This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Tourism and more about the College closing

At the City Council meeting on Thursday I learned that the Jasper County Tourism Board was meeting on Friday. Because I have not been to one of their meetings for a while, I decided to go.

I was reminded at the meeting that the Holiday Inn Express by I-65 is not longer the Holiday Inn Express but is now Baymont Inn and Suites Rensselaer. The ownership is the same but the franchise is different.

The Jasper County Economic Development Organization has been searching for a new tourism director. The applicant pool has several people who appear to be quite capable of handling the position. Hiring should take place this month with the new person starting in April.

There were several requests for funds. Two ladies made a strong case for a grant to the Touch of Dutch Festival. They requested $8500, which was approved. The festival is growing year by year and the organizers are careful with how they spend money. Next year the Festival will have a throw-back theme because DeMotte will be celebrating its 50th birthday. That fact surprised me because DeMotte was settled in the 19th century. However, it was not incorporated until 1965 (by the Commissioners) and 1967 (by the state legislature). The idea of incorporation was quite controversial when it was proposed, as this article reports.

The Board approved a request from the Remington Chautauqua for $2500. There was a request from DeMotte, perhaps by the Fairchild House, for $2500 for a stainless steel sculpture in one of the little pocket parks along the main street. The design is not yet fixed. This request was also granted. The people behind this may, when this project is finished, do a mural on a fence in the same area.

The Board expects that the addition of the new Comfort Suites will increase the revenue from the hotel tax this year. There will also be a loss in revenue because there will be no summer camps at SJC, but not enough to offset the gains from the new motel. Not addressed was what impact the closing of SJC will have on area motels.

The Tourism Board supported three events at SJC last year: Homecoming, the Thanksgiving basketball tournament, and the Christmas lights around the pond. Since those requests will not be repeated this year, there will be additional funds for other projects. I do not know if there is any support for this year's Little 500, which is expected to draw a very large crowd. One of the Board members said that all local hotels were already booked for that weekend.

Also on Friday morning the SJC Board met and later in the day a press release was sent to the SJC community. It announced that St. Elizabeth School of Nursing would be seeking another partner school. Several faculty members had presented a plan to continue instruction in a very limited way but the faculty assembly had tabled the motion because it did not deem it to be financially feasible. The plan was presented to the Board but, based partly on the faculty input, decided not to approve it. The Board will be meeting again on March 13. The full press release is available here.

The State Department of Education has data on total school enrollment by grades K through 12 for the past five years. Almost all the numbers are between 80,000 and 90,000. The pool of students for which colleges are competing is not growing and that is one reason that so many schools have reached out to recruit SJC students. Not only have scores of them visited campus, but two, Anderson and Saint Mary of the Woods, will be providing busses later this month for students who want to visit their campuses. I have been impressed at the efforts SJC has made to help students transition to other colleges. I know it will be difficult for some students, but I do not see how the school could be doing more.

I have heard rumors from several sources that the vote on the suspension of operations taken by the SJC Board was split 18 to 11. I maybe should not repeat this rumor because there are a lot of rumors floating around and I am very skeptical of some of them.

On Friday afternoon I crashed a meeting of community leaders concerned about how the community should respond to the closing of the College. I got the meeting site a bit early and used the time to take a picture of the new airport beacon.
Some of the old beacon was still there on a truck. The Rensselaer Republican had a nice article on the removal of the old beacon in Friday's paper.
(Here is a picture of the old tower taken last summer.)

The purpose of the afternoon meeting was to identify the needs that the closing will create, to identify resources available to meet those needs, and to formulate action statements. There was a lot of brainstorming, but everything is very preliminary and there is a need for more information. Even identifying the effects of the closing cannot be done with any precision.

However, some facts were presented that I found interesting. About 2/3 of the SJC employees (both full-time and part-time) live in Jasper County. The payroll of the College is about $9,000,000, so income in Jasper County will decline by about $6,000,000 from the closing before secondary effects are included. (I do not think the employee count or payroll includes Sodexo employees.) Because the employees of the College spend some of their income in Jasper County and their spending becomes income for other people, the closing of the College will have a ripple effect that reduces incomes of people who are not employed at the College. Hence, the total effect on Jasper County income will be larger than the approximately $6,000,000 estimated above.

These discussions are very preliminary. When they get more organized there may be public meetings.

For your consideration: What local businesses do you think will be especially hard hit by the closing? Besides the economic effect, what other effects do you see coming from the closing? What will you miss, if anything, once the College is closed? Feel free to comment but be constructive and do not rant.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Businesses affected: Walmart, McDonalds, gas stations, and pizza joints will see the biggest impacts in revenue. Taxing bodies such as Jasper County with their income tax will feel the largest effect and will have to find other ways to raise revenue and cut spending. Both options will be unpopular with voters. Businesses that employ students may have a harder time finding workers. Home equity values are likely to dip in the short term. The expansion of Chicagoland suburbs in the north of the county should counter that in the long term. The drive up and down 231 will be a constant reminder but given enough time and it will become background noise. In five to ten years the impact of the closing will be completely absorbed and life will go on.