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The IBR is a publication of the Indiana Business Research Center at IU's Kelley School of Business

Columbus

Kelley School of Business, Indiana University, Indianapolis

No dramatic boom is waiting for Columbus and Bartholomew County in 2003. Business activity next year will look much like it did in 2002, according to forecast data from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.

If economic conditions turn out as forecast, Bartholomew County will do reasonably well. A double-dip recession is unlikely, as long as political or international events don't derail the U.S. recovery. But we also won't see the frantic pace of business expansion that took place in the late 1990s.

Bartholomew County's economic activity did not drop as much as in many other Indiana counties during the 2001 recession, so it won't experience as much of a bounce during the economic recovery. Total employment may rise but not very fast.
Throughout the recent recession, the unemployment rate in Bartholomew County almost always stayed below the state and national average (see Figure 1). Since conditions in the area are already better than in much of the state, Columbus and Bartholomew County don't have a gap to make up.

Figure 1
Bartholomew County Unemployment

Figure 1

A continuation of very low interest rates is likely to fuel car sales in Bartholomew County. Low interest rates typically are good for the housing sector too. But many economists believe that much of the demand for home upgrades and refinancings has already been met. A gentle slowing of real estate demand will be offset by the general economic expansion. So the level of real estate activity in Columbus and Bartholomew County should be about even with 2002.

Health Care

One of Bartholomew County's main growth sectors has been health care (see Figure 2), and that should continue strong in 2003. Cost management and streamlining work in favor of regional health care centers—that's what Columbus is becoming. Total employment in the county runs just over 40,000 jobs. The number of jobs in health services is nearly 3,700, which gives the sector close to 10 percent of total county employment.

Manufacturing

In the coming year, however, Bartholomew County's manufacturing sector faces significant economic uncertainties. While the county's employment base has diversified in recent years, 38 percent of all jobs still come from manufacturing, according to ES-202 reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And most of the major manufacturing companies are not growing in Bartholomew County. Five years ago, there were thirty-one firms in Bartholomew County which employed more than 200 people each. At last count (at the end of 2001), there were only twenty-six. Compared to fourth quarter 1996, manufacturing employment in the county at the end of 2001 was lower by about 1,100 jobs (see Figure 2). But the top ten manufacturing employers lost nearly 2,000 jobs. Smaller firms and the health services sector made up for some of the loss, but not all of it.
Random events affecting just one big company can have a tremendous effect on Bartholomew County. Right now, highway freight tonnage is expected to show modest growth in 2003, indicating a stable demand for diesel engines. Any number of factors, though—economic, political, or competitive— could change that.

Figure 2
Bartholomew County Jobs

Figure 2

Education

Another area of uncertainty for the long-term future of the county will be the education sector. At the 2000 census, 22 percent of the Bartholomew County adult population age 25 and older held bachelor's degrees. That was the twelfth highest rate of all Indiana's ninety-two counties. But Indiana as a state ranks near the bottom among all states in the nation. Indiana was in forty-third place, with a level of education on a par with Alabama, Louisiana, and Tennessee. If Bartholomew County were a state, it would have ranked about thirty-second, alongside North Dakota, Wyoming, and Pennsylvania, but well below the rates near 30 percent found in Virginia, Vermont, and Minnesota.
Employment in the educational services sector has risen gradually in recent years (see Figure 2). The area's ability to raise the level of education in the workforce will be important in determining whether economic prosperity comes to Bartholomew County or gets diverted to Minnesota and Vermont.