Summit addresses economic, tourism concerns


Concerns about child care, workforce attraction and the financial effects of COVID-19 were among the topics discussed at a tourism summit Thursday afternoon.

State Rep. Steve Bartels organized the summit at the Patoka Lake Winery’s event center. He holds summits as listening sessions, to hear from people in a particular industry about their struggles and concerns.

“I do these summits throughout the year,” he said. “We talk about issues before the session starts.” The information he gets helps him to determine what kind of legislation he needs to submit during the legislative session.

Indiana Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and State Sen. Mark Messmer joined Bartels at the event center.

Several people expressed concerns about available child care in their areas. With the possibility of schools having classes virtually because of COVID-19, parents won’t have a place for their children to be while they are at work.

“It’s physically impossible to be in two places at once. What happens to that person who works, who doesn’t have any other option, and there are no places to send those children?” asked Erin Emerson of the Perry County Development Corporation. “There are people who have to be at work.”

Representatives from other counties nodded in agreement.

Bartels added that he did not realize that people are looking at the possibility of leaving their job and staying home with their children, because they don’t have child care. “One of the scariest things you had mentioned to me, and I had not thought of from that perspective, was people have jobs, and they’re considering quitting them in lieu of not paying someone to watch their children,” he said. “If school does not go back, people may quit their jobs because they can’t afford to pay for child care.”

Emerson said that affordability and availability are the problems.

Some attendees talked about local efforts to diversify the kinds of jobs available in their counties, and efforts to attract more people to the local workforce.

“That’s always a challenge, and based on who our largest companies are,” said Zach Brown of the Orange County Economic Development Partnership. “Our other challenge is population decline. We’re trying to combat that every day. All three of our school corporations have seen a loss in the student body.”

He added that he appreciates the efforts from the state to attract and bring workers and tourism to this area.

Crouch mentioned seeing a national study that stated that 39% of the people in the United States would now consider moving to more rural areas because of COVID-19. She is looking at doing research more specific to Indiana.

“I really believe COVID-19 is going to change the way we do business, the way we live our lives and the way culture evolves,” she said. “And it’s going to provide some real opportunities for our small, rural areas.”

Other topics discussed at Thursday’s summit included additional funding to help local governments and schools, the need for more housing and accessible broadband service, maintaining welcome centers/rest areas along I-64, and financial assistance to help small businesses and local economic groups, like chambers of commerce.

Melissa Arnold of the Spencer County Visitors Bureau requested that funding for the Lincoln Amphitheatre be protected. Betty Cash of the Perry County Convention & Visitors Bureau asked that the state keep the grass along state rights of ways mowed.

Darren Patterson, who owns a company in Jasper, talked about funding the Mid-States Corridor project.

“I’m wondering about the impact, how that could be delayed or sped up,” he said, “I don’t know where the dollars are going with [the Indiana Department of Transportation] once the studies are done. Would money be pulled from that? I’m curious how COVID and budget constraints might impact that total project.”

Messmer said it’s too early to tell.

“A project like that would not be in the funding stream for another three to five years from now,” he said. “After you’re done with the Tier 1 study, there’s a Tier 2 study, if it makes it through the Tier 1 study. Then it goes to Tier 2 and then Tier 3. And those are going to be three, four, five years of more refinement to do. And at that point, then they will look at their revenue streams.”

Crouch said she appreciated hearing about the challenges firsthand.

“We will take these concerns to the governor’s office,” she said. “As they are looking at these issues, and they’re changing every day, we want to be sure that they’re hearing the concerns that you have, and we’re prepared to address them. We may not have an answer today. But we are going to make sure that your concerns are heard and that we do get answers for them.”

Bartels will hold a summit with educators in his district in September. Normally, an education summit is held before the school year starts. But districts decided this time to hold it after the school year has started.

“Educators wanted to get school started, to see how it’s going,” Bartels said, “before they could talk about what’s needed.”

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