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Economic report highlights room for improvement in Miami County

BY JARED KEEVER - jkeever@perutribune.com

A recent report that rated quality of life and economic conditions across all Indiana counties gave Miami County a mixed review with plenty of room for improvement.

The Community Asset Inventory and Rankings report from Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research showed that the county, from 2012 to 2018, improved in only one of six categories, held even in three and declined in two.

Miami County’s improvement showed up in the report’s “people” category which looked at “population growth, poverty rate, unemployment rate, private foundations revenue per capita, and other nonprofit revenue per capita.”

The report’s authors assigned letter grades on a curve with an equal number of A and F grades given and an equal number B and D grades.

“Average performers receive C grades,” the report said.

In the people category, the counties that showed letter grade improvements “had relatively lower unemployment rates, lower poverty, increase in population, and increase in private foundation/non-profit revenues compared to 2012,” it said. “Those counties who had decline in grades experienced relatively higher unemployment and decline in population growth.”

Miami County increased from a letter grade of F to a D.

Health and Arts and Entertainment categories held steady with C grades, and education declined from a B to a C-.

Jim Tidd, executive director of the Miami County Economic Development Authority, said the report seemed to paint a far gloomier picture than he sees from his position.

For instance, he said in terms of education it was his understanding that Maconaquah High School just posted a record graduation rate in 2019 (a representative from the high school couldn’t be reached Friday) and plenty of schools throughout the county are making strides with industrial technology education programs and putting together career pathways for education and nursing jobs.

Some of it might have to with the methodology, Tidd suggested.

For education, the report looked not only at graduation rates, but also evaluated the highest degree earned per student as well as percentage of students passing math and English sections of the ISTEP.

“It ought to look at successes, placement,” Tidd said, rather than examining how students perform on the state test.

He also said a decline in the category that examined the “crime rate, effective tax rate (lower rates = better ranking), main street rate and metropolitan development” didn’t seem entirely indicative of what he sees.

Miami County dropped from a B to a C- in what the report categorized as “government impact and economy.”

Tidd said he couldn’t speak to the crime rate but one would not have to look too far beyond the downtown square to see a significant decrease in vacant storefronts and listed a series of new businesses that have opened recently.

“You know all of those are recent improvements that have been made in the downtown,” he said. “In 2018 we had a lot of that that should have been a part of the evaluation.”

Likely the brightest spot in the report though came from the housing value section that categorized Miami County as “recovering,” meaning that growth in home prices is higher than the state’s average growth, despite lagging home prices when compared statewide.

Tidd said he was glad to see gains there and pointed to efforts like Peru Mayor Gabriel Greer’s focus on eliminating blight in the city as likely contributing factors.

And he said there is plenty of good news to go around.

Despite local hits to local jobs with news of Schneider Electric’s departure and the recently announced reorganization at Woodcrest Manufacturing, which appears to have eliminated dozens of furniture manufacturing jobs, other companies are expanding.

Those include Caterpillar’s Progress Rail facility and the addition of at least two lines and growth from 100,000 square feet to 220,000. And a 106,000-square-foot expansion at Heraeus Electro-Nite represents an investment of $6 million dollars in the area.

There are others too, and Tidd said those companies likely wouldn’t be expanding if the area wasn’t desirable or was failing.

“But again, I go back to what have we gained,” he said.