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General Motors : Anderson looks to 2065 bicentennial

08/30/2015 | 06:19pm US/Eastern

Aug. 30--ANDERSON -- As Anderson completed official celebration of its 150th birthday, thoughts are turning to the future.

What will the city look like at its bicentennial in the year 2065?

Local community and business leaders don't have a crystal ball to foretell the future of Anderson, but some sure signs point to the direction the city will take.

Within the next 50 years, Anderson and Madison County will become an integral part of the Indianapolis metropolitan area as the capital city continues growth along the Interstate 69 corridor.

Thirty years ago, Anderson residents could not have envisioned the residential, commercial growth along the interstate that is now less than 12 miles from the city's front door.

To understand the future of Anderson, it takes a long look back to the past. For most of the last century, the local economy was dominated by General Motors, which dictated the wage scale, price of goods and housing market.

Within the past 15 years, Anderson has been able to attract companies from Europe, Asia and Africa, bringing investment dollars and creating new employment opportunities. This year alone, Sirmax will open a production plant on the former Guide property and NTN Driveshaft will break ground on a manufacturing facility that will employ 400 people by 2019.

One of the big unknowns that will be resolved in the near future is whether the proposed $440 million, 2,100-acre Mounds Lake Reservoir will become a reality, something that could change the landscape for the next 50 years and beyond.

Roger Clark has lived in Anderson for most of his 73 years. He worked at both GM divisions in Anderson and is currently a member of the city's Board of Public Works.

"In the 1970s, there were opportunities for all members of the community at General Motors," he said. "You could graduate from high school and get a good-paying job in one of the factories.

"I'm being optimistic when I look ahead," Clark said. "There will be more opportunities for all young people in the community."

Joanna Gentry Collette, executive director of JobSource, said Anderson is on the cusp of emerging opportunities.

"Anderson is attracting good companies, and there's collaboration among partners to help people find work," she said. "In the future, I see Anderson as far beyond where it was 25 years ago."

Gentry Collette thinks city and county elected officials must come together to develop strategy. "Supporting a common goal is pivotal to the future of Anderson," she said.

Beth Erskine, executive director of the Leadership Academy of Madison County, believes Anderson should promote its small-town feel.

"I worked in Indianapolis, but in Anderson you get to know people better and have true personal relationships," she said. "Anderson has to capitalize on that."

Erskine detects that the community has also reached a turning point.

"There seems to be a more positive energy in Anderson that I have not seen in the past," she said. "I believe the future is bright."

Symbiosis with Indy

Workers can commute from Fishers to Anderson in about half the time it takes to get from Fishers to downtown Indianapolis. If the community can tout its proximity to the north side of Indianapolis, it can tap into the prosperity of nearby Hamilton County, one of the nation's fastest-growing areas.

And Anderson could be attractive to others who live much farther away.

With state lawmakers discussing light-rail mass transit from the suburbs to downtown Indianapolis, Anderson could be poised to take advantage.

Clark projected that Anderson will become more of a bedroom community to Indianapolis, especially if another outer interstate loop is constructed.

"The wealth from Hamilton County will shift to Anderson and Madison County," he said.

Michael Hicks, director of the Ball State University Center for Business and Economic Research, believes Anderson's future is as a bedroom community to the Indianapolis metropolitan region.

And he thinks that the city, should it develop a reputation for quality education, is poised for explosive growth.

"If Anderson had the Yorktown schools, it would be the fastest-growing community in Indiana," Hicks said.

The Ball State business expert thinks the city's fortunes are connected to its housing stock and low cost of living.

"Anderson has a big advantage for a Midwestern town that has been through difficult decades in that it still has good housing stock," he said. "It's a great community that looks like the suburbs of the 1960s.

"There are parts of Anderson where it is struggling and some urban blight. But that is modest compared to other Midwest cities. Low-cost housing is a benefit."

Hicks believes Anderson will become a popular bedroom community for the state capital within two decades, not in 50 years.

"The infrastructure is already in place," he said. "People will be looking within 20 to 40 miles of Indianapolis for low-cost housing."

New residents will demand improvements in the school system and in quality of life, Hicks said.

"Residential development is the future of Anderson," he said. "It's not important where people work; it's important where people live."

Anderson should focus on quality-of-life issues, such as strong education, low-cost housing and recreational assets such as trails, Hicks maintained. He predicted that the relocation of people with higher incomes to Madison County will generate commercial development, similar to what has taken place around Exit 210 in Hamilton County.

Clark remembers that when GM closed the Anderson plants the city lost its middle-class earners.

"In 50 years, we should have it back to where it was; there will be a rebirth of the middle class," he said.

Education critical

This year Anderson has seen the opening of the new Ivy Tech Community College campus and plans to start construction on the Purdue College of Technology/Maker Space.

"The Purdue College of Technology will bring more high-tech jobs to Anderson," Clark said. "That will help keep and attract young people to the city.

"Young people have to take advantage of the educational and job-training opportunities that will be available in Anderson," he said. "Right now there is nothing here for young people. They leave Anderson and don't come back. The challenge over the next 50 years will be keeping and attracting young people."

Clark said that transition won't happen overnight, but the process has been started.

"We need to transition away from a welfare-state mentality to one of having a strong work ethic. Young people have to develop self-pride and pride in their city."

Gentry Collette said educational partnerships are starting to develop within the community.

"I've seen a lot more focus on educational strategies where partners are working together. When multiple entities win, everyone wins."

Hicks maintains that, as improvements are made in education provided by Anderson Community Schools and local charter and private schools, people with higher incomes will consider moving to the city because of its low cost of living.

Tom Seal, co-owner of FC Tucker/OC Clark real estate, agrees that education is a key to the community's future. He expressed confidence in Anderson Community Schools.

"Superintendent Terry Thompson has set a goal to improve the school system," Seal said. "Education is the core value. We're one generation away from people forgetting we used to be a GM town."

Greg Winkler, interim director of Anderson Economic Development, believes improvements in the local education system will bring new manufacturing jobs.

"Education is the key for Anderson and the entire country," Winkler said. "We have kids who can't see hope in the future. We have to put programs in place at the street level. ... Thompson has a vision to improve Anderson Community Schools. There has to be community involvement in improving education."

Chuck Staley, executive director of the Flagship Enterprise Center, agrees that education could boost Anderson to new heights.

"There are a lot of good things happening; we're making a lot of improvements," he said. "It's very encouraging. We will eventually get to the elementary schools to train people for new manufacturing jobs. If we wait until high school, it's too late."

Follow Ken de la Bastide on Twitter @KendelaBastide, or call 640-4863.

___

(c)2015 The Herald Bulletin (Anderson, Ind.)

Visit The Herald Bulletin (Anderson, Ind.) at www.theheraldbulletin.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

© Tribune Content Agency, source Regional News

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