Morton J. Marcus is an economist formerly with the Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. His column appears in numerous Indiana newspapers.  

       Economic development is not a single story told in a hurried voice. Rather, economic development is an intertwining of two tales told patiently with significant attention to detail. There is the major theme of big projects which give rise to hundreds and thousands of small investments that form the second tale.

          As in the past, Indiana’s economy performed poorly during the recession and then improved its performance during this on-going recovery. Relative to the nation, we ride a roller coaster with sharp declines and satisfying climbs.

          Despite these dramatic movements, the on-going business of economic development proceeds, often slowly, sometimes with halting hesitation, but progress is evident.

          Interstate 69 is being built from Evansville north to Bloomington and Indianapolis. The Ohio River bridge is going to be built to connect southern Indiana with the east side of Louisville. The BP Refinery in Lake County is under construction. Upgrading US 31 from South Bend to Kokomo and Indianapolis is taking shape in pieces.

          These may be the biggest of the billion dollar projects now in process, but many other public and private infrastructure efforts are underway across the state.  The state will benefit from each of them as long as quality control is enforced to protect workers, users, and the environment. Thanks to vigilant local groups, each project is under on-going scrutiny to supplement the state’s often lax supervision.

          Major projects to bring high speed Internet service to every community in every county are vital economic development programs. Added capital resources for our schools at all levels would be very beneficial. (Only this year did the Indianapolis Public Schools realize the goal of air-conditioning in every school.)

          Simultaneously, we are treated to reports of minor, local economic development projects where new or existing firms announce an investment promising some increased employment. Each is almost insignificant, but in the aggregate they are the substance of economic growth.

          Because major investments are made in public and private infrastructure, these small investments are possible. They are made in response to the opportunities opened by the larger investments; they are the confirmation of the efficacy of infrastructure development.

          What is being considered today that will stimulate the state’s economy 10 or 20 years from now? High speed rail offers an enticing future. Indiana, however, seems indifferent to solidifying or even working on a plan. The proposed Illiana Expressway solves little of our transit needs. Upgrading small town airports remains on a neglected agenda. Local transit systems in this Hoosier Holyland are pathetic despite valiant efforts to make them work in hostile environments. Without adequate public transit, land use patterns will not change and the environmental challenges of sprawl will worsen. Our water and sewer systems may be in desperate need of renovation, but who is talking about them during this election season?

          The Indiana gubernatorial and legislative elections will remain dull and disheartening until the candidates express some vision for the Indiana infrastructure of the future.