To the editor:

Last month, the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University published an update to our county rankings (Community Asset Inventory and Rankings). The purpose of the federally funded study was to provide communities an unvarnished assessment of themselves.

All too often, communities hear only the good stories about themselves, ignoring stark facts about education, health, population change, taxes, public services and amenities to attract residents.

Like many rural communities, grades for Noble County ranged from slightly above to well below average. The worst of all was in the most critical measure of them all: education. This should surprise precisely zero residents. Our hope has been that this type of factual accounting of a community’s strengths and weaknesses would cause increased focus on self-improvement.

Alas, many communities simply wish away bad news. One such example is the Op-Ed by Lori Gagen (June 22, 2019) which is a clear exercise in just that.

Ms. Gagen apparently misread the study. Her strongest criticism of our approach is in the areas in which Noble County did well. Still, it is worth noting that the data used in this study are wholly from secondary sources, and include state and federally recognized assets, earnings, facilities and health outcomes.

Ironically, in the one area in which Ms. Gagen agrees with our study (cost of living) she misinterprets the data. As I have written recently in these pages, a low cost of living is strong evidence of problems within a community. Like it or not, low housing values and a stagnant population reveal the truth.

For nearly 75 years, many Hoosier communities have cheerfully ignored declining economic prospects and weakened civic infrastructure. We tell ourselves that our communities are just fine, and write glowing self-assessments. Sadly, self-deception will do little to encourage our kids to remain in their hometowns, or attract residents from communities that have taken seriously their obligation to the future. It is far better to work to fix what ails you than to continue to deny facts, as does Ms. Gagen.

Michael Hicks

Ball State University

Muncie

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