New ag-focused strategy aims to attract business

The Purdue Ag Economy Barometer improved slightly in May 2020. (photo courtesy of author)

INDIANAPOLIS (Inside INdiana Business) — The state of Indiana is offering a new strategy to help rural areas attract economic development to their communities: agriculture. And while agribusiness and farming are not new business concepts, they are often overlooked as being an asset.

The Indiana State Department of Agriculture and other associations are trying to change that by introducing the Rural Economic Development Model to community and economic leaders in rural parts of the state.

“Oftentimes, we see rural communities targeting an automotive plant or medical device manufacturer—overlooking agriculture completely,” said Bruce Kettler, director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture. “We want to encourage local decision-makers to think differently about their economic development strategy.”

A major part of the strategy is the launch of the Indiana Ag Asset Maps, an online tool created by the Purdue Center for Regional Development.

The maps provide information about the agricultural products grown and raised in each county, and it’s not limited to Indiana’s two biggest grain crops corn and soybeans.

The mapping system also indicates where fruits, vegetables, grains, and livestock are produced. There’s also a section for Indiana’s hardwoods industry.

Economic development leaders say by knowing what assets are already in place, it creates an opportunity for expansion or creation of supporting businesses, such as a supplier.

“For too long, we have looked at Indiana’s agricultural production as a passive asset; grown here, but sent elsewhere for value-added processing,” said Lee Lewellen, Indiana Economic Development Association president and chief executive officer. “We want economic developers and farmers to come together to see Indiana’s robust ag assets as the raw material for a different kind of manufacturing base in rural communities.”

Kettler says agriculture is at the core of many communities. He says if that business sector is leveraged properly, it has the potential to keep growing and even attract complementary businesses.

“We want to keep the people that are here. We want them to see the assets that are here. Maybe give them a new business idea through the model, but certainly, if people want to come to Indiana from outside of the state of Indiana, we will welcome them as well,” said Kettler.

Click here to view the Indiana Ag Asset Maps, which can also be found on the Rural Indiana Stats website.

Kettler tells Inside INdiana Business that rural communities can grow their economies by promoting the value of agriculture.