Carol O. Rogers
Carol O. Rogers

The recent announcement that Cook Group Inc. is going to build 300 homes in Lawrence, Orange and Owen counties reflects the need for reasonably priced housing for the growing number of Cook workers in the area. A company building housing for its workers is not unknown. Indeed, America has a long history of big business building so-called “company towns” to house their workers.  

My great-grandmother, in her hard-working youth, lived in Pullman, Illinois, now a neighborhood of Chicago, built by the Pullman Sleeping Car Co. in the 1880s. She worked as a sleeping car cleaner and paid her rent in Pullman dollars. Another notable company town is Gary, Indiana, founded in 1906 by U.S. Steel and named after the founding chairman, Elbert Henry Gary. 

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We might also consider university towns in much the same way. The town of Bloomington was established in 1818 and grew alongside Indiana University, founded in 1820. Monroe County’s housing reflects the needs of the university’s students, with a 50/40 split between owning and renting. Interestingly, it is not that far apart from the nationwide split of 57/32 (and for those who are wondering where the missing percentage points are, those go to vacant or seasonal housing). 

Cook isn’t building a new town, but they are ensuring that the talent they attract to their company will have housing available to them. In just the past three months, the Bloomington Metropolitan Area has added 2,000 jobs in the region. And some of those new workers may well need or want to move closer to their jobs rather than commuting. Or they may want to stop “remote working” and move closer to their employers.  

Notably, the counties chosen by Cook to build those 300 homes are tilted, as we would expect, toward owning one’s home rather than renting. Lawrence has the biggest home-owning preference, with a 71/18 split, with 15,110 of its housing being owner occupied, compared with 3,858 being rented. Orange County, with its hotels, casinos and recreational focus, is still majority home owners (65%), but with a pretty significant 21% of its housing being rented. Owen County, the third county to benefit from Cook-built housing, tilts owner, with 67%, but doesn’t neglect those who need to rent, with 19% of its housing being occupied by renters and the remaining 4% of its housing being used for seasonal or recreational use.  

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