• Steve Eberly

Don't be the one to turn out the lights- Community Vitality

Updated: Sep 20

A good friend once told me, "You don't want to be the last one left in town left to turn out the lights." Rural economics matter in Indiana, and it is more important than ever to understand where your community and county are. Are you on a trajectory towards community vitality or decline?

So how do we move up on the vitality index? And what can provide the tools to success? One clear opportunity is renewable energy projects.

Presently, the understanding and growth of renewables for Indiana continue to be hampered by the opposition that, frankly, remain focused far more on what they don't want as opposed to what their county and communities NEED.

The Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs-OCRA and the Purdue Center for Regional Development-PCRD has introduced the Community Vitality Indicators' index. Some of these indicators are:

  • Population change

  • Public school enrollment as a % of the population under 18 years of age

  • Public high school graduation rate

  • Percent adult population with an associates degree or higher

  • Per capita market income

  • Gross Assessed Value

  • Per capita gross assessed value

  • Per Capita Personal Income

So how do we move up on the vitality index? And what can provide the tools to success? One clear opportunity is renewable energy projects.

So what do our rural communities need, and how can renewable energy help?

They need internet and broadband access so that our students can learn and our businesses can thrive. Benton and Randolph counties have effectively leveraged the economic boost from renewable energy projects to alter their futures NOW for broadband access.

They need the best schools for our students to learn and grow. Thanks to payments from a wind farm, Randolph County Schools have upgraded playgrounds, gymnasiums and are installing a new roof.

They need businesses that bring additional revenue into our communities and employ Hoosiers. In White County, the Indiana Beach Amusement Park received an economic development grant from the renewable energy fund to reopen and welcome thousands of Hoosiers this summer.

And they need good roads – and the ability to upgrade and fix them. In Henry County, the little town of Greensboro is hoping to fix potholes thanks to an economic development grant from a renewable energy company, but only if the solar project gets built. While Greensboro holds chili dinners to make their community better, others in the county fight to keep these economic development projects out.

Let's all think about what millions of dollars of local investment from a wind or solar project could do for your communities' vitality? So as my friend used to say, you don't want to be left to turn out the light – with these new energy projects, nobody will be turning off the lights anytime soon.