Hope proves tonic for this sour observer

In this spring of our discontent with our state government, my columns became unusually negative. Many readers chastised me for that. They believe Indiana is in great shape economically because of the wise diet prescribed by our state’s leadership. Whereas I had indigestion from this diet, these readers felt satisfied and fulfilled.

To treat my dyspepsia, I went on a road trip. My first stop was the Greenfield Daily Reporter, where I met with Editor Noelle Steele and Advertising Director John Senger.

Local editors and advertising directors are often the people most knowledgeable about a place. To do their jobs properly, they must understand and be responsive to the economic and social dynamics of the place.

You probably know Greenfield as the birthplace of James Whitcomb Riley, whose poetry glorified an Indiana passing faster than he could write. Today it is the urbanized hub of slowly suburbanizing Hancock County and home to Elanco, the international animal health and food safety company given birth by Eli Lilly and Co.

The front page of the Daily Reporter for May 23 told contemporary stories of the community, stories familiar throughout Indiana.

“Contractor pleads guilty in fraud case” related how a man bilked homeowners with promises of storm damage repair but did no such work.

“No place like … Hancock County?” detailed the increase in the county’s housing units. One euphoric local observer believes: “People are looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of Marion County.” The article correctly notes the county’s growth is decidedly slower than other Indianapolis suburban counties.

“Commissioners lay out plans to fund repairs” outlined the steps toward a bond issue necessary to make even minor fixes to public facilities. The crush on local funds is a statewide crisis bequeathed by the Indiana legislature.

Finally, “Area grants will help fund makeover for Pennsy Trail leg” expressed hope that $8,000 can stimulate art projects along a local rail-to-trails route. Such popular projects in Indiana often erupt into delightful disputes over what is and is not art.

My next stop was New Castle in Henry County, where the automotive industry and basketball left indelible stories. Lisa Perry, managing editor of the Courier Times, whisked me out of her office for an instructive tour of downtown.

When I drove into town, I made the mistake of looking at the empty or underutilized storefronts. Lisa reminded me of my own injunction: You have to look up at the upper stories to get the full story.

There is new money flowing into New Castle to refurbish and restore buildings with retail activity along Broad Street. There is new energy, in the person of Corey Murphy, at the economic development corporation. And no one talked about what is gone, what old dreams were not realized, or what insurmountable obstacles remain.

Nothing boosts my spirits like meeting Hoosiers who are effectively serving their communities with valid hope for our future.

Morton Marcus is an economist, formerly with the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Send comments to dr-editorial@greenfieldreporter.com.