The new strategy, which is known as the Rural Economic Development Model, utilizes an online interactive tool and guidebook to help develop an ag-based economic development plan which will expand current agribusinesses while attracting complementary processing companies to a specific region.
“The overall goal of the Rural Economic Development Model is to grow investment in Indiana’s rural communities. The intent is to leverage Indiana’s agricultural products as the ‘raw material’ for a new manufacturing base,” said Lee Lewellen, president and CEO of the Indiana Economic Development Association.
Lewellen said typically when individuals think of manufacturing in Indiana they think of vehicles and vehicle parts.
However, Lewellen said those types of manufacturing facilities don’t often locate to rural areas because they need access to a supply chain, which normally is near interstates and major urban areas.
“If we think of food processing as a different form of manufacturing that relies upon agricultural products as their raw material, attracting food processing facilities to rural areas makes sense. They are naturally close to their supply chain,” Lewellen said.
Lewellen said that for the Rural Economic Development Model to work, they want local farmers and economic developers to stop thinking of farm products as commodities that are shipped elsewhere to have vale added, but as raw materials for locally based food manufacturing.
“It is a natural extension of Indiana’s manufacturing expertise and farmers get increased profits because their shipping costs are lower and they have new markets and local economies have new tax base,” Lewellen said.
A critical aspect of the strategy was the development of Indiana Ag Asset Maps, which are interactive maps that visually display the relative production of every fruit, vegetable, grain and animal grown in Indiana, as well as the state’s hardwood production.
“Rather than wading through dense tables of numbers to find out how many acres of sweet corn was grown in each Indiana county, the map shows ‘bubbles’ of different sizes to represent the production of the crop in each county,” Lewellen said.
Lewellen said the maps allow local stakeholders to see which clusters of counties are predominant in each agricultural product to enable them to determine what kinds of processing facilities might be most appropriate based upon what is grown there.
To check out the Indiana Ag Asset Maps, visit https://pcrd.purdue.edu/ruralindianastats.