PART 1 OF 3:
 
As we went through the economic development planning process, we found that the most important thing we can invest in, and give us the biggest return, is growing our population base. We’re not talking exorbitant growth, but rather strategic growth. Adding 8-10,000 residents over the next few years will do a couple things, it will bring retail options or amenities our citizens said they wanted, that many of us drive out of our community to buy or experience today. It will create a potential workforce businesses and industry can solicit, and very importantly it will spread the ever-rising cost of services our citizens expect over more people and lower our tax burden. 
So, what process are we implementing that will create an insurgence or influx of people to come here to stay? Our first step is having places in which people can live. A house; a home. Literally, a physical structure where one can live and raise a family. 
Home builders in our community are working hard to erect homes and condos, which is great news. We also need to create partnerships with developers of larger subdivisions so we can meet the demand of the market today, and on our timeline. 
How can we attract these builders? 
Most developers of this size and scope use spreadsheets and formulas to make calculated business decisions about when and where to invest. One of the tools they use is a “home market study”. It is report of lagging indicators which lists things like the number of homes of differing sizes and price ranges that have actually sold or changed hands on a monthly basis. One that understands the business can use this tool to identify opportunities and needs in the marketplace. The problem with a community like ours, is we have very little product in a size, quality or design that buyers are looking for. We have a supply problem. Therefore, the data a home study reports is incomplete and doesn’t tell our whole story. 
Since we lack supporting data to prove that there is a need to be filled, we must get the developers to hear our story.  Our story must sell all of leading indicators our community has organically, as well as illustrate the strategic groundwork we have laid to create the environment that a developer can use to make a business decision to invest here.
In order to tell our story, when we meet with these builders, we talk opportunity. We explain the data from our research and planning efforts. We tell them that while our community is not on the radar for residential developers just yet, it should be.
We explain why demand is strong and rising. There are a few key reasons for this. First, our stable of major employers is strong and includes a steel plant, a hospital, and a college. Each of these institutions employs executives, professionals, and managers. Unfortunately, today, most of those individuals are working in Crawfordsville but living elsewhere and commuting. Wouldn’t it be great if more of these highly skilled, well-paid employees chose to live here?
We explain that median income is rising. Not only do our local employers offer high-income positions, but there’s a promising income trend happening to our north. According to the Indiana Bureau of Labor Statistics, Tippecanoe County experienced the largest wage growth in the nation (15.1%) in the first quarter of this year. Professional services and tech companies are contributing to this growth. With strategic planning and the help of a quality home developer who can build larger subdivisions, we can become a bedroom community for booming Lafayette. U.S. Census data shows median household and personal income is on the rise right here as well.
Growth surrounds us. Montgomery County isn’t growing at the pace of our nearest neighbors (like Tippecanoe, Boone, and Hendricks counties). This impressive growth surrounds us, but it’s not here yet. Why is that? We have a safe, friendly community with an active downtown and good schools, plus a stable of major employers. Not to mention the impressive high-income job growth to our near north. So, what gives?
We have a housing supply problem. In part two of this column, I will talk more about our supply problem and what we are doing to combat it.
 
John Frey is a Montgomery County Commissioner and can be reached at john.frey@montgomerycounty.in.gov. And check out the Commish Facebook page @montgomerycountycommish.