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Rural setting, schools draw people to county

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On the plus side: More people are moving into Hancock County than are moving out, according to recent census data.
On the plus side: More people are moving into Hancock County than are moving out, according to recent census data.

GREENFIELD — Hancock County’s population growth is coming mostly from Marion and Hamilton county residents, data recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau suggests.

That’s not surprising to local real estate agents, because for years they’ve listened to clients asking for a more rural setting and good schools for their growing families.

“That’s a trend that has been there for decades,” said agent Roy Wilson. “The east side of Indianapolis tends to move east.”

The census bureau last month released results from the 2006-2010 American Community Survey. An average of 2,005 Marion County residents moved to Hancock County in that period, the data shows, and 522 Hamilton County residents moved here.

Hancock County residents also moved out to Marion and Hamilton counties, but not at the same pace: 1,335 Hancock County residents moved to Marion County, while 188 moved to Hamilton.

The data also show that more Hancock County residents are moving to Madison, Henry, Rush and Shelby counties than the other way around. Wilson said that’s probably because houses are less expensive in those counties. Also, Madison County’s Fall Creek Township has seen a lot of interest in recent years.

Reasons that people move out of Hancock County into other communities and vice versa are based on personal preference and the type of lifestyle that’s being sought, agents say.

“People that are moving to Hancock County are the people that want to get away a little bit from the city, so to speak, and the schools. The schools are huge,” said agent Toni Harpster. “New Pal, for some reason, is a very hot little market, and I think the schools are a big factor, and the proximity to Indy.”

But plenty of Hancock County residents are commuting out of the county for work. Census data released earlier this year suggests more people are commuting to work in other counties than staying here for employment.

“I think people are willing to commute a little further to work and kind of move out (of Indianapolis),” Harpster said.

Those who want to locate here also like the sense of a rural community, she said, while it’s still close enough to city life and shops.

“People that live in Greenfield like the fact that they don’t have to go all the way into the city to basically do everything they need to do,” Harpster said. “They can go to church, they can shop and still have the small-town feel. I think safety is a real big factor. In all of Hancock County, I can’t think of one area where I would be hesitant to tell somebody to move for a safety standpoint.”

Safety and a quaint community are some of the reasons Patty Jack wants to move to Hancock County within the next few years. Jack lives in the Grant County community of Marion, but she was born in Greenfield 53 years ago. Her father lives in Hancock County, and she visits regularly.

“It’s growing, for one thing, and the events they have like Riley Days and they have the James Whitcomb Riley Home and museum … it seems to be a pretty good town,” she said. “I’ve not heard of a lot of crime.”

Hancock County was ranked the third fastest-growing county in the state from 2000 to 2010. The growth rate has declined since then, but it’s still growing faster than the state average.

Hancock County’s rate of growth over the last two years was 1.3 percent, higher than the state average of 0.8 percent. The 2012 estimated population of Hancock County was 70,933 people.

Not only does the quality of schools affect why people move to Hancock County, says real estate agent Patti Nation, but so does the size of the schools.

“I deal with a lot of people deciding between the larger schools and the smaller schools,” Nation said. “I see a lot of people move to the area because they feel a little bit smaller schools gives their child more opportunities for sports and anything they want to be involved in, and it may be a little less intimidating.”

Elementary and secondary schools are not the only institutions that affect movement. The data suggests plenty of outbound movement to college communities. The survey asks where people lived in the year prior, so college freshmen are showing up in Monroe, Tippecanoe and Delaware counties.

Over the survey’s four-year period, an average of 202 Hancock County residents moved to Monroe County, the home of Indiana University. Likewise, 88 Hancock County residents moved to Tippecanoe County, home of Purdue University. Some of the 295 Hancock County residents who moved to Delaware County may be attending Ball State University.

There’s still an effort to bring more postsecondary education opportunities to Hancock County. Mary Gibble, board member of the Hancock Community Education Alliance, said the board still wants to bring courses or a community college to Hancock County, and ultimately that could result in more young people staying here.

Time and transportation are major barriers for Hancock County residents to get postsecondary degrees, Gibble said, and more college courses here would only help people achieve their goals while remaining in the county. Still, she said young people heading out to universities may decide to reside outside of Hancock County even after graduation because of job opportunities or a better quality of life.

“I think we have an awesome community and a great quality of life, but there’s a great pull of younger people to be able to live, work and play in the same place, and we’re a little bit limited in the kind of amenities that make it possible here,” Gibble said, adding that she’s excited about plans to revitalize downtown Greenfield with more retail, restaurants and housing. “That’s what our young people are looking for.”

Greenfield native Kim Meszaros had a lot of changes last fall: a wedding and a move to Hamilton County. She works in Carmel; her husband works in Fishers, and the couple agreed they’d like to live closer to their jobs, restaurants and shopping.

“It was simple: gas is adding up and it was time to find something closer,” Meszaros said. “We live near Hamilton Town Center, and I really love being close to all the different restaurant options and shopping.”

Still, she said she likes living close enough to family in Greenfield to visit often.

Young people like Meszaros are commonly the ones who are moving out of Hancock County, Harpster said, to be in the middle of big city action. Still, she meets with more clients wanting to move to Hancock County.

“I think it’s the stage of life you’re in,” Harpster said. “If you’re a young family and you want good schools and (for the home) to be affordable, it’s the perfect spot.”

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