The economic development plan for Brown County which was passed to county leaders last month contains few surprises.
We’ve all heard that the county’s population is projected to decrease over the next 30 years, which could result in a higher tax burden on those who remain; that we’re one of the oldest counties in the state in terms of age of residents; and that we have infrastructure challenges like road conditions, limited access to high-speed internet, and concerns about the future of our wastewater and water systems.
The purpose of this plan was to map paths out of those challenges so that Brown County can weather what could be some tough economic times ahead — while also preserving the main reason that people want to visit and live here: our natural environment.
The entire 79-page plan first became public after a Nov. 20 public hearing with the Brown County Commissioners and Brown County Redevelopment Commission. However, neither group had read the entire plan by the time of the hearing, and the public hadn’t had an opportunity to see it yet.
A brief draft of it had been presented at a public forum conducted at the Brown County Playhouse in June, but it did not contain the level of detail that this most recent document does.
The redevelopment commission had hired Thomas P. Miller and Associates in 2018 to write this plan, using $40,000 of grant money from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs. The county also kicked in $4,500 as a local match.
Unlike the many other plans the county and town have received over the years, this plan was billed as something that would not “just sit on a shelf,” because it would contain goals as well as strategies for how to meet them.
The redevelopment commission — a group of volunteers who are appointed by the county commissioners and county council — will be responsible for driving the plan, it says. The redevelopment commission would pull in other community partners and agencies as necessary or appropriate. Redevelopment commission members serve one-year terms at the pleasure of their appointing agencies.
The county commissioners and redevelopment commission are scheduled to meet jointly to talk about this plan and other topics on Wednesday, Dec. 11 at 5 p.m. at the County Office Building’s Salmon Room. That will be after the county commissioners’ regular meeting, which will start at 4 p.m. in the same room.
The whole plan — which also includes a two-page executive summary — is posted at bcdemocrat.com with this story.
The county commissioners and redevelopment commission will have an opportunity to make changes to the plan before it is finalized.
County commissioners Diana Biddle and Jerry Pittman voted on Nov. 20 to accept the plan as presented “contingent on possible amendments.” Commissioners President Dave Anderson was absent. Because the commissioners hadn’t read the plan yet, basically this motion was to enable the plan creators to get paid, the county attorney said.
The plan is not binding, meaning that even though the commissioners have accepted it, they are not required to do any of the projects it suggests. “It’s just a tool to help you go forward,” explained Mike Kleinpeter, the grant administrator and one of the people who was paid to get the plan to this point.
To gather information for the report, Thomas P. Miller and Associates reviewed past studies, such as Vision 2020, and economic and population data from state and other sources; conducted a survey and discussion in January in Brown County and online; and talked directly with 11 “key stakeholders” around the community. The online survey reached 185 people and the January discussion and survey reached about 20 people.
What it says
About a third of the report is analysis of the current conditions in Brown County, like workforce, housing, jobs, land use and infrastructure.
The next 15 pages lay out an “economic development vision.”
The remainder is a series of appendices including existing plans and studies, details on some “target industries” for Brown County, and results of the community surveys that went into this plan.
Overall, the local economy that this plan is envisioned to create would:
- build upon the county’s natural environment;
- provide housing and jobs for a wide range of individuals;
- encourage the county’s longstanding strength as a hub for tourism;
- establish a positive environment for business creation; and
- collaborate across the region for industry development.
The specific goals in the “vision” portion are as follows:
Environment — preserve and protect Brown County.
Objective 1: Assess and mitigate potential environmental risks presented from residential solid waste systems. The planners suggest that Brown County continue evaluating its septic system records; establish a “home sale and rental inventory to enforce septic inspections at move-in”; and design/improve various methods of water delivery.
Objective 2: Address blight, trash and litter throughout the county. The planners suggest identifying primary sites for cleanup and enforcement; helping residents find ways to dispose of trash; creating protocol for code enforcement; and establishing an “environmental enforcement program with codes to address litter, illegal dumping, and persistent blight throughout the county.”
Objective 3: Protect the county from natural disasters, fire and environmental degradation. Suggestions are to align economic development activities with emergency management processes and controls; to “identify areas of support for fire protection service to continue offering volunteer fire protection services to the county”; and to document and create systems to remove stormwater.
Objective 4: Establish a countywide land conservation program. The partners who would assist in this have not yet been identified.
Population — establish county as a home for young families and talented individuals.
Objective 1: Improve the capacity of infrastructure to support additional residential development and entrepreneurial activities. This includes expanding broadband to be able to encourage telecommuting as well as general connectivity for all residents; documenting, expanding, repairing and replacing county roads and bridges; and expanding and consolidating existing sewer systems.
Objective 2: Develop affordable and diverse housing options to support existing and future residents. A regional housing study was recently completed; the planners suggest that the local redevelopment commission leads this process to help identify the gaps in Brown County’s market; identifies and develops available land for housing development; and engages developers in the region.
Objective 3: Develop amenities to encourage and support entrepreneurial efforts in the county. This involves identifying any existing barriers to small business expansion by surveying local businesses; and developing coworking spaces for entrepreneurs, especially focusing on “the existing population of engaged retirees.”
Tourism — foster county’s identity as a destination for the arts, outdoors and historic small-town charm.
Objective 1: Enhance and support the existing arts presence. This would include marketing the products made and sold in Brown County, increasing visitors’ awareness of all the cultural and outdoor activities here, and establishing more annual events.
Objective 2: Expand hotels and traveler accommodation options. “Boutique” or “modern” hotels should be investigated, the study says.
Regionalism — support Brown County’s interests within the 11-county Indiana Uplands region.
Objective 1: Collaborate with surrounding regional partners to develop a regional approach to workforce, business attraction, growth and development. This would start with identifying ways that Brown County is already collaborating with our neighbors; identifying key contact people and plans to address any issues at the regional level; and coordinating vision plans with other counties.
Objective 2: Market Brown County’s identity and unique characteristics within the Indiana Uplands region. The planners suggest that Brown County promote a unified brand across all planning efforts and identify how it can use existing partnerships in greater ways.
Objective 3: Leverage the growing presence of the healthcare industry in Brown County to connect residents and workers to opportunities within the region. This would involve surveying the needs in these industries right now and determining what other training, housing or other boosts they would need to grow; and offering increased training to people already in the field to expand the county’s “concentration of trained workers capable of meeting demand.”
To where from here?
The Brown County Redevelopment Commission as a whole hadn’t yet reviewed this plan at the time of the first public hearing, so how it might be carried out hasn’t been publicly discussed or decided. Over the past several months, redevelopment commission members have been discussing what tools they would need to identify where it would be smart to build new housing, and they haven’t been able to come to a consensus on that question yet.
Discussion on where to go from here is expected to continue at the next meeting of the redevelopment commission, set for 5 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 11 at the County Office Building. It also will involve the county commissioners.
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Read the entire economic development plan for Brown County below.
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