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4/5/2017 11:41:00 AM
Hicks: Rather than focusing on jobs, instead try to attract people

Ray Cooney, Commercial Review Editor

Michael Hicks has some economic development advice:

Stop focusing on jobs.

Instead, try to attract people, and the jobs will follow.

Hicks, the George and Frances Ball distinguished professor of economics and director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University, focused on that concept Tuesday as he spoke to Jay County Development Corporation as part of the organization’s strategic planning process.

He told JCDC board members that the realities of economic development have changed in the 21st century while strategies have tended to lag behind. For most, the focus has traditionally been on attracting new businesses. However, he noted that 26 of 27 studies, including one of his own, in the last three decades show that jobs move to people rather than people to jobs.

“The assumption here is that people are going to move where the jobs are,” Hicks said. “That’s what I always thought people did. But the research suggests that even as early as the 1970s, more jobs were moving to people than people were moving to jobs.”

He added that data show that over the last 20 years only about 10 percent of people who relocate do so for jobs. Meanwhile, the percentage of those who move for schools and services has spiked to 70 percent.

Hicks noted several keys to being able to attract new residents:

•the arts

•community design (good sidewalks, parks, etc.)

•collaboration for educational excellence

•community well being (health)

•municipal governance

•readiness for change

Being well-rounded in terms of recreational options is important, he added.

“Communities that have diversity of things are more likely to be attractive than places that just have one big activity to engage in,” he said. “These components tend to be things that support communities doing lots of smaller things that transform their ability to attract households.”

Hicks noted that there are a lot of positives locally, including The Portland Foundation (the second-oldest of its kind in the state), the quality of Jay Schools, John Jay Center for Learning and a relatively stable population base.

But he also warned that about 30 percent of jobs in Jay County are considered to be at high risk of being sent overseas and about 62 percent are at risk of being lost to automation. Both of those numbers tend to be high in communities heavily involved in manufacturing, which accounts for about 35 percent of Jay County’s jobs. That’s about five times the national average and 3.5 times the state average.

Hicks encouraged JCDC members to focus more of its attention and energy on making the community attractive to potential new residents rather than expending most of its energy trying bring in a new big factory.

“If pursuit of a new big business is your sole economic development strategy, then prepare for failure, because that’s what’s coming,” he said, noting that on average a community would be able to attract a 500-person business to relocate about once every 32 years.

He added that growth is far more likely through the expansion of existing business or development of a news business by a local entrepreneur.

Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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