Housing study provides a challenge to Wells County
A recently completed housing study for Wells County has some pretty blunt language, as researchers reviewed what the area needs and where it’s going population-wise.
The study was commissioned by Wells County Economic Development. It was done by Development Concepts Inc., an Indianapolis-based company that says it specializes in three things: market and economic analysis, development (and redevelopment) strategies, and implementation services.
The formal title of the report is “Housing assessment and growth strategy: Understanding the future needs of housing in Wells County.” It speaks of revitalization of the area and planning for growth, setting up growth districts, and finding the leadership to make that happen.
Chad Kline, Wells County’s economic development director, has reviewed the 45-page report and will lead a discussion on it Wednesday night. He’s held conversations with several civic leaders and will bring interested parties together for a discussion of DCI’s findings and proposals.
A meeting to discuss the Wells County housing assessment and growth strategy report will be held at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 8, in the upper level of the Arts, Commerce and Visitors Centre, 211 Water St. in Bluffton.
What the study shows is that Wells County is aging — and, for that matter, its housing supply is aging. “Thirty percent of Wells County housing was built in 1939 or earlier,” it reports.
Kline says the aging of the population is a great concern. The median age is 41, and “that should be alarming. That age is only going to continue to rise. When our people are ready to retire, there’s going to be no one to replace them.”
Of particular interest, too, is the relationship between agriculture and the county’s growth. While agriculture has been a key factor in Wells County’s economy as long as there’s been a Wells County, the study says 85 percent of the land is devoted to farming and only 3 percent of the workforce earns a living at it. The study indicates that’s not a recipe for success: “It is a vital part of the county, but it will not be the primary growth driver going forward.”
There are four parts to the study — introduction and summary, market analysis, findings and assumptions, strategies for Wells County growth, and implementation.
The report pulls no punches as it discusses the county’s current state of affairs (economy, housing, population) and what will be needed in the future. Growth has been minimal in Wells County, the report says, and if something’s not done, the county may soon start losing residents instead of gaining them.
“The entire community has to come together and figure out how to grow our county,” Kline said.
That process may start Wednesday night.