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Economic development? It is us

My Opinion
John Kessler, Indiana Policy Review Foundation

‘Gov. Eric J. Holcomb today signed an executive order creating a new cabinet-level position in state government to serve as Indiana’s chief talent and recruiting official.’ ‘July 27 press release
Will the economic development projects currently being pursued by Indiana make the state more attractive to young people? I can’t foretell the future, but I doubt that they will. What the politicians think will attract young people may not be what young people are really looking for.
I recently had the opportunity to travel to Providence, R.I., to teach economics at a summer camp at Brown University. On the plane, I sat next to a nice young woman in her 20s who was coming to Rhode Island to do some training for teachers. She is a teacher at a charter school in Silicon Valley that uses technology to teach their students, and she was coming to train other teachers how to use the program.
As we talked about education and life, she mentioned that she had a serious boyfriend and they wanted to get married. The problem was they weren’t sure how they would ever be able to have a family or buy a home ‘ even with her teaching income and his income as a firefighter ‘ because of the cost of living in the Bay Area.
I hear stories like this all the time when I travel. People complaining that the cost of living has risen so much in major cities like Chicago, New York, L.A. and San Francisco that young college graduates are not sure if they can afford to live there, even with a good job. Housing prices are a major part of the problem.
One young man I met this summer was really excited because he was recently able to find a place to stay in San Francisco for $600 a month; he rents the closet in someone’s apartment and sleeps in a hammock. My young teacher friend from the Bay Area is paying $3,000 a month for a small two-bedroom apartment and she said the closet seemed like a really good deal. I then told her that there was a place where, for less than half that amount, one could buy a 3,000-square-foot house with a three-car garage and a quarter acre of land. Her eyes lit up in disbelief, so I told her my story.
I understand her concerns about the future. My wife and I lived in Phoenix. The cost of living was high enough that we needed two incomes to make ends meet for just the two of us. My wife always dreamed of being able to stay at home and raise children, and we were not sure how we would ever swing that if we stayed in Phoenix.
When I got offered a job in Fort Wayne, the primary reason we decided to move from Arizona was because we could afford to have a family. We said goodbye to friends and family and set off on an adventure to make the life that we wanted, not because of Parkview Field and a renovated downtown, but because Fort Wayne offered the promise of the future that we wanted.
Today, we have four children, all born in Fort Wayne, and my wife has the privilege of living her dream as a stay-at-home mom.
We don’t need a $100-million riverfront development to attract young people; we already have everything they are looking for. We just need to embrace it and advertise it. If Fort Wayne wants to attract and keep young people, we should pursue policies that continue to make our housing affordable, make our city safe and make our schools great.
Then, we should go to San Francisco, Chicago and New York and advertise the low cost of living and how college graduates can move here and build the life that they want. They don’t need a city created in the image of what politicians of a different generation think is attractive. Instead, they will create the ‘cool’ city that they want. They will come and they will make the city fun and exciting just by being here.
As we landed in Rhode Island, I handed the young woman my business card and said, ‘If you really want to get married and have a family, there is a place you can move and afford to do that. Come join me in Fort Wayne, Ind.’ She laughed as she replied, ‘I already wrote it down; Fort Wayne. If it is as good as you say, we are already packed.’
Editor’s note: John Kessler, an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation and head of the IPFW Center for Economic Education, is an economics instructor at Indiana University-Purdue University in Fort Wayne. Just about any community in Indiana could be substituted for Fort Wayne in his story.