Study finds Jasper’s story a good lesson for others

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

JASPER — Jasper city officials have long touted the city’s attributes as the root for the city’s success. Now, the city is getting a nod from outside the Jasper bubble, too.

Ross DeVol, a fellow at the Walton Family Foundation, featured Jasper in his research on communities in America’s heartland that exhibit economic success.

Jasper was one of five communities featured in DeVol’s paper, “Micropolitan Success Stories from the Heartland,” which was released last week and identified Jasper’s strong manufacturing industry, access to health care through Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center, the Jasper Community Arts Commission and Vincennes University Jasper Campus as a few of the attributes that make Jasper strong.

The Walton Family Foundation, founded by Sam and Helen Walton who also founded Walmart, focuses on improving K-12 education, protecting rivers and oceans and the communities they support, and investing in its home region of Northwest Arkansas and the Arkansas-Mississippi Delta as well as America’s Heartland as a whole.

Walton fellows serve a year with the foundation to conduct research on the foundation’s focuses. DeVol’s research will focus on policies related to economic vitality in Northwest Arkansas and America’s Heartland. Previously, he spent 20 years at the Milken Institute, an independent economic think tank based in Santa Monica, California, where he was the chief research officer.

For “Micropolitan Success Stories from the Heartland,” DeVol and his partner, Shelly Wisecarver, looked at data from ranking websites such as Movoto.com and Nerdwallet.com and from government agencies such as the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis to study successful micropolitan areas — defined by the Census Bureau as a geographic area of one or more counties with one city containing at least 10,000 but less than 50,000 in population — in the Heartland that could serve as examples to other communities.

Jasper’s micropolitan area contains Dubois and Pike counties. According to the study, “Jasper is the leading micropolitan statistical area in per capita income in Indiana, with per capita income at $46,993 in 2016. The city ranks 67th out of 551 micropolitan statistical areas in the United States.”

“Jasper was clearly one of the places that stood out,” DeVol said.

DeVol and Wisecarver noticed that while other communities with a strong manufacturing base struggled to rebound after the Great Recession, Jasper performed above average. When they dug a little deeper, they found collaboration between businesses and local governments, something DeVol said differentiated Jasper from other manufacturing communities.

The study also mentioned the citywide fiber internet build-out by Indiana telecommunications company Smithville and Dubois Strong’s Young Entrepreneurial Program and Enterprise Loan Fund as other ways the Jasper micropolitan area makes itself attractive to business.

The study did note that Jasper’s micropolitan area struggles to attract enough people to fill the jobs, an issue DeVol said many communities in America’s Heartland struggle with as young people flock to the coasts. However, DeVol said that movement is changing.

“We’re starting to see a reverse migration pattern back to the center of the country,” he said.

Young people moving back to the Heartland are still looking for amenities and connection to the community, DeVol said. He suggested Jasper continue to improve attributes such as the Jasper Community Arts Commission, Memorial Hospital and outdoor recreation opportunities. He also suggested putting together a pitch that plays on the benefit of living in a smaller community: the safety, strong community and opportunity for community involvement.

Overall, DeVol and Wisecarver were impressed with Jasper and saw the area’s story as something that held good lessons for other small communities seeking growth.

“You can learn best from your peers,” DeVol said of small communities, “not necessarily from the coasts.”




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