Migration trends impact Greencastle

Thursday, June 1, 2006

Third in a five-part series on the results of the Hometown Greencastle Alliance survey.

People are moving to more rural areas to find more affordable housing, and there is a substantial group of non-residents working in Greencastle who would consider Greencastle as a place to live. At the same time, Greencastle faces some challenges in the range of housing options it currently offers potential residents. These are some of the findings that have come to light in the research completed by the Hometown Greencastle Alliance.

Forty percent of the respondents to the local opinion survey conducted by the Alliance have lived in Greencastle for more than 10 years, but an additional 12 percent have lived in the community for less than a year. Of the people who have moved to Greencastle in the last 10 years, the most frequently stated reason was "employment in Greencastle." Living near family came in second. A short commute and living near spouse or partner's work also rated as top motivators, as did safety, the cost of housing, and being a friendly place to live.

In the local opinion study, those who work in Greencastle but live elsewhere were asked to choose which of these statements best describes their situation: a) they would consider moving to Greencastle, b) they have not made the decision to move to the community one way or the other, or c) they have chosen not to live in Greencastle, and will not likely do so in the future. Those who have made a definite decision not to live in Greencastle (55 percent) rate the community below average in nearly all the attributes studied. We can safely assume that this group has attitudes that would be difficult to influence. On the other hand, 45 percent is either considering a move to Greencastle or has not made a decision one way or another, and this group rated the community's features and amenities higher than did the general population.

Commuting patterns provide some additional insight into how Greencastle may attract capable workers. According to the Indiana Business Research Center (IBRC) 15.6 percent of the Putnam County workforce (3,122 workers) is made up of people from other counties (primarily Clay and Owen), and 25.2 percent of the Putnam county labor force commutes to jobs outside of the county, primarily in Hendricks and Marion counties.

According to the latest American Community Survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated 125,735 people moved to Indiana in 2003. Most (36 percent) moved from elsewhere in the Midwest, while 29 percent moved from the South, 18 percent from the West, 10 percent from abroad, and 7 percent from the Northeast. Among the smaller communities in the Central Indiana, Avon experienced the most new residents from out of county. However, Greencastle experienced more new residents originating from out-of-state locations than the other cities studied, perhaps due to DePauw faculty and corporate recruitment placements.

The IBRC states that between 2000 and 2004, the unincorporated areas of Indiana gained two-and-a-half times the number of residents (111,000) than its cities and towns (43,000). Clearly, Indiana is experiencing a reverse-migration, that is, out-of-the-city, movement by its population.

Two powerful quotes help describe how these statistics may have a great deal of meaning for Greencastle. In a July, 2005 In Context piece, Carol Rogers of the Indiana Business Research Center (IBRC) postures, "Is living close to the city, but not actually in the city, the wave of Indiana's future? Analysis of the latest population estimates for Indiana's cities, towns, and the unincorporated parts of our counties lead to that tantalizing question. People are making a distinct choice, a choice that allows them to be in close proximity to cities and towns in their counties, but not living within the city or town limits."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Greencastle and Putnam County will experience greater than what is considered to be a natural increase in population in the next thirty-five years. It is in this scenario that Putnam County joins Hamilton, Hendricks, Boone, and Johnson counties, all of which have seen considerable growth in the last decade, in the expansion pattern associated with the greater Indianapolis region. Interestingly, Montgomery County is not projected to see the same degree of growth as Putnam County.

"Greencastle can make the choice to benefit from, or be burdened by, these trends," observed Tim Gierke, President of the Greencastle/Putnam County Development Center and member of the Hometown Alliance. "What is most important is that we choose to develop the kind of community that attracts quality residents that can help improve our workforce to our economic advantage, and to differentiate Greencastle in the minds of people who are looking for the unique characteristics and assets a rural community with a respected college can provide."

And, according to Smart Growth America, "Real estate agents have a phrase that aptly captures the uncomfortable truth: 'drive till you qualify.' What they mean is that families in search of the American Dream increasingly must drive farther and farther into the hinterland to find homes with mortgages they can afford. The growth rate of the distance accelerated in the last few years in most metropolitan regions." According to the U.S. Census, Greencastle and Crawfords-ville offer the lowest housing costs among the communities studied, and the homes are generally much older - an average of about 40 years old compared to the other extreme, Avon, where the average home is only a little more than four years old.

Another strategy involves looking at people who live and work elsewhere in Central Indiana, but have current commute times of 30 minutes or more -- similar to those experienced by many Greencastle residents. In the external awareness study, this represented 26 percent of the respondents. Several factors rise to the top among this group in terms of what is central to them when choosing a place to live. Specifically, the cost of housing, the quality of public schools and available housing options earn the highest importance ratings. These findings plainly correspond to the reverse migration trends mentioned earlier. Affordable housing and housing options are among the top vote getters of nearly all survey respondent groups.

Local real estate professionals are a good source of information about the housing market, and Greencastle agents confirm many of the state and national statistical findings. Prospects looking at Greencastle want new homes, accessibility to restaurants and retail, recreation and fitness amenities, and maintenance services like housekeeping and lawn care. Further, there is a perceived lack of certain types of rental property such as market rate three bedroom apartments for those wanting to live in the community before purchasing a home. However, when spouses or partners work in different parts of Central Indiana and Greencastle is between those locations, Greencastle often makes the short list. The Internet plays a significant role in this process - many customers have done thorough research on the community prior to visiting the town or contacting agents and is critical part in choosing whether to visit a community.

The reality is that Greencastle is an affordable community in which to live. The development of amenities that people want, including a range of housing options, offers one solution for a long term, smart growth strategy that Greencastle could consider. And many communities have done just that. Tomorrow's story will feature trends in community development and case studies from other successful small towns and college towns that have been particularly innovative in their approach to creating a desirable lifestyle for their residents.

This is the third in a series of five stories that will appear daily this week through Saturday to share the research findings and early conclusions from Phase I of the Hometown Greencastle Alliance's marketing and development plan with the greater Greencastle community. The series can also be accessed on line at www.bannergraphic.com and www.gogreencastle.com. An essential part of Phase II includes collecting continued feedback from residents. A community information session will be conducted Thursday, June 8 at 6-7:30 p.m. at the Greencastle Middle School. The public is invited to attend. Further, residents can also send comments and suggestions via e-mail to Greencastle Chamber of Commerce at gchamber@ccrtc.com.

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