To the point week 1/4/07

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LAST WEEK WE SPENT some time looking ahead to 2007; so I thought this week, as we produce our end of the year wrap up, it might be a good time to look back at the year we just finished.

I’ve had people ask me what I thought the biggest story or event was in Switzerland County this year. That’s a difficult question to answer with just one thing, but after giving it some thought, I’d think I can give my opinion on the matter.

Indiana found us.

Ever look at a map of Indiana, and when you look at where Switzerland County is, there’s nothing there? No towns. Maybe highways 56 and 156 drawn through it, but nothing else?

That was the mentality of much of this county when my family moved here in the early 1980s. I remember sitting in a commissioners meeting when then-commissioner Charlie Haskell suggested that our county motto should be:

“Indiana doesn’t want us, and Kentucky won’t take us.”

There was a lot of truth to that notion back then. This county didn’t have enough people to have any type of political clout; so lawmakers at the state and national levels didn’t pay much attention.

So what if Switzerland County people wanted industry and more jobs, state lawmakers made sure that those factories went to larger communities with bigger voter bases.

Who cares if Switzerland County doesn’t have adequate roads? The state needed to make sure that the big cities saw the highway dollars.

I remember traveling to Indianapolis to meet with State Economic Development officials. During the general discussion, someone from our Switzerland County group noted that we had the potential for many of the same attractions that Madison had.

“Oh, you’ll never be like Madison,” the official said. “Madison has the river.”

After several seconds of blank stares, our group quickly came to the realization that we couldn’t convince anyone of our efforts if they didn’t even know where in the state we were.

Another trip to Indianapolis to lobby INDOT officials for road improvements led to a very nice official telling us that she understood our situation, but that we had to be patient, because cities like Lafayette were getting their roads resurfaced.

After commenting that INDOT was probably digging up better pavement in Lafayette than we were driving on in Switzerland County – the meeting came to an end.

But now, apparently after filling up the middle and other three corners of the state, Indiana economic development is finally moving this way.

Is it Belterra? I don’t know, but its presence here hasn’t hurt.

This past year has seen major road improvements ongoing that will help people – and business – move more easily through our county. The new connector road between the Markland Dam and the interstate will bring incredible growth to this region; and – like it or not – our new industrial park is perched in a perfect position to snag some of that new industry.

But it’s not going to come beating down our door; as Jefferson County just approved funds to buy land to create another industrial park there.

That means competition, and that means that this entire community needs to be focused on the types of industry that we want in our park, and then be proactive in going out and getting it.

Our roads are improving. Our bridges are improving. Our access is improving.

I believe that all of those things will bring many changes to this area, not only in the coming year – but in the coming decade and beyond.

But now that the state knows we’re here, are we prepared to be seen?

It’s sort of like a dog chasing a car – what do you do when you actually catch one?

Throughout the more than 20 years that I have lived here, any and all change has been met with suspicion and controversy.

I wasn’t here when the high school was built, but there are still scars more than 30 years later. We simply cannot allow the past to continue to affect our future – or that future will be someone elses.

Because while we’re arguing and posturing, business and industry is moving on. While we’re debating tax breaks and incentives; other communities have them in hand.

The rest of the world knows that we’re out here, now, so we need to be prepared to move forward in 2007 without stumbling back into our old ways of thinking.