Tuesday, October 02, 2007

From Mineral Water to Destination

“Our motto was the City of Mineral Water and we had a dozen sanitariums in the town,” Jamie Thompson, Executive Director of the Greater Martinsville Chamber of Commerce, told me as we started our tour. The sanitariums are long gone but the Morgan Hospital and Medical Center with its cutting-edge technology investments and 550 employees is bringing in patients from all over the USA and some foreign countries.

I often talk about crossroads for communities and decisions that have to be made when towns come to those crossroads. Martinsville, IN (population 11,698) is at one of those crossroads. The population of the county has grown by over 50% in the past 30 years, primarily due to its strategic location midway between Bloomington and Indianapolis. Many working couples moved to Martinsville as the drive to each town was only 30 to 40 minutes. A new 2,100 acre housing development of 1,300 homes ($400,000+) with riding stables and a Pete Dye Golf Course on the outskirts of town will only accelerate this growth. Or you can buy a Frank Lloyd Wright designed home for about $250,000.

An even greater impetus for growth will be the new I-69 interstate that is in the planning stages, linking Detroit to South Texas/Mexico and linking up Indianapolis to Bloomington and on to Evansville. That project which will take at least a decade to complete will physically split Martinsville but allow the town to rethink what they want to be in the long term.

I told my audience that they needed to rethink the approach of some, that Martinsville’s best strategy lay in continuing to be a bedroom community. The financial ramifications of going down that path are dire. The longer term ones of building a community when the best in your town are worn out from a long commute are even more devastating.

The Morgan County Economic Development Corporation, under the able leadership of John Taylor who I’ve known for over a decade, is pushing to leverage Martinsville’s location between Eli Lilly in Indianapolis and Cook Group, a biomedical powerhouse, in Bloomington to develop a life sciences cluster. Another possibility is auto racing technologies building upon a local company’s success with making racing car windows and visors that are 460 times stronger than normal auto glass.

Martinsville has a very bright future. Decisions that are made in the next couple of years will determine how brightly that future glows in the next decades.

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