, saying the plan should include visions from all of the various departments and agencies that represent those who will be affected.

"We're trying to get to that equilibrium where the population base can support the kind of businesses we want to attract," he said.