MOORESVILLE, IND. – Morgan County has the potential for significant economic growth but may need improved collaboration in order to capitalize more fully on existing assets and relationships outside its boundaries. That’s one of the key findings reported in a study of the county’s economic development possibilities done by the School of Business at the University of Indianapolis for the Morgan County Economic Development Corporation (MCEDC).
The findings of the study that was announced in January were released today (June 20) at Bradford Woods to Morgan County political, civic and business leaders. The event was also held to thank the Blue Ribbon Committee that had been formed to explore how the county can realize stronger growth.
In summarizing the results, Dr. Sheela Yadav, dean of the business school, said that while various groups had previously identified factors to support economic development, the end goals have not been realized “because there hasn’t been sufficient ownership, action and observable success critical to sustaining progress.”
To encourage greater county-wide unity in support of an action plan, she indicated a need for Morgan County to create an “umbrella organization” that would articulate a unifying vision for community and economic development to be promoted throughout the county and well publicized to neighbors. She added that a plan showing how constituent organizations can contribute to this common vision, and how limited resources can be used more effectively to achieve objectives, is also necessary.
Among other recommendations, Dr. Yadav said the county can better leverage educational, social and cultural opportunities available through nearby Indiana University, as well as similar resources easily accessible in Indianapolis.
Dr. Yadav noted that one out of every three Morgan County residents employed works outside the county; and one out of every ten individuals employed in the county resides elsewhere. The study also reported that Morgan County currently has a 7.8% unemployment rate, which is equivalent to more than 2,700 residents. These observations led to the conclusion that the county needs to create additional jobs in order to retain and employ Morgan County residents within their community.
The study confirmed that employment for Morgan County’s transportation and logistics sector has increased far more rapidly than for any other sector. Further, through a detailed industry cluster analysis, it was revealed that, in comparison to all industry sectors, transportation and logistics has grown far faster in Morgan County than that of the region’s average over the past decade, as well as the State’s average over the past five years. In order to build upon Morgan County’s already phenomenal growth as a transportation and logistics center, Dr. Yadav encouraged continued planning on how to most strategically use its proximity to Indianapolis International Airport and the Interstate 69 extension coming in 2015.
Another conclusion of the industry cluster analysis was that the county has an opportunity to build upon its unique specialization in the forest and wood product sector, which is significantly larger than the average for either the region or the State.
The study indicated that real estate availability would be a critical factor in attracting new businesses to Morgan County. Although several area sites are available, review of an archived soil analysis report would be needed in order to determine acceptable land use alternatives. For suitable sites to be classified as “shovel ready” by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation and Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs’ Indiana Shovel Ready Program, environmental assessments, wetland delineation, and detailed studies of utilities infrastructure capabilities would need to be submitted; and the ability to construct and pay for providing utilities up to the property line would need to be demonstrated. However, the advantage of shovel ready certification is to obtain expedited state permitting and enhance the marketability of Morgan County commercial sites.
In order to take on such economic development initiatives, the study reported that upfront investments are necessary. It was noted that Morgan County’s property tax rates are among the lowest in the state, which can be a plus for attracting new residents; however, accumulating a sufficient enough surplus of these revenues for the needed capital investment would take time. Because there is a limited window of opportunity for this type of strategic community development, and time is of the essence, the study recommended exploring alternative forms of fundraising instead.
The study also noted that another key factor to attracting new businesses is a qualified workforce. Because many of the unemployed have lower levels of educational attainment, and there is a lack of training or higher education opportunities within the county, the study recommends closer ties with the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, partnerships Ivy Tech Community College for postsecondary training, and initiatives to support online degree attainment. With respect to preparing the future workforce, a collaborative “summit” of all the county’s educational resources needs to be arranged, the study said, to develop plans for better training and retention of students.
Closer relationships with Purdue University’s Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Program, which is geared toward rural school districts, Future Farmers of America, 4-H, Junior Achievement, Boy Scouts of America and Girl Scouts of the USA also were suggested by the study, as well as encouraging area residents’ contribution through tutoring and mentoring area youth.
“We are pleased how well the study defines not only our county’s capabilities but also outlines challenges we must confront to achieve our full potential,” said MCEDC President George Watkins. “The University of Indianapolis study will help us strengthen and expand our foundation as we build a brighter future for Morgan County.”
The Blue Ribbon Committee’s co-chairs are Dan Moore, President & CEO of Martinsville-based Home Bank, and Lynn Gordon, President and CEO of Mooresville-based Citizens Bank. Other members of the committee, all of whom live or work in Morgan County, include:
- Eric Bowlen, Principal Martinsville East Middle School, Martinsville City Council;
- Melanie DePoy, Development Director, Jackson Center for Conductive Education, Mooresville;
- Craig A. Fenneman, Owner and CEO of Southern Bells Inc;
- Hector A. Flores, president of H.A. Flores & Associates Inc. – Martinsville;
- Douglas L. Molin, Director of the Asia Pacific division, The MITRE Corporation;
- Signe Nicholson, former facilities planner for Eli Lilly and Company;
- Jared Stark, Executive Director, Franciscan St. Francis Hospital – Mooresville.
“The study by UIndy provides a road map to help us move the county forward,” said Moore. “The academic analysis lends great credibility to some of the plans that have been discussed for years and challenges us to move forward by not letting good ideas sit on a shelf.”
Adding to Moore’s comments, Gordon said, “The study confirms that Morgan County has several assets – some of them not yet fully developed – that will be vital in realizing our full potential. I’m particularly impressed by the suggestions that we can’t be parochial about our next steps but must reach across county lines in every direction in developing important and mutually beneficial partnerships.”
The study included an examination of earlier research regarding the region’s capabilities, as well as economic development alternatives and possibilities identified by relevant third-party experts and discussed with members of the Morgan County Blue Ribbon Committee.
For the complete study, please contact Joy Sessing or Jeff Pipkin at (317) 831-9544.
MCEDC’s mission is to serve Morgan County by providing education and resources to businesses to foster the growth and prosperity of their residents.