Angola is going through the same growing pains as other small towns in the U.S.
Yes, it’s growing.
The things people perceive as decline may just be a sign of changing times, says senior research fellow Benjamin Winchester of the University of Minnesota’s Extension Center for Community Vitality. According to Winchester’s research, rural communities are strong and attracting new residents every year.
Winchester presented “Rewriting the Rural Narrative” Oct. 9 at Manchester University, hosted by the Indiana Philanthropy Alliance. He packed hours worth of information into an hour and a half, said John Mowry, president of the Downtown Angola Coalition.
The purpose of the Downtown Angola Coalition is to promote and develop a thriving downtown community through an organized effort that will market the community, enhance the aesthetics of the downtown area and contribute to its vitality.
“There’s a loss mentality,” said Mowry, noting that nationally prevalent myths about rural community deterioration are echoed locally.
While still digesting the flurry of facts presented by Winchester, Mowry said he found a few points that would be especially pertinent in downtown Angola.
“One thing I would like to get our group involved with is to sponsor a newcomer event,” said Mowry. “We need to work on being welcoming to newcomers and reaching out and trying to connect with them.”
It is not necessarily jobs that bring people to an area. According to Winchester’s studies, newcomers choose an area for a simpler pace of life, safety and security, and low housing costs.
Mowry would like to make them feel welcome and encourage them to invest themselves in downtown Angola.
Winchester presented statistics that show 36% of those who move to an area had lived there previously. Despite “brain drain” concerns, 68% of new residents will have a bachelor’s degree with about the same percentage earning more than $50,000 per household. Half of them will have children, according to Winchester’s studies.
While there may be a drop in the 18-30-year-old group, influx to rural cities currently concentrates the 30-50-year-old age group. Those people are looking for a safe, affordable place to raise families.
Another myth is that we are in “the middle of nowhere.” It is precisely the opposite, said Mowry, Angola is in the “middle of everywhere.” With several major cities only hours away and ample highway access, northeastern Indiana is convenient for commuters.
The nonprofit DAC wants to work with other local organizations to promote the arts and amenities in Angola. Mowry noted that the Steuben County Economic Development Commission and Angola Area Chamber of Commerce have been progressive in attempting to attract business and that art has blossomed downtown. This year, the DAC along with several downtown merchants have worked together to coordinate a Day of the Dead observance.
It is part of a local effort to make Angola an interesting, fun place to live. Mowry encouraged people who have experienced some feeling of loss or concern about their community to get out and do something about it. For starters, he said, they could join a service organization like the Kiwanis or Rotary.
“It’s a way for the younger generation to have more influence,” he said.
On Nov. 7, DAC is planning a networking event for local businesspeople and potential volunteers. Chili and cider will be served during the meeting, 5-6:30 p.m. at Cahoots Coffee Café, 218 W. Maumee St., Angola.