Growing Rural Indiana

Growing Rural Indiana

In different areas of the state of Indiana, ideas about how to strengthen and expand economic activity take on many forms. Some communities choose to leverage their available space and logistics assets, for example, with the intent of attracting commercial or industrial operations and their accompanying jobs. Others may place emphasis on natural resources to draw out-of-town tourism dollars. Still others may base their plans around intellectual operations like universities or technology investment. Whatever the case, regional economic development strategies very often maximize the potential of already available assets.

When it comes to rural economic development, most people might not expect to find many assets to leverage. But the truth is, there are lots. Agriculture is all over Indiana and constitutes an asset category all its own. It’s often overlooked but could turn into a huge opportunity for economic growth.


Looking at Things Differently

Late last year, the state opted to put a new strategy in place to change the way rural communities think about economic development by helping them leverage agriculture – which officials described as the strongest asset in their backyard. Known as the Rural Economic Development Model, the strategy establishes a go-to resource for rural communities as they build out their local plans.

The model provides a new online interactive tool and guidebook to be used when creating an ag-based economic development plan intended to expand current agribusinesses and attract complimentary processing companies to the region.

“We often see rural communities targeting an automotive plant or medical device manufacturer – overlooking agriculture completely,” said Bruce Kettler, Indiana State Department of Agriculture Director. “We want to encourage local decision makers to think differently of their economic development strategy. Agriculture is at the core of so many Hoosier communities and, if leveraged properly, has the potential to keep growing or, in some cases, reinvigorate rural Indiana.”


Mapping Agricultural Assets

To support the launch of the new strategy, the Purdue Center for Regional Development created new Indiana Ag Asset Maps that can be found on the Rural Indiana Stats website. These first-of-their-kind heat maps provide information about the agricultural products grown and raised in each county, including things like fruits, vegetables, grains, and livestock, and a section showcasing the various companies supporting the hardwoods industry in Indiana.

This kind of information could be handy for economic developers and other planners. Communities can use this information to build an ag-based economic development strategy or grow value-added processing by creating “agriculture regions.” Identifying clusters like these can help steer a community’s marketing and business outreach efforts. It’s all about finding the companies and potential investors that are the right fit for the area.

“Bringing value-added processing to an area benefits more than just producers, it shores up the local economy and entire agricultural ecosystem,” said Dr. Bo Beaulieu, PCRD Director. “It can be a game-changer and opens the door to new possibilities for rural communities, which continue to struggle with attracting young, talented workers.”


Expert Help is Available

A wide assortment of expert agricultural and economic organizations helped bring the new strategy to life, and they’re available to help rural organizations build up their agribusiness profiles. The Rural Economic Development Model was developed in collaboration with the Indiana Corn Marketing Council, Indiana Economic Development Association, Indiana Farm Bureau, Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, Indiana Soybean Alliance, Indiana State Department of Agriculture, and Purdue Center for Regional Development.

“For too long, we have looked at Indiana’s agricultural production as a passive asset: grown here, but sent elsewhere for value-added processing,” said Lee Lewellen, Indiana Economic Development Association President and CEO. “We want economic developers and farmers to come together to see Indiana’s robust ag assets as the raw material for a different kind of manufacturing base in rural communities.”

Communities interested in agriculture as a component of their economic development strategy were encouraged to contact the project partners. Their goal is to help rural communities create fully implementable ag strategies.


Set to Grow

With the information available under the new strategy, rural communities will be able to develop plans to target more relevant and appropriate industries to complement their existing activities. It’s going to be yet another innovative way for Hoosier economic developers to make the most of what they’ve already got to build into something new. With that, it seems that agribusiness in Indiana could be set to continue its growth all over the state.