Economist Michael Hicks (who you should follow on Twitter if other aspects of that platform have not yet driven you away) has an eye opening column in the Muncie Star press on the connection of quality of life to economic opportunities entitled “Economic opportunity now in high quality of life places.” As I summarize this, any errors are my own, so you’d be well served to read the piece. But, in the past, quality of life was tied into other variables (e.g. housing capacity and availability of jobs that pay well) in terms of attracting population. In the Midwest, our housing capacity situation is better than what’s usually available in other locations. And jobs are more mobile than they once were — when manufacturing was booming, people had to come to the plant. The types of jobs that tend to be growing these days are easier to do remotely or to move to locations having a lot of qualified people. So, quality of life is the main thing attracting people.
And it seems to be those quality of life issues important to younger people which would be more significant; because they’re the ones more likely to move. The kinds of things that stand out: great schools, low crime, a welcoming social climate, and local recreational opportunities. Oceans, a warm climate, or mountains would probably help, but: a) we can’t do much about that; and b) they don’t seem critical. A business-friendly tax climate isn’t the make or break issue that a number of our politicians would like us to believe. In fact, if it’s a choice between low taxes or high quality of life, the smart money is spending it on quality of life.
A lot of this resonates with the points of emphasis in the Greater Lafayette’s “Good to Great” report from 2012. I haven’t tracked these things, but I’m sure it’s a mixed bag in terms of how well we’ve implemented the recommendations in the report. But having had the study and having moved forward on some of the recommendations probably puts Tippecanoe County ahead of the curve. I’ll surely be drawing on these resources when I start banging the drum again on West Lafayette school referendum which has to be renewed in the near future. Meanwhile, Indiana as a whole is shooting itself in the foot by adopting ever more restrictive social policies, eroding the quality of our schools with privatization schemes, and lowering taxes in the hopes that we can do “cheap” better than other places that are also racing to the bottom.