October 16, 2013Marengo has had its share of big-name politicians visit during the last month.
Three weeks ago, Secretary of State Connie Lawson talked to students at Crawford County Junior-Senior High School and then toured the Marengo Warehouse and Distribution Center. Last week, Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann brought her "Listen and Learn" tour to town and met with county leaders in Marengo to talk economic development and determine the county's strengths and weaknesses.
Crawford County was the 62nd stop on Ellspermann's tour that took her to Harrison County the following day.
Lt. Gov. Sue Ellsperman speaks with Crawford County Sheriff Tim Wilkerson about the possibility of the state sending more Indiana State Police troopers to help with drug-related crime in the county at Marengo last week. Photos by Leslie Radcliff
Ellspermann, who serves with Gov. Mike Pence, has pledged to visit each of Indiana's 92 counties this year to meet with local commerce leaders and elected officials.
She scratched Floyd County off the list in September, as she toured Hitachi Cable Indiana and had lunch at the Charles Allen Prosser School of Technology, and said she was eager to return to the area for her meetings with Crawford County's officials.
Ellspermann is from Dubois County and is currently serving as the 50th lieutenant governor of Indiana. From 2010-12, she served in the Indiana House of Representatives from the 74th District and represented Warrick, Spencer and parts of Dubois and Perry counies.
She graduated in 1982 from Purdue University with a bachelor of science degree in industrial engineering, and, in 1996, she received a Ph.D. from the University of Louisville.
"What are the things in your county or community that we can work on?" she asked at the Marengo Town Hall last Tuesday. "What do you do well and what can we work on?"
Economic growth opportunities and cooperation with the state were a large part of the discussion, and a common thread of feedback from business and community leaders was the need to create growth opportunities.
"You've got an economic developer, but that really is just the starting point," Ellspermann said. "You are one of the Radius (Indiana) counties and you do have a region."
County Councilwoman Sharon Wilson marks her concerns during the "Listen and Learn" tour.
Ellspermann was referring to the distance of Crawford County to the nearest large cities of Louisville and Evansville and said she believed that there were growth opportunities in Crawford County because it was in such close proximity to both places.
District 74 State Rep. Lloyd Arnold, who is from Leavenworth, agreed with Ellspermann, though he also pointed out the decline of a well-trained, young adult population within the county due to a lack of opportunities for them to ply their trades.
The lieutenant governor suggested the idea of cooperative agreements between Crawford and the neighboring counties and suggested that the county push its school system.
"You've got these great results with your schools; is there any opportunity that comes with that?" she asked. "You've made tremendous progress. … I'd have it up on a billboard; people do move for schools."
She also agreed with Crawford County Councilman Steve Bartels that the county does tourism very well. Bartels, who is co-owner of Patoka Lake Marina and Lodging, is often in contact with the state regarding his business.
"The No. 1 reason why businesses decide to build in a place is because their CEO visited there first," Ellspermann said. "They go on vacation or drive through a place and fall in love with it."
Arnold, while he agreed with the pair, said there are more opportunities out there that need to be taken advantage of for the county to be seen on a larger scale. He listed not only the caving opportunities but the river sports, such as fishing and kayaking and boating, as well as hiking.
"There are so many opportunities here, if we can get it out a little more," Arnold said. "We have so many of these assets for tourism, and our tourism lady is doing a great job, but it's getting them out there, and I don't think it's just a regional thing; it's Indiana."
Infrastructure and a small tax base play a key part in the leaders of Crawford County to market the community on a larger scale, according to all leaders present.
"The age of the town and trying to upgrade facilities is a struggle," Daniel Crecelius, the county commissioner representing District One, which includes Marengo, said. "… Coming up with the money is a problem."
Larry Allen, EMA director for Crawford County, said it is a battle that is mostly uphill due to the difference in property taxes between Crawford and Orange counties.
"The tax base is almost entirely on homeowners," Allen said. "I know people who have crossed the line to move into a house or build a house. So, not only do we suffer from a lack of income coming in, but people are moving."
Ellspermann also met with agricultural leaders within the county as well as community members at Marengo Cave to further discuss the possibilities within the county, and was optimistic that the county would have a bright future.
"The governor and I talk about this tour on a weekly basis, and it is very much making a difference on how we approach things," she said.
For more information on the "Listen and Learn" tour, visit www.in.gov/lg/index.htm.