East Central Indiana's Forge Your Path program is attracting new residents and encouraging existing residents to explore their own backyards.
Like many rural regions across the country, East Central Indiana is facing an exodus of its young people to more urban areas after they graduated high school or college in search of career opportunities they felt weren’t available to them in the region. So local leaders decided to get creative and do something about it. Nine counties banded together to form a coalition to highlight the region’s best features to attract talent and establish East Central Indiana as a place people want to live, work and play.
“Forge Your Path was created because we wanted to emphasize the strength and the opportunities we have as a region when we work together,” says Caitlin Hancock, director of administration and marketing at the East Central Indiana Partnership. “Our goal was to create a place for various information about the region, like things to do, housing and job opportunities. It is a landing space with information from various organizations throughout the region.”
Forge Your Path isn’t only an alliance looking to attract new residents, but it is encouraging existing residents to explore their own backyards: Visit a new museum, go to a new restaurant, and see the area from the eyes of a visitor. For newcomers, the tagline speaks of opportunities that await in a new place where an individual can take ownership of their future – in East Central Indiana.
“Forge Your Path was created because we wanted to emphasize the strength and the opportunities we have as a region when we work together.”
Caitlin Hancock | East Central Indiana Partnership
To create Forge Your Path (FYP), the counties hired consultant Lauralee Hites of Stratavize Consulting, who facilitated Elevate ECI, a working group of individuals from each county that, along with efforts from across the region, helped develop FYP.
“The success of an initiative like Forge Your Path is important to me because I live here. I care about the region and that’s why I was so passionate about doing this project with them,” Hites says. “We’re expected to have a significant population decline over the next 20 years – it impacts everything from tax revenue to schools to amenities and quality of life. You don’t want to have to tell your children that the grass is greener elsewhere, and they have to leave the place they grew up in order to be successful.”
Power in Partnering
The coalition started to take stock of all the great amenities the region offers: perks like a lower cost of living, much more affordable housing options compared to the rest of the country, great community involvement and all the amenities that cities have to offer, like cultural events and other activities.
“We had to take a two-pronged approach to it – changing the way communities see themselves first – that the people who live here love to live here, and then start to focus on how to attract talent and people to come live here,” Hites says. “What makes this really unique is that we intentionally brought together nine counties to build Forge Your Path, a lifestyle marketing initiative. When you think about it, each county has a different agenda. Sometimes, they’re competing with each other, but we took the approach that you have to see everyone as a partner on a bigger initiative. We have to work together as an entire region wanting to attract talent.”
Beyond that, says Hites, it was important to not only attract people to the region but to get them to want to stay there. To do that, they have to love where they live. Enter the ambassador program.
“We chose two individuals in each county to be an ambassador,” Hancock says. “I really wanted to have a connection to a local when someone was interested in East Central Indiana. They could easily get questions answered on what things there are to do or what housing looks like via Zoom or on the phone, to be able to talk about the county and what it has to offer.”
Get to Know East Central Indiana
Want to learn more about living and working in East Central Indiana? Check out the latest edition of Livability East Central Indiana.