For the past year, construction cranes have dotted the Terre Haute downtown skyline. A building boom, led by significant capital projects at Indiana State University (ISU), is injecting new life into the downtown core.
The most obvious project to visitors is the new $64 million College of Health and Human Services building that significantly alters ISU's "front door" on U.S. 41. It is the most conspicuous component of $83 million in capital spending by ISU in 2017. ISU has plans for a comparable amount of capital spending during 2018, centered on renovations to the Hulman Center and the Great Depression-era Fine Arts building.
In addition to this spending, private investors have been leading a charge to significantly alter residential opportunities downtown. From the $23 million transformation of the ICON property on the riverfront, to the $25 million Annex 41 development on U.S. 41, facing ISU, to smaller projects like the Haute Maison luxury lofts, almost $100 million of private investment is providing new living options in downtown Terre Haute.
In part, these private investors may be responding to ISU's long-range plans to grow enrollment from its present level of 13,600 to 16,000. That kind of growth, if it continues, is likely to spur further development. Hence, a lot could depend on ISU. On the other hand, should ISU not be able to sustain its recent enrollment growth, there could be a glut of rental apartments in Terre Haute and the recent boom in residential investment could become just a memory rather than a catalyst for future growth.
On the jobs front, Terre Haute experienced an abnormally good spring, with the unemployment rate dropping rapidly from February to May (see Figure 1). Unlike some other recent declines in the area's unemployment rate, which sometimes were attributable to people leaving the labor force, this spring's improvement was unambiguously due to a strong uptick in employment. This coincided with the ramping up of construction projects around town, highlighting the importance of the construction boom to the overall health of the local economy. This could also mean, however, that the improvement could be ephemeral if those jobs disappear again when the construction projects are complete.
Thankfully, there is other good news on the jobs front. In October, ground was broken on the new $30 million Select Genetics poultry incubation facility on the south side of town in the Terre Haute industrial park. This...