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In Rebuilding Economy and Population, Small Towns Wonder: What Comes First?


Small towns across Indiana are trying modernize their economies and hold onto younger residents. But where do they start? With jobs? Quality of life? Or somewhere else entirely?

Making that decision can be complicated as residents found out recently in Orange County.

It’s home to Lost River Market & Deli, which looks a little out of place in tiny, rural Paoli. This organic food co-op might fit in better in Bloomington or Louisville, Kentucky, each just an hour away.

And with only a Walmart and a shrinking number of chain supermarkets in Orange County, co-op manager Debbie Turner says people would make that drive, spending their money out of town.

She says that’s made it tough to grow the local economy.

“And so we play that role, that we can have a small business that actually survives—it would really be nice if it was thriving, but at least surviving—as a model that you can do this,” Turner says. “A community can decide what it wants and then create a business and support a business that provides for that.”

But the co-op hasn’t turned a profit yet. It’s a chicken-and-egg problem that’s familiar to many Indiana towns working on revitalizing: new business can’t be supported when people don’t want to live and work in town—but residents aren’t attracted to places without a healthy economy.


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