The place where I live is Elkhart, Ind. On paper, Elkhart is a city — one of three in Elkhart County, and Elkhart County is one of 92 counties in Indiana.
Realistically, cities measure success by their ability to sustain economic growth and prosperity for residents and businesses. In today’s global economy, technology allows people to work anywhere; skilled and educated workers who drive sustained economic growth and prosperity are choosing where to live first then looking for a job. This is a transformative trend shaping economic development policies away from traditional approaches that prioritized attracting businesses through incentives and subsidies based on the assumption that people followed the jobs.
A shining example of this new trend is “Dwellr” — a new app designed to help users find their dream city. Created by the Census Bureau, Dwellr applies American Community Survey statistics to match user preferences with neighborhood characteristics, selecting a personalized “Top 25″ best places. Enter preferences such as your dream job, age, whether you’d like to bike, drive or take the train to work, and the app spits out the places that fit your lifestyle. Browsing through the app quickly reveals how extensive the competition is for Elkhart, the place where I live, to attract and retain a talented workforce.
Choice and the value of place
There is a tremendous amount of research available that says the talent that will drive the future economy is attracted to vibrant places with robust services and amenities. This includes a strong emphasis on arts and cultural programs, physical design and walkability, transit options, connectivity and an entrepreneurial environment, as well as public safety. Each and every day the quality of life for Elkhart residents is impacted by the choices that local governments make in providing public safety, parks and recreational programming, street and sidewalk repair, and investments into an exciting, revitalized downtown. These choices define our community and set the stage for whether or not we will be competitive and prosperous in the coming years. Over the past decade, these choices have become increasingly difficult for local leaders who must operate under a suffocating framework of shrinking funds and rising service costs.
This is what drives initiatives such as SoMa and the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce's 500 Families. They recognize that our place is in competition for the talented workforce and new economy jobs that will create sustained economic growth. They are organized and supported by community stakeholders – residents and business who have a personal investment and commitment to making our place better. While it important to understand why Elkhart may lag behind our competition in some of the metrics that define a quality place, these dynamic initiatives bring new focus on the positive assets, resources and potential that our place possesses. They advocate for our leaders to make choices that invest in making our place more livable and attractive – because these are the factors that will matter for the future success of our place. Most importantly, they provide a platform for those in our community who share these values and beliefs to come together and provide support to those leaders who are willing to make hard choices on where valuable resources should be invested.
A challenge for you
The place where I choose to live is Elkhart, Ind. As a place, Elkhart has many of the components critical to be successful in the face of competition. I would encourage every resident of Elkhart to think about choice and what they value in a great place. I would also issue a challenge to you to identify what is important in "quality of place" — whether it is the arts and cultural amenities, diversity of activities for families, accessibility to parks and bike paths, variety of restaurants or our evolving downtown. Find what inspires you and offer to join the organization that is working in that area. Become involved in helping to make Elkhart a place where you choose to live, work and play!
Mike Huber is destination development manager for the Elkhart County Convention & Visitors Bureau and was a member of the SoMa study group. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org