To the Editor:
I have been getting questions about the Pantheon Business Theater project since I was appointed as the rural member to the five member inter-local board a few months ago. Many friends have asked why I became involved with this project. My wife Joyce and I are committed to living here. We like the area, love our friends and most importantly, with over 100 years of roots here, we call this home. So if we are going to live here, we decided we’d like to make Knox County a place where we want to live, work and enjoy life. We have both served on numerous boards with the hope of making our community better.
A few years ago, I was asked to speak at the KCDC Annual meeting. I mentioned that I had observed many rural towns and counties, some with fewer resources than Knox County, that were growing, redeveloping, and were attracting new businesses, factories, and most importantly, jobs. Their towns were becoming revitalized and energized. Instead of their high school graduates leaving the county, they were coming back as key workforce members. But, that wasn’t happening here. How many of you have seen your children move out of our community? How many of you must drive hours or days to see your grandchildren? Is it not time we grow job opportunities for them here at home?
So why sign on to the Pantheon project? How does it fit into this economic and quality of life puzzle? Many years ago, I was fortunate enough to serve on the Knox County Redevelopment Commission. That board took the brave step to buy the first piece of property in what we now know as the Knox County Industrial Park. That decision was controversial and deemed to be a risky venture.
However, that investment has proven to be a key economic boost to our county. Today, around eighteen hundred workers, almost 10 percent of the jobs in the county, with a combined payroll of $73 million, work in our Industrial Parks. Yes, each parcel that we have added in the park has been a risk. Economic development is about taking risks. My deepest appreciation goes out to the Commissioners, County Councils, City Councils, Mayors, the Knox County Development Corporation and the business leaders who took an economic risk and bet on the future of Knox County.
Another reason for this farmer to be interested in the Pantheon project is property tax reduction. If we don’t attract new businesses or grow current businesses, the only ones left to pay property taxes are farmers. Taxes on farmland or farm personal property can’t fund all the infrastructure needs of the county. We must grow the assessed valuation of the county or you will eventually tax farmers out of business. We need to grow our business community, not only for jobs and the benefits they bring (over 50 percent of the farmers in the county have off farm jobs), but also for the long-term economic survival of the county. But remember, what holds true for farmers, also hold true for homeowners. No one, and especially our senior citizens on fixed incomes, want to see their taxes go up. Today, the industrial parks bring in $948,584 in property taxes and close to $500,000 in local income taxes. We must invest in ourselves, if we want our taxes to go down.
I have learned that to grow economically, we must also help entrepreneurs develop and put their ideas and dreams into startup successes. Many people have great ideas and inventions, but never seem to get them to the next level. That is what the Purdue Foundry team and local mentors bring to the Pantheon project. I thought the vision statement of Purdue@Westgate-Crane, a similar shared workspace, says best what we want to do here: “We offer tools for startups, entrepreneurial experts, programs, educational opportunities and workforce development to make Indiana businesses grow and thrive.”
I agreed to serve on this board because I believe we can make Knox County a better place to live, work and raise our families. I’m seeing a new enthusiasm for cooperation between our elected bodies, officials and civic leaders. Now is the time and Knox County is the place to build on this unique opportunity. We must attract and retain the best and brightest minds if we want to create jobs, reduce our taxes and ensure our county’s future.