Think about your community, Wayne County. What makes it great? What do you love about the people? Why do you live in a smaller town or rural area?
Throughout history, small towns and rural areas have been a great place to live for several reasons, including:
a strong sense of civic pride
community engagement involvement
natural beauty and unique infrastructure
Rural Communities Are Changing
However, things are changing, as they often say. Rural communities, including ours, have faced many challenges throughout the past 10 years. Many residents are left asking themselves, “How do we move our people forward?”
With this question in mind, we founded Forward Wayne County (FWC). Our purpose is to better align community resources in Wayne County to foster a vibrant economy and promote prosperity.
Since 2010, our county has experienced -4% population growth.
In 2017, the public high school graduation rate was 81.9% – Indiana’s rate was 89.4%
In 2016, Wayne County was above the state average of 15.0% poverty rate at 19.9%
Looking at these statistics and evaluating the broader status of the county, FWC leaders recognized the need for human and community development.
These realizations, supported with research, guided the focus on progress in rural areas. We decided to focus on two pillars: our people and our community. Our intention is to attract, develop, and retain a highly competitive workforce. We want to build a strong foundation for future generations through improved early childhood education, enhanced wellness initiatives, improving our neighborhoods, and shining a spotlight on the culture of Wayne County.
The pillar of Our People translates into the focus of developing qualities of people that allow them to live full and productive lives. Under this category, FWC has a tactical plan to address the following categories:
Early Childhood Success – focusing on providing support and education to parents and improving access to high-quality preschool and childcare.
Educational Attainment – helping Wayne County residents navigate the path from pre-K to graduation and beyond.
Employability – providing an opportunity to learn employability skills and creating jobs by bringing in new industries.
Health and Wellness – fostering an environment of wellness and access to care that meets the needs of our rural communities.
Developing these areas have been deemed crucial to developing talent and economic success in rural and small communities. The areas of Human Capital Development are the backbone of building a stronger, more motivated, and capable workforce for Wayne County. Looking deeper, these areas are aimed at developing residents from birth through their lifespan.
The impact on our lives starts early, which is why parenting education is a key focus. Engagement in successful parenting education programs can provide families with problem-solving skills necessary to build a healthy family, promote protective parenting factors, and increase the socioemotional competence of children as they age. These skills are necessary for successful navigation through the K-12 setting, which sets the stage for future employment. Success in social and emotional learning, starting at birth, translates into increased employability skills later in life.
As previously noted, Wayne County has seen a steady decline in population throughout the last 10 years. To help, FWC places great importance on mobilizing efforts to develop a highly competitive workforce. In addition, we aim to attract and retain a competitive workforce.
“I have immense pride in my hometown!”
So, how does this vision become a reality? In order to attract and retain individuals to help rebuild our community, we must use current resources while focusing on the areas of neighborhood development, government and policy, environment, and arts and culture. Our hope is that high school students attend our local universities, or should they attend school somewhere else, we hope they decide to build a family back in Wayne County after graduating college. We want to switch people from saying, “I can’t wait to leave my hometown” to “I have immense pride in my hometown!”
Increased attraction and retention of a qualified workforce aligns with an increase in financial capital available for investments in streets, bridges, water and sewer systems, and aging community infrastructure. Purposeful maintenance in these areas can open the door to a focus on other quality of life investments, including parks, trails, and biking paths. These enhancements to the community are often seen as necessary by upwardly mobile residents who are finding a place to call home.
To move Wayne County forward, local businesses
and organizations must work together to:
embrace efforts to protect and repair our currently available local amenities
promote the involvement of diversity in the planning and implementation of attraction and retention strategies in the area
continue to better understand and plan for the cost associated with making our aging infrastructure functional for modern use
We hope that you are inspired to make a difference in your community. If you are ready to act, that’s even better!
Leave your thoughts below and be sure to stay connected with Forward Wayne County on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn! We would love to have your engagement and stories collected as part of this exciting growth and initiative! Also, be sure to use the hashtag #forwardINwayne to share your stories of how you are forwarding our community every day!