The grades were issued last week and Ball State’s Center for Business and Economic Research concluded that the quality of life in Noble County has only marginally improved over the past six years.
I doubt I am alone in my skepticism about the cold, hard data that led to the grades issued, ranging from B to D- in five different “subjects.” The CBER’s Community Asset Inventory and Rankings (CAIR) report was based on comparisons of public data in several categories in 2012 and 2018. Although Noble County showed improvements, the results were still surprising to many.
So, like any good student looking to improve, I took a look at the data to see what subjects Noble County might need to focus on to do better. What I found leads me to think less about what we might not be doing well and more about how Ball State might want to scrub the data and try a more touchy-feely approach to “grading” next time.
Starting with “Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation,” I do not believe the CBER could have accurately graded Noble County, because the data shown under “recreation” in 2012 is the same as that shown for 2018, and both are inaccurate. That data indicates Noble County had zero marinas, zero fairgrounds, and no athletic fields. The only outdoor recreation reflected in the numbers were five golf courses noted in both 2012 and 2018. The truth is Noble County’s inventory of golf courses dwindled from five to three in recent years, and one of those closed prior to 2012. The data is wrong.
I am fairly certain that Noble County’s economic development professionals would have gladly provided the CBER a county-wide tour of the more than 117 lakes (more than any other county in the state) and the marinas and public boat launches that provide extraordinary outdoor recreation here. I am equally certain that any of dozens of Noble County Fair Corporation volunteers would have enjoyed showing off the 50-acre Noble County Fairgrounds property in Kendallville, home to the county fair, two bluegrass festivals, and countless other events and gatherings that bring in thousands of people every year.
Yes, Virginia (and CBER), there is a fairground in Noble County. Instead, the analysis and resulting grade was based on false data.
Furthermore, the report of no athletic fields is also confounding. On the contrary, there are several, some in each community in fact. The largest, on 89 acres in Kendallville, was developed at a cost of about $3.3 million and funded in part by a Regional Cities grant in 2018. It and others, including Hidden Diamonds in Albion and Kenney Park in Ligonier, are top notch.
There are many more examples of flawed data behind the recent grades given. For example, the same crime data figures are reported in both 2012 and 2018, incredible if not completely inaccurate. The reports related to “changeable public amenities” show zero trails in Noble County, despite the miles of trails at Chain O’ Lakes state park, founded in 1945, or the newly developed Fishing Line Trail and Strawberry Valley Cultural Trail, the latter also boosted by Regional Cities funding last year. There are also trails in Albion, Kendallville, at Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center, Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site, and in six ACRES Land Trust nature preserves. In one hour of delving into the data on which CBER based their grades, I was quick to conclude how meaningless the grades must be if the data is so bad.
What the world needs to know about Noble County is not what some university study based on bad data used to come up with a misleading “grade.” Instead, the world needs to know how the people who actually live, work and play here feel about the place. I can attest to how the intangibles about a place really matter, perhaps more than any data.
After living and working here for 54 years, and having traveled more than the average person, my husband and I gave serious consideration to moving away late last year. Because I do appreciate data and like to research and analyze things before making an important decision, I tried using those livability “grades” that are available on a variety of websites, probably derived from the same sorts of analysis Ball State used. What I learned then is similar to what I have concluded now: Numbers don’t tell stories and should not, alone, be relied upon to decide if a community “fits” you. Much like a Ph.D. is not the measure of someone’s whole self or what they have to offer, community quality of life “grades” do not alone measure up a place’s character or what it has to offer.
Our choice to stay in Noble County was only made after going to another place, meeting some of its people, seeing the kinds of housing available, and exploring the amenities that mattered most to us. While the destination considered was a lovely place, the intangibles that mattered most to us, personal relationships among them, kept us here. Cost of living comparisons, the only “data” I actually believed and considered, only supported staying here as well.
So, instead of dwelling on the seemingly meaningless grades that were issued last week I hope anyone trying to measure up Noble County, or any community in Indiana for that matter, will be more influenced by the people they meet, experiences they have, and amenities they discover. While Noble County may not be an “A” student in every subject, according to the CBER, it is certainly better than a D- in any one of them.
I, for one, suggest we all proudly boast of our #NoblePride so others will “feel it”, too.