While Northeast Indiana’s 11-county region has consistently grown for four decades, Wabash County has not. Imagining a bold, comprehensive plan for the future is the best possible way to arrest—and reverse—our population decline.
Grow Wabash County, the Community Foundation of Wabash County and the incorporated communities of La Fontaine, Lagro, North Manchester, Roann and Wabash are calling on the citizens of Wabash County to address the steady and alarming decline in population that threatens school funding, industry and job growth, economic development and competitive wages, the availability of retail and professional services, and the value of our homes.
A coalition of leaders from all sectors are joining in an unprecedented countywide collaboration called Imagine One 85. Together, we will develop a bold, comprehensive plan for the growth and prosperity of the entire county.
All who care about the future of the communities of Wabash County are encouraged to join us in this important work.
Key documents, memos, and presentations created throughout the Imagine One 85 planning process are featured below for download and review.
Imagine One85 Countywide Comprehensive Strategic Plan
Grow Wabash County and the Community Foundation of Wabash County are thrilled to announce that a draft of the Imagine One85 countywide comprehensive strategic plan is now available to the public.
The People Memo provides analysis across three topics: public health, placemaking, and education.
- Health Factors in Wabash are better than nearly two-thirds of other counties in Indiana. Areas of strength include Income Equality, Social Associations, Insurance Coverage, Mental Health Providers, and Vaccinations. Opportunity areas include Adult Smoking and Obesity, Post-Secondary Education, and Air Pollution.
- Residents have access to opportunities for active and healthy lifestyles. Investments made in trails and blueways, particularly on the Wabash River Trail, promote an active lifestyle and provide recreation opportunities for residents. Healthy food access is provided through several Farmer’s Markets and a variety of grocery stores that offer fresh produce.
- Placemaking efforts support other community priorities. The Wabash River Trail, Downtown Wabash Farmers Market, and other examples promote values such as public health and economic development.
- Overall enrollment in schools has been declining and will continue as the County demographic changes. The aging population and only a modest rate of in-migration of families with school-aged children contributes to this trend.
The Prosperity Memo outlines the key findings, maps and tables for the various topics related to community and individual prosperity. Topics in this report include economic development, housing and fiscal conditions.
- The economic activity in Wabash County is worth $1.2 billion and has grown by three percent from 2015.
- There are just over 700 businesses, down from a high point before the 2008 national recession.
- Wabash County has experienced little recent growth in its property tax base, which puts pressure on property tax rates and the ability to fund public services.
- Wabash County has prioritized the local income tax in its fiscal policy. The county has seen significant recent income tax revenue growth.
- The vast majority, 80% of the housing units, are single family
- 19% of the county residents are “housing cost burdened”
The Place Memo provides an analysis across four topics: land use, agriculture, natural resources and parks and recreation, and historic and archeological resources.
- Very little land consumption from 2000. Just over 600 acres of agricultural land was lost to development from 2000. During this same period, the county lost 3,000 residents.
- The current zoning maps identify significant growth areas. Almost every land use (commercial, residential, industrial, etc.) has at least 40% undeveloped land capacity available for future growth based on the current zoning.
- Farms in the County continue to decrease in number but increase in average size. An average farm today is nearly 154% larger than the average Wabash farm in the 1940s.
- Substantial parkland is protected from development. Approximately six percent of the County’s land is protected by local, state, and federal parks.
- The County has a unique network of active preservation partners. Not all counties of similar size and composition have multiple historical societies and an institution like the Honeywell Foundation.
The Foundation Report provides an analysis across three topics: transportation, hazard mitigation, and public facilities and services
- Most streets are not congested and have plenty of capacity for growth. Some sections of SR-15 and SR-13 in the City of Wabash are nearing capacity and may experience peak hour congestion.
- Pavement and bridge deferred maintenance backlogs are sizable and is the primary focus of County and local street superintendents.
- Hazardous Materials Incidents were identified as the highest vulnerability in the County. This was based on factors such as risk probability, magnitude/severity, warning time, and the duration of the incident for each event.
- Approximately one-third of residents lack access to high-speed internet. Fiber optic internet is limited within the County; only the City of Wabash and the Town of North Manchester have access to fiber.
- Improving Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) is an area of focus. Wabash and North Manchester both have Long-Term Control Plans related to their stormwater and sanitary systems.
Population Loss Study
Wabash County has steadily lost population for nearly 40 years and is projected to have fewer residents in 2050 than 2019. Low birthrates coupled with more people moving out than moving in creates a perfect storm for population decline that is not easily reversed.
This is a problem, but it can feel invisible in Wabash County. Personal income continues to increase, and the number of households are staying steady. Even property tax revenue is growing. However school enrollments are projected to decline and accordingly their financial support from the state. The consumer base for restaurants, retail outlets, and professional services like attorneys and banks will shrink. Furthermore, the job base that once kept counties like Wabash afloat – typically manufacturing – has declined without comparable-wage replacement jobs in other industries. This scenario is not unique to Wabash County. A national trend exists of population decline and economic change in rural locations not adjacent to urban metros. Similar things are happening in some of the counties surrounding Wabash County.
Increasing population against these strong national demographic headwinds is a very ambitious goal. No guaranteed road map or best practice exists. However that doesn’t mean nothing can be done. Rather, improving the local systems and structures from everything like local government finance to arts and entertainment provides an opportunity to not only make Wabash County an attractive place to work or visit, but also a great place to call home for those who just moved there and those who have lived there their entire lives.
Success doesn’t happen overnight. This is work that will take years to show results. While some projects can provide quick wins to build and sustain momentum, it will be hard work over the long haul. Don’t give up. Bold results require hard work and commitment from across Wabash County.
After examining all of the various resources, community analyses, etc. and combining them with the copious amounts of feedback collected through community listening sessions, stakeholder meetings and small group discussions, Planning NEXT and the Imagine One 85 Steering Committee came up with 85 recommendations to help Wabash County grow its population.