People in Richmond, Indiana know they live in a great American city.
In fact, reaching the top 50 in the America’s Best Communities competition is the third time their city has earned national accolades in its recent history.
In 2009, Richmond was named an All-America City by the National Civic League — for the second time. And the first All-America recognition came only 20 years earlier.
However, the greatness hasn’t come without challenges. And it’s the hard work that has gone into achieving so many great things that truly defines Richmond’s character.
“This community has a rich heritage of people coming together to solve problems,” said Wayne County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Amy Oler Holthouse.
Like many Midwest communities, Richmond began losing manufacturing plants and the jobs they provided in the late 1970’s.
Still, “throughout the years, we have worked diligently to keep the economy humming, growing and diversifying,” Holthouse said.
Local schools have faced their own obstacles. In 2006, Richmond High School was named a “dropout factory” by researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Area residents went to work to address the problem – and things quickly changed.
“In 2013-14 the graduation rate was over 92 percent,” Holthouse said. “The community stepped up.”
It was an ambitious effort that was fueled by a drive to close the local skills gap, or the disparity between the skills needed by area employers and the skills possessed by workers. Richmond continues to confront this lingering challenge today.
“We have jobs,” Holthouse explained, but area employers can’t find qualified candidates.
And there are a few reasons for it.
“Educational attainment has been a barrier to productive employment in the Richmond area,” Holthouse said. She added, “Interestingly, a survey of local employers also identified ‘soft skills’ as an impediment to a person’s productive employment.”
That’s why workforce development has become a cornerstone of Richmond’s revitalization efforts, as the city strives for success in the America’s Best Communities competition.
“Our vision guiding our plan is attracting, retaining, and developing an effective, productive workforce that will allow an increase in per capita income and a growing assessed valuation,” Holthouse said.
Richmond’s workforce plan goes well beyond skills training. Community leaders have determined that to attract more people to the city, they’ll have to make Richmond an even better place to live.
They’ve placed two key focus areas at the heart of their plan.
First, they’ll “focus on the ‘Quality of Place’ through enhancing our parks, our housing, our bike-ability, our walkability, our family friendliness, our cultural offerings, our historic preservation, our downtown, our night life and more,” Holthouse said.
Positively Richmond, a local group focused on the city’s revitalization, has become an important force behind this push. The organization has accelerated local efforts to improve quality of life, which will help attract and retain talent. It is helping to spearhead several key projects, while aggressively promoting the region.
Secondly, to help current residents secure good-paying local jobs, Richmond intends to focus on the Human Development Pipeline from cradle to career.
They want to enhance local pre-natal care, provide high-quality early childhood education and ensure literacy competence by third grade. As children grow, the community and its leaders will pay close attention to important transitions and help kids identify their gifts, talents and dreams.
“In addition, we need to ensure that the 2,700 folks from ages 24-44 without a high school diploma achieve one,” Holthouse said, “and that older workers have the new technical and advanced manufacturing skills they need.”
As local leaders ramp up their work to address this issue, they’re confident another great moment is ahead for their great city.
“I believe Richmond is positioning itself well to be able to move on to the next phase of progress. There are a lot of things already happening. However, taking this opportunity to pull it all together into a comprehensive plan so that all parts can be working toward a common goal, within their own mission, is a great gift,” Holthouse said. “I see individuals really looking toward the future with positive energy and looking at what could be possible if we work together.”
To learn more about Richmond, visit www.richmondindiana.gov or the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce’s website at wcareachamber.org. And for more about Positively Richmond, go to www.positivelyrichmond.com, or like the group of Facebook and follow their work on Twitter.