Of all the phrases uttered by economists over the years, one of the most prophetic for the American economy was made by Charles Tiebout in 1955. "People vote with their feet" were the words he wrote to rationalize the seemingly haphazard patterns of urban and regional growth that would shape the post-World War II economic landscape.
The idea that population movements constitute a continuous referendum on the quality of life, efficiency of government and variety of economic opportunities offered in cities and regions all across the country fits the more mobile, free-wheeling nature of the American economy like a glove. It also raises the very useful notion that communities everywhere are competing with each other for jobs, investment and residents.
If population gains are the bottom line of a state's economic-development efforts, how has Indiana fared? If we use our immediate neighbors as a basis of comparison, the answer is quite well. In fact, Indiana's 9.7 percent increase in population between 1990 and 2000 was higher than Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio or Wisconsin. Our population increase of 536,326 people over that period was actually higher than the net population increase of Ohio, a state which in 1990 was nearly twice our size.
Looking within our state borders gives some insight on the factors that are driving that growth. The outer counties of the Indianapolis metropolitan area were big gainers in the 2000 Census. Of the nine counties in Indiana with a 20 percent or higher population increase, five are in the state's largest metropolitan area. There were also healthy increases in the Indiana portions of the Chicago, Louisville and Cincinnati metro areas, as well as in the northeast corner of the state.
On the other side of the coin, the most striking region of slower population growth continues to be in east-central Indiana. Across a band running southeast from Peru down to Richmond are clustered 11 counties that could not even muster a 2 percent increase in population for the decade.
In the bigger field of national growth, however, Indiana's reasonable showing in...