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Purdue Extension has offices in all ninety-two counties in Indiana. Through these offices, our educators are able to spend their workdays (and live their lives) in close proximity to their stakeholders. This constant contact offers insights that go beyond the data and builds networks that other institutions often struggle to replicate.

Recently, one of our Extension educators participated in a candidate forum (Election Day is right around the corner on November 5th!). After it was over, they sent me a quick email with some raw notes. The overarching discussion was, “If these are the issues, where does Purdue Extension Community Development plugin?” Here is an excerpt:

ISSUES RAISED DURING THE FORUM:

Speed of local government progress – Purdue Extension cannot speed up how fast our local governments work towards moving their communities forward, but we can address their need for timely and accurate information through our On Local Government program. On Local Government provides local elected officials and community leaders with timely information and resources about the local government revenue system, legislative changes, the state budget and other issues that impact local government finance. Another great way to keep up to date is through Dr. Larry DeBoer’s Capital Comments column.

Getting people to take care of their property – Quality of life in a community is the collective result of individual and institutional decisions and actions. This can be a homeowner decision concerning their home, a public decision that affects public spaces or a business decision that affects a community’s natural resources and land use patterns. Purdue Extension Community Development addresses such issues through:

Communication – Communities across Indiana, and the United States for that matter, have struggled in recent years to find a way to communicate constructively between neighbors and within communities, counties and regions. Purdue Extension Community Development addresses this issue through facilitation and equipping residents to appreciate and ‘navigate’ their differences. The Facilitative Leadership workshop teaches people facilitation tools and techniques to cultivate the skills, tools and awareness necessary to draw out ideas, encourage effective discussion and guide groups to make inclusive decisions and actionable plans. In addition, the Navigating Difference training is a cultural competency training for professionals who work in communities and are interested in working more effectively with others.

Hiring Qualified Employees – Workforce development is a cross-cutting issue that impacts employees and businesses alike. Matching people and their skills/experience/education to existing/emerging jobs is not as easy as it sounds. Purdue Extension Community Development is partnering with the Purdue Manufacturing Extension Program to deliver Skills for Success. This program is designed for individuals new to manufacturing or the workforce, individuals seeking work, may serve as additional new-hire training, or as a way for individuals to update their workplace skills. Another program, WorkReady (formally INWork) is a partnership with Purdue Extension 4H Youth Development teaches life skills necessary to increase the number of qualified applicants for Indiana job openings.

Accompanying issues raised (and the positive attributes of the community), we also discussed emerging opportunities in the community.

AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT:

Financial

  • Grants/ Grant Writer/Funding

Communities always struggle to find the requisite financial resources to invest in community improvement projects. Beginner’s Guide to Grant Writing program teaches participants how to write effective grant proposals and navigate the grant process. Both beginners and experienced grant writers learn to develop ideas into winning proposals, identify potential funders and understand the full proposal development, submission and review process.

Built

  • Sidewalks
  • Building Stabilization
  • Community Center (youth and senior programs)
  • Budget Planning for Preventative Maintenance

As described above, Purdue Extension Community Development assists local governments with technical assistance and educational programs (On Local Government and American Citizen Planner – Indiana). In partnership with the Purdue Center for Regional Development and the Purdue Extension Land Use Team, we conduct applied research focused on critical issues (e.g., housing and government finance) and collaborate on comprehensive planning projects.

Economic

  • Increase Tax Base
  • Business Attraction/ Increase Employment Opportunities
  • Residential Tax Abatement
  • Retail Department Store

Purdue Extension Community Development has a suite of economic and business development programs that focus on entrepreneurship and business retention and expansion. The Creating a Regional Entrepreneurial System Together (CREST) program assists Indiana communities in transforming their economies through the development of key components required for fostering a high-quality environment for entrepreneurship. The Digital Ready Businesses initiative advances the capacity of small businesses to strengthen their knowledge and application of strategies to expand their online presence. Purdue Extension offers Business Retention and Expansion as a targeted program for small companies (between 10 and 99 employees) as a method to help Indiana communities understand local business needs and respond, so that businesses grow, stay and become more committed to the community. Lastly, local companies selected to participate in the Economic Gardening program receive up to 36 hours of strategic research and technical assistance by skilled professionals from Purdue University and partnering organizations.

Quality of Life

  • Entertainment/Activities
  • More Support for Senior Citizens and Youth
  • Substance Abuse Issues/ “Drug Problem”

Quality of Life is a broad subject. Purdue Extension Community Development’s Enhancing the Value of Public Spaces was recently adapted into a new program. The Enhancing the Value of Public Spaces: Creating Healthy Communities program positions communities to address healthy eating and active living through proven, science-based strategies that are identified and implemented through a collaborative action planning process that is led by Purdue Extension and executed by the community themselves. This program is a collaboration with Purdue Extension Health and Human Science program, Purdue Extension’s Nutrition Education Program, Purdue Extension’s Sustainable Communities program and IL-IN Sea Grant. These partners, along with Purdue Extension Community Development have a broad array of Extension programs that affect quality of life.

While this is one community, I expect that many of the issues and areas resonated with you in your own locale. Having a member of the Purdue Extension Community Development team in your community provides you a direct connection to all of the programs and partnerships outlined above. If you want to learn more, feel free to send your inquiry to our team at CDExtension@purdue.edu .We are looking forward to hearing from you!

Michael Wilcox is a Purdue Extension Assistant Director and Program Leader for Community Development ,  Purdue Extension Community and Regional Economics Specialist, Dept. of Agricultural Economics, Senior Associate at the Purdue Center for Regional Development. He can be reached at wilcox16@purdue.edu.

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