Morton J. Marcus is an economist formerly with the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.  His column appears in Indiana newspapers, and his views can be followed on a podcast: https://mortonjohn.libsyn.com.

          You probably are familiar with Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) -- groups of counties around cities of 50,000 or more persons. Sometimes an MSA is only one county, but often an MSA includes nearby counties because there is considerable commuting between the core county and the outlying county (counties).

          Bartholomew is the only county in the Columbus MSA. However, the Evansville MSA includes four counties, one of which is in Kentucky. In all, 43 of Indiana’s 92 counties are part of 14 Metro areas, some extending into each of our four neighboring states.

        But do you know Indiana also has 26 Micropolitan Statistical Areas involving 27 counties? The federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) says “Micropolitan Statistical Areas have at least one urban cluster of at least 10,000, but less than 50,000 population, plus adjacent territory that has a high degree of social and economic integration with the core as measured by commuting ties.”

         In our case, only one core or principal city (Jasper in Dubois County) has another county (Pike) associated with it.

         You’ll know more about our metro areas than our micro areas because the former account for 77 percent of Indiana’s population while the micro areas have but 19 percent. Yet the future of the Hoosier state may depend on what happens in Warsaw, Marion, Wabash, and Seymour.

         From 2010 to 2017, Indiana’s population grew by 2.7 percent, but the cities of Warsaw and Seymour advanced by 8.6 and 7.4 percent respectively with growing business activity. By contrast, Marion and Wabash each lost 5.1 percent of their citizens.  While 11 of the 26 principal cities of these micro areas gained population, the other 15 declined.

          These principal cities are established communities with institutions and facilities for urban living. Richmond is the largest of these, but its numbers are now down to 34,500.

           In the past both the cities and the balance of their counties increased in population. Cities grew until state legislatures denied them any ease of annexation.

           Between 2010 and 2017 that pattern applied to only eight of the 26 Indiana micropolitan cities. Washington and the balance of Daviess County growing together gave the total county a 4.4 percent increase.  By contrast, with the population in Marion and the balance of Grant County both declining, the county’s total population fell by 4.9 percent.

        How large does a community need to be in today’s world to offer residents and businesses reasonable expectations of long-term success?

        The answer will depend on the costs of technology and the desire (need) for community. Clearly, the Internet and low cost surface transportation services enable many households and businesses to function efficiently in or near small cities.

          Economies of scale favored big and densely populated communities in the 19th and 20th centuries were unfavorable for micro cities. They might thrive, if we enter an era of more dispersed population and economic activity.