Seymour chosen for Learning Lab program to improve economic opportunity

Aimed at closing geographic and racial gaps in economic opportunity, the Brookings Institution’s Bass Center for Transformative Placemaking and the Local Initiatives Support Corp. will work with three Indiana cities— Seymour, Michigan City and Warsaw — over the next year to co-create community-centered economic inclusion programs.

The effort is supported by Indiana Economic Development Corp. and is focused on small cities located in Indiana’s READI program regions. The lead convening organizations representing each Indiana town in the cohort are: Jackson County Industrial Development Corp. (Seymour), Economic Development Corp. of Michigan City and Kosciusko Economic Development Corp. (Warsaw).

These organizations will be working closely with other city, community and regional stakeholders to co-create and implement CCEI efforts in each city.

“We are extremely excited to be selected as a part of this program,” said Jim Plump, executive director of Jackson County Industrial Development Corp. “The value that this study can have on our future efforts is tremendous, and we can’t wait to get into the actual process in the coming months.”

Plump said a four-person core team in Seymour-Jackson County has been assembled and includes Plump, Seymour Mayor Matt Nicholson, Dan Davis, president and chief executive officer of the Community Foundation of Jackson County, and Jackie Hill with JCIDC.

But more involvement from the community is needed, he said.

“We are in the process of putting together our advisory team and hope to have that together by the end of the year,” said Plump, adding that anyone interested in being involved should contact his office at 812-522-4951.

Through this 12-month Learning Lab, Brookings and LISC will offer research, technical assistance and structured opportunities for the three local teams (the cohort) to come together to discuss specific challenges and best practice strategies for advancing community-centered economic inclusion.

The individual CCEI agendas created through the lab will position each city to effectively engage in the growing sectors of its regional economy to expand local economic opportunity. Importantly, the agendas also will outline strategies to address persistent economic stagnation and inequity by coordinating and concentrating workforce, small business, real estate development and placemaking efforts.

Following the completion of the lab, Brookings and LISC will synthesize the learnings from Indiana in a playbook for a national audience that highlights how rural and small cities can work with regional leaders and their states to foster greater equity and prosperity.

“I am excited to work with the Brookings Institute to see what information we can learn along the way to benefit our community for years to come,” Nicholson said. “Then when we are complete for them to share their findings with the nation via a playbook to show how all communities can benefit from each other.”

Through READI, 17 regions across the state that represent all 92 counties are moving forward with projects and programs designed to enhance Indiana’s regions for current and future generations of Hoosiers.

Collectively, the state’s $500 million investment is expected to yield an additional $9.86 billion public, private and nonprofit dollars invested (19.72:1 investment leverage ratio) in enhancing Indiana’s quality of life, quality of place and quality of opportunity.

“This is an amazing opportunity for smaller communities to become the focus of inclusive economic development in the state,” said Vincent Ash, vice president of development for IEDC. “While well-intentioned, many economic development strategies miss integral needs because they’re developed from the top down. Sourcing from the community will go a long way toward ensuring greater economic growth and equity in communities that need it.”

Further, he said he is looking forward to sharing these community-centered agendas with a national audience to help position Indiana as a leader in inclusive economic development.

“We are excited to work with local leaders in Indiana in their efforts to develop strategies for connecting people and businesses in disinvested communities to regional economic opportunity,” said Jennifer Vey, senior fellow and director of Brookings’ Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Center for Transformative Placemaking. “We hope the learnings from this work will be helpful to other small cities and rural towns who want to advance equity and economic inclusion through a community-centered approach.”

Bill Taft, senior vice president of economic development for LISC, said after implementing economic inclusion strategies in 12 larger cities, they are eager to launch this Learning Lab with local leaders in Michigan City, Seymour and Warsaw to accelerate investment and opportunity in each community

“As a native Hoosier, I’m excited that Indiana’s smaller cities will be co-developing inclusive growth strategies with Brookings and LISC that will be used across the country,” he said.

Brookings’ Bass Center and LISC believe the CCEI process can help smaller and more rural towns advance economic opportunity and improve quality of life for their residents. This work is particularly timely to ensure that local investment decisions regarding federal and state pandemic recovery funds have as great of an impact as possible.