Nancy Franke: We are better than that


After spending well over an half hour on crutches outside, I was able to determine there was no chance I was going to get an opportunity to speak at the March 25 city council meeting. Instead, here is what I wanted to share (hopefully, council members and Mayor Matthew Nicholson will see it):

Thank you to our council members for allowing time for the public to speak.

I was asked at church the day before if I was going to attend the meeting. My first response was, “No, because I’ve seen enough of some of the ugliness on some FB comments and just don’t want to be a witness to any more.” As I continued my conversation with this other person, I was able to correct some of the false narratives that have been circulating on social media over the past several weeks. After our conversation, I realized that I probably did need to attend the meeting, after all.

We actually have a dichotomy of different concerns going on here. First, our community seems to be caught in the crosshairs of what is going on at the national level with the current immigration crisis and a congress which is not working together toward solving this major issue, along with the reasons why we have so many counted as illegal/undocumented immigrants (hint: it’s because we have an archaic immigration policy from the Reagan era in which no one has done anything substantial over the decades to bring the needed reforms necessary for what we are dealing with today and we have been dealing with a horrendous amount of backlog in the immigration system).

We also are dealing with an overall lack of communication or an involved community when it comes to what has been going on in Seymour for several decades. This includes not only the growing immigrant population, but also how we are trying to take care of many other issues such as the homeless, drug epidemic, affordable housing and planning for the future of our community. These conversations have been taking place over the years and there have been people working on those very concerns. I have stood side-by-side with others as we have served meals, went to the tent sites of some homeless to get them the help they needed, offered gas, given vouchers to hotels to get people out of the cold, stayed with those who watched their loved one overdose and almost die, sat in on meetings as people worked together to draw up plans for affordable housing. Work is happening, but usually by people who truly just want to serve our community and not get involved with “look at me and what I am doing,” type attitudes.

There has been a great amount of misinformation and misnomers being shared on social media regarding the Burkart Opportunity Zone initiative. And, in turn, there has been a great amount of ignorance shared, as well. I admit, I went down the rabbit hole and read some of the discussions online regarding this topic and I was more than disappointed to hear or read comments by people that I know personally, some of whom I even consider good friends. I really had to step back and realize that most of the comments are coming from those who just do not know what has been going on over the past years with JCIDC, our industrial leaders and companies. Call it ignorance. Call it out-of-touch. Or, just realize that in the world of global information, we still miss it by a landslide getting information out to the community on a regular basis.

Information has been shared regarding development needs (at least upwards of 10 years from my count) and practically everyone in any type of leadership position in our community has been aware of the needs and developments over those years (or, at least should have been in their particular leadership position). It has been shared periodically at public meetings, such as city council and Seymour School Board meetings as well as during this time the March 25 meeting. Yet, for some reason which I cannot understand, a few weeks ago, several of those in leadership felt the need to create an irrational “concern” and stir the pot on social media.

Within the pot stirring and postings, a question was posed — do we want to continue focusing on high-production industrial jobs? Since 2010, while serving on the local school board, a resounding yes was shared with the board members loud and clear, even so much as stating they wished with all their being that our schools would stop pushing college education so much, and instead, focus on encouraging our students that college may not be the only track to consider, but to also be open to high-production career paths, as well. This was pushed by the very same people and leaders in that very room during the meeting who are condemning this initiative focus. As a school, we answered the call to families, the public and our industries by upgrading our curriculum, providing courses with high-level skills (look at what we have worked on over the years at our Science & Ag Research Center), and creating numerous PLTW (Project Lead the Way) educational/ready-for-the-workforce paths for our students so they can be successful in whatever career path they choose.

It also has been pointed out on social media that our community has been left an “unbalanced” community and is vulnerable to the inability to retain or recruit highly skilled workers or businesses. The IEDC (Indiana Economic Development Corporation) plan does not limit our community to success — if we are limited to any of these hopes and dreams for our community, then we as a community are at fault. Consider the immigration percentages of Tippecanoe County (West Lafayette) at 11%, Bartholomew County (Columbus) at 10%, and Cass County (Logansport) at 9% — all three have what is considered the highest percentage of immigrants in Indiana. Each of these Indiana communities is highly functioning, has created a solid balance and is attracting high-level workers and companies.

For a long time, immigrants and refugees have been an integral part of the workforce — immigrants account for upwards of 10% of business owners throughout the state.

There is no doubt all of us want what is best for Seymour. We treasure our “small town” community where we can raise our families, provide a solid education and still lead the way in progressive avenues.

I am sure none of us want to be Fishers, Noblesville or Carmel (by the way, all great places for various reasons, but they don’t have the small town vibe that I am sure many in Jackson County hold dearly to their hearts), but we do want a quality community for growth and success instead of falling into the ‘interstate-stopover-spot’ we are in right now.

Looking at the overall Burkart Opportunity Zone Inclusive Economic Agenda for Seymour — it has aspects in each area that provide our community with progress and growth in the coming decades. Progress that will not only keep our children closer to home but will bring in many who will help us place Seymour, Indiana, on the map as a successful Hoosier community. We can make this plan work for us without falling into the rhetoric that simply because a development company is using “woke” language that this would bring down the demise of our community.

We are better than that.

We can still bring our community to exceptional levels in spite of who is behind the development plans.

Nancy Franke is a resident of Seymour and an educator. Send comments to [email protected].

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