How much money flows across Indiana county lines each year? According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, in 2018, the in-flow of earnings to Indiana counties from places both within and outside the state was $74 billion or 36% of the earnings received by Hoosier residents. Does that resonate with you? It demonstrates why informed people stress real regionalism.
Real regionalism recognizes the opportunities, the costs and the benefits of workers moving between counties. It means facilitating and, where appropriate, funding commuting.
That is the philosophy behind the massive expenditure on extending the South Shore Line from Hammond to Dyer in Lake County and improving the service between Gary, Michigan City and South Bend. That same motivation is behind the long-term effort of Indianapolis to extend its public transit system into the surrounding counties.
Real regionalism is not getting together for lunch one or twice a year and exchanging hearty elbow bumps. Real regionalism doesn’t mean tepid vows of cooperation. It is based on facts about real connectivity, not maps drawn by newly appointed nephews and nieces in Indianapolis.
Of course real regionalism involves transportation. The Indiana Department of Transportation makes the big decisions about our highways. InDOT does a good job fulfilling its statewide mission.
However, many county roads are narrow and poorly paved to the county line where they “connect” with an unpaved deer path from the next county. Often, we have to search for the next paved road going in our direction, without any signage from either county. The opportunity to improve connectivity between counties is neglected.
Similarly, workforce development is a regional issue, but there is no regional school authority. School districts clutch their teaching like a Hoosier protects his wallet in Times Square. The internet is proving the boundaries of yesterday are archaic. The best instruction can be shared, and inferior instruction can be eliminated.
We don’t have Development Agencies, Tourism Boards, or Education Councils with authority to meet regional needs. With so much interaction between counties, we need to consider more inter- county cooperation.
In 2018, five small counties (Brown, Spencer, Franklin, Ohio and Union) had more than a 70% dependency on other counties for the earnings of their residents. In all, 43 of our 92 counties depend on other countries for 50% or more of their earned income.
At the other end of the scale are 20 counties exporting more earnings than they import. They often bear most of the costs and derive only some of the benefits of commuting. The other 72 — are they “winners” or “parasites” in this exchange?
Counties that import and those that export earnings often complain about these realities. But these interchanges are growing and require explicit support for the economic health of our state. It means new relationships among counties, including regional tax-supported operations.