Indianapolis Must Reinvent Itself Again

Source: The Urbanophile

Indianapolis has often been referred to as the “Diamond of the Rust Belt,” but its performance goes far beyond just being the best house on a bad block. Yet despite outperforming not just the Midwest, but America as a whole, long term challenges facing Marion County put the region at risk.

Few seem truly aware of how impressive metro Indy’s performance has been. Compared other large metros in the greater Midwest, Indy was #1 for population growth from 2000-2009, growing almost 14%, or close to 60% faster than the US as a whole. It also had positive net domestic migration – people moving in minus people moving out – of over 70,000 people while virtually every other Midwest metro was bleeding people. That’s like the entire population of Fishers packing it up from where ever they lived and moving to Indianapolis. People are voting with their feet in favor of Indianapolis.

Indy was also #1 in job growth, adding 19,000 jobs in that same period while the US as a whole lost them. It is #2 in GDP per capita, the basic measure of economic output per person, trailing only the Twin Cities. It even outranked Chicago, showing that far from the stereotypes of a low end economy, metro Indianapolis is in fact a high value economy.

But despite this great regional story, all is not rosy. In particular, Marion County as a whole is now starting to show signs of the urban struggles we typically associate with the inner city. For example, while its population has continued to grow, it has slowed to a crawl. It lost more than 50,000 people to migration in the last nine years. And it lost almost 60,000 jobs – a huge number. A report commissioned by Mayor Ballard early in his administration noted that three of the four largest townships in Marion County have declining assessed valuation. And the township school districts now largely trail those in the collar counties for graduation rates.

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