... it's time to take a closer look at Elkhart, Indiana.
... it's time to take a closer look at Elkhart, Indiana.
As the sun comes up over Island Park, it isn't difficult to see why Native Americans cherished this area and settlers migrated here 200 years ago.
Our doors are open. By attracting 500 professionals and their families to our community in the coming years, we'll help improve our public schools and increase our home values. We'll put
people closer to the places where they work and weekend. We'll keep moving forward with higher wages, improving neighborhoods, and greater community pride.
Elkhart has always been the home of entrepreneurs and Speedy Alka-Seltzer. We are the "capital of the world" for both musical instruments and RVs. And, now, we're welcoming you home.
... SoMa and so much more.
... SoMa and so much more.
Every community has an idea about what it would like to become. Elkhart is different, because our idea is simply to be ourselves and be proud of who we are.
Our community invested $15 million to reinvent our downtown Lerner Theatre as a centerpiece for an Arts and Entertainment district. Then we launched SoMa - a focus on South Main Street that quickly became an embrace of all we have to offer at our core. "Supporting Our Main Assets" was launched to make us focus on promoting what we have to attract what we want. We've always been good at being a caring community with a great business sense - telling our story was, at best, a secondary priority.
In the 500 Families vision, we will make sure SoMa has the tools to succeed, our Economic Development Corp. has the support necessary to be effective, our schools and government display quality leadership, and our Chamber keeps its focus on what it does best: developing strong networks and advocating for a tremendous business environment. Together, we'll define and work toward these common goals.
We're proud to say Elkhart is a place where the store owners still know you and your family.
Our teachers understand the challenges of getting our next generation of workers prepared to meet those demands - from early childhood development to early college, our leaders are closing gaps and ensuring classroom success.
Our neighborhoods are beginning to thrive again as downtown re-emerges as a place, as the SoMa folks say, to live, work and play.
In 2009, in the depths of the Great Recession, Elkhart was the poster child of an economic meltdown: 1 of 5 residents were out of work and businesses were closing their doors.
The turnaround has been tremendous. For two years running, we've been No. 1 in the nation in job growth and we have the third-highest gross domestic product. Our amenities, business friendliness and quality workforce have led emerging and established corporations to locate their headquarters here.
The best part about 500 Families is the fact that the first 500 are already here. We've heard from numerous professionals who have moved back to our city after college and other experiences.
They appreciate our outdoor recreational activities, museums and nightlife. Not many cities can claim a style of pizza all their own - ours is world-renowned. Not many Main Streets can boast of having a brewpub - we have two ... and counting.
The 500 Families vision is intended promote our city and attract new talent to contribute our schools, economy and community. But "500" doesn't mean Elkhart's population will hit 53,302 in a rigidly defined span of time. Instead, the concept is meant to keep all of us focused on shared goals.
The Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce is engaging community leaders to develop a comprehensive plan to achieve the goals of 500 Families. Right now, these are viewed as key areas in which we will judge progress.
Our economic recovery has been strong. Our wages have not had the same level of success.
Like many of these statistics needing improvement, two or more can be tied together. One additional year of education beyond high school could mean an 8- to 10-percent bump in pay.
The Horizon Education Alliance, the Elkhart Area Career Center and school districts throughout our area are focused on encouraging lifelong learning to advance skill sets and improve our wages.
The Great Recession taught Elkhart an important lesson about education. Workers cannot rely solely on skills learned at the beginning of their careers. While mastery is important, growth is a must as industries and economies adapt.
College isn't always the answer. We must offer training, certification and degrees as required to match students' career goals. Elkhart Community Schools is embarking on a "career pathways" mission to make sure students understand today's class choices and grades will impact their future success and wages.
Directly tied to both income and education, every community deals with some level of poverty.
Woven into Elkhart's fabric is a strong safety net, with not-for-profits providing valuable and needed services. However, we must determine the best way forward to promote and encourage lower-income households to participate in educational opportunities for personal and community improvement.
The recession left a huge mark on property values due to market forces and foreclosures. Elkhart's challenge is not clear cut, though. Home values must gain in value, but the available housing stock also must be expanded. A decade or more has passed since the last significant residential addition was made in the city.
Our success in creating loft space and converting rentals back to single-family ownership must be supported with better financing opportunities. Vacant structures must be reclaimed by government at a higher rate and returned to the tax rolls as quickly as possible. And creative and innovative land-use proposals for prime space now available in the city core must be considered and endorsed.
The most difficult standard in the 500 Families vision is the evaluation of government. Unlike the other categories, no numeric value can be applied to leadership and cooperation. It just happens, and it must happen more often for our community to function and succeed.
Right now, City Hall has a decent relationship with businesses when it comes to planning, permitting and inspecting. County government also has a role in helping businesses. In its traditional role, the Chamber must be vocal when administrative rules or legislative actions interfere with an opportunity for our community to succeed.
When a crime occurs on a public street, a private home or anywhere in between, a community becomes the victim. Safety is one of the most highly discussed contributors to quality of life.
It can be argued each of the other categories in the 500 Families vision impact public safety. Higher incomes, better housing, responsive government and overall education all will address and lower crime rates. But crime is more than a score, and it must be kept in perspective. Is a crime relational or random? Do investigators consider reports to be real or unfounded?
The community deserves this information and dialogue with police officials to ensure problems are resolved and - when necessary - fears are allayed.
Our community is committed to making the 500 Families vision a success. Our partnership includes many individuals and groups, including:
Greater Elkhart Chamber | (574) 293-1531
Convention and Visitors Bureau | (574) 262-8161
Economic Development Corp. | (574) 293-JOBS
Elkhart Community Schools | (574) 262-5500
City of Elkhart, Mayor Dick Moore | (574) 294-5471
Elkhart Co. Community Foundation | (574) 295-8761
Downtown Elkhart Inc. | (574) 295-8701
Whether you want to join with tens of thousands to experience our summertime Jazz Festival, take in a show at the Lerner Theatre, or just want to stroll along Main Street for ArtWalk, we hope you'll consider Elkhart as a destination in your travels.
We have some challenging rapids (and not-so-challenging floats) on two rivers and Christiana Creek, and dozens of miles of bike trails connecting us with nearby communities.
Elkhart County is a pick-your-culture kind of place. We have old-time artisans and high-tech businesses, fresh music and classic American architecture. We have some outstanding brewpubs, world-renowned pizza places, and even a back-alley cupcake shop.
Whether you're just visiting or moving in, let us know what you think!