|By ANN ALLEN
ROCHESTER, Ind. — Facilitators at the Rochester community input session on Indiana’s proposed Rural Indiana Strategy for Excellence (RISE) took more questions back to Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman than they presented in a 37-page draft put together by a 150-member committee representing the state’s diversity.
In it, Skillman, who also serves as Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development and oversees the Indiana Office of Energy and Defense Development, wrote, “I envision a rural Indiana that is characterized by genuine economic opportunity, responsible stewardship of natural resources, and strong sustainable communities that provide a high quality of life for those who call rural Indiana home. We cannot become a state of haves and have-nots. Achieving this vision will benefit all Hoosiers.”
No one argued with that premise, but most wondered how best to protect Indiana’s rural agriculture.
“Everyone wants to live in a rural area but they don’t want agriculture,” said one man. “They don’t want to hear tractors or smell manure. It doesn’t work both ways. How do we develop rural Indiana without making it suburban?”
Unlike other sessions conducted throughout the state, the meeting in Rochester was quiet and non-argumentative. Attendees came from most of the counties in the northwestern corner of the state but consisted primarily of community foundation representatives, entrepreneurs and persons interested in promoting tourism.
Concerns raised included many needs - coordination of RISE, a 2020 vision for the Indiana countryside, with a strategic ag plan, land protection strategies, legislative tools to help local government, a clarification of the term “sustainable.”
With the decline of small cities and towns isolating many areas, attendees agreed that making broadband the “new” transportation device and urged legislators to realize that focusing on large cities has a negative impact of small communities.
Facilitator Spencer Grover, vice president of the Indiana Hospital and Health Association noted that 17 Indiana counties have no hospitals; two have no delivery rooms. Others reported a lack of medical doctors and said it is difficult for rural areas to attract health care professionals. “Rural people pay their bills but cannot always afford health care and insurance,” said one.
Other concerns included resistance to change, legislation that fragments rural communities, a feeling of mistrust between urban and rural areas, lack of good jobs, misunderstanding of tourism assets.
“We got rid of the inventory tax,” one man protested. “A farmer’s inventory is his land and that is still taxed. It is unfair.”
Deploring empty main streets, others complained that there are no incentives for small businesses.
“How do we compete with Wal-Mart?” one asked.
With a changing population, others noted the need to break down language and cultural barriers both ways.
“Hispanics have a good work ethic,” observed one person. “We need to help them, lest they fall into the welfare system.”
“Our kids aren’t going to have anything,” said Toby Seiler, an entrepreneur. A chorus of complaints about unfunded mandates and the difficulty a small or new business has in obtaining financing echoed agreement.
By evening’s end, the group agreed that RISE needs to keep on meeting, it has to be kept out of government, and be people-driven if it is to develop an advocacy to get communities working together for a regional voice.
Monty Henderson, director of economic development with Work Force Develop-ment Strategies, listed questions from the audience. Steve Dailey, chancellor of Ivy Tech, Kokomo, served as educator.
This farm news was published in the May 3, 2006 issue of Farm World.