MUNCIE — The quality of life in northeast is good, but not great, according to new rankings from Ball State University released June 10.
The university’s Community Asset Inventory and Rankings was recently updated for 2018, with the goal of the annual report being to assess the quality of life and economic conditions within each Indiana county. The original report was created in 2012.
In this year’s report, northeast Indiana’s rankings were a mixed bag, with the region generally scoring high for state public amenities and health; getting average grades for people, local amenities and arts, entertainment and recreation; and getting lower scores for education and government and economy.
A few standouts in the report including Allen County getting an A grade for arts, entertainment and recreation, LaGrange and Whitley counties scoring an A in the health category and LaGrange, Noble and Steuben counties all getting top marks for state public amenities.
Low points in the report included none of the six counties scoring better than a C+ grade in education and DeKalb, LaGrange, Noble and Steuben counties all getting a D+ or worse in the government impact and economy category.
The report also briefly examined its ratings of human capital, identifying some key trends in this year’s report. In doing so, the report showed strong correlation between a county’s grade and its population growth and income.
“We find that counties with higher grades had population gains, higher per capita income, and higher GDP per capita,” the report states. “Those counties receiving ‘D’ and ‘F’ experienced population decline and lower standard of living.”
A-grade counties had income growths of about 8% since 2010, B-grade counties grew about 3%, C counties had little or slightly negative growth, while D and F counties lost 2% of more population.
For per-capita income, the breakdowns are about $50,000 for A, $42,000 for B, $40,000 for C, $37,500 for D and $35,000 for F.
The report is broken down by the seven different categories:
The people category scores communities on the condition of the population for factors including population growth, poverty rate, unemployment, private foundation revenue and other nonprofit revenue.
The counties posted above-average grades in this category, led by LaGrange and Whitley counties with B+ ratings. Steuben was the worst of the six with a C+.
Outside of Allen County, population growth has been nearly stagnant in the rural counties, but the region has benefited from extremely low unemployment in the rebound since the Great Recession that ended mid-2009.
Compared to the first report in 2012, LaGrange and Noble have both improved in grades, previously scoring in the D-range in the initial listing.
The category focuses on the health of the population, with a focus on the health of the workforce and its cost to insure.
Factors in this category include fertility rate and death rate, poor health rates, motor vehicle death rate, cancer and diseases rates and access to healthy food.
As a whole, the region scored well. LaGrange and Whitley counties received A grades, while Allen, DeKalb, Noble and Steuben counties received B scores. Noble, Steuben and Whitley counties improved since 2012, while Allen County dropped a grade level in the last six years.
The education scores look at the education level of the local workforce as well as K-12 schooling. Factors including ISTEP pass rates, highest educational attainment of the population and high school graduation rate.
The region collected middling scores in this category, with the exception of Noble County posting a D- score.
It’s also one category where the region has lost some ground, with Steuben, DeKalb and Whitley counties all dropping a grade level since 2012.
Government and economy
This category looks at how government influences and economic conditions will affect the likelihood of new businesses settling in the community. The metric looks at crime rate, effective tax rate, main street rate and metropolitan development.
Whitley County and Allen County did well, scoring B+ and B-, respectively, while the four corner counties ranked poorly. DeKalb County received a D+, LaGrange and Noble got D’s and Steuben County received an F score.
Allen County moved up a grade level, while the other five counties were in the same range as six years ago.
Arts, entertainment and recreation
The category looked at private offerings for residents and visitors, taking into account figures including per-capita income, average compensation and number of marinas, fairgrounds, athletic fields, golf courses among other factors.
Allen County, with a growing downtown, cultural expansion and amenities like Parkview Field, clinched a top A ranking. The remaining counties in the region were all ranked as Cs, with LaGrange County getting a C- despite its major tourism hotspot in Shipshewana.
In this category, metropolitan and college-town counties generally scored high, with areas including Lake County (northwest Indiana), Delaware County (Ball State and Muncie), Marion County (Indianapolis), Hamilton County (Carmel, Noblesville, Fishers), Vigo County (Terre Haute) and Vanderburgh County (Evansville) all getting A grades.
Changeable public amenities
This category focused on local outdoor amenities, such as public parks, historic sites, fishing and boating areas, camping or RV parks, trails and beaches.
Lake-rich LaGrange, Noble and Steuben counties did well in this area, scoring high in the category, while Allen, Whitley and DeKalb County scored average.
State public amenities
Unlike the local amenities, this category was focused more toward natural resources in the communities, scoring counties on aspects such as forests, fish and wildlife areas, nature preserves, bodies of water and shore lines.
Again, lake-rich LaGrange, Noble and Steuben counties all scored 1s, tops on the 1-5 scale. Allen and Whitley counties each received an average 3, while DeKalb County was on the lower end with a 4.