The Indiana University Southeast (IUS) Applied Research and Education Center (AREC) completed a study, commissioned by the Scott County Community Foundation (SCCF) and funded by Lilly Endowment Inc., that assesses the current state of community systems and residents’ perceptions of top priorities for Scott County. The study finds that Scott County is home to strong social ties and opportunities to volunteer. Residents feel safe and are generally happy with the schools. Most feel that it is a good place to raise children and enjoy the area’s natural beauty. Top priorities cut across mental health and substance abuse, education and training, wages, housing, infrastructure, and recreation.

With public engagement as the goal, SCCF will distribute findings in several ways. Dr. Melissa Fry, lead investigator, will present findings to the Scottsburg and Austin City Councils, the full report is available on the SCCF website, along with smaller briefs by issue area, and SCCF will share key findings through social media. The reports pull together public data on Scott County with the findings from a survey of people living, working, or otherwise engaging in Scott County. The AREC and SCCF distributed paper and online surveys throughout the community in February and March 2020 and 407 people responded.

“The report gives us a baseline and some ideas for how to use our assets to address priority needs,” said Jaime Toppe, Executive Director of the Scott County Community Foundation. The SCCF will use the public data and community perceptions as a foundation for a facilitated strategic community and economic development planning process.

The study’s primary author, Dr. Melissa Fry, Director of the Applied Research and Education Center and Associate professor of Sociology, notes that Scott County’s strong social ties, good schools, quality social infrastructure such as libraries, parks, and multi-use paths, and desirable location all provide an excellent framework from which to build. “Like many rural manufacturing and agricultural communities, the last few decades brought painful economic restructuring and the serious social challenges that accompanied it, but Scott County has real opportunities to support residents and capitalize on strong community ties, good schools, and the desirable combination of rural amenities and close proximity to urban opportunities.”

The study draws connections between health, education, housing, and labor force engagement and success, and recommends a strong focus on these core areas, while also building stronger quality of life through opportunities for recreation, physical activity, and engagement with the arts.

“We can align our resources and efforts toward common goals for a healthy and vibrant community. This study helps us understand that alignment does not mean we all work on the same piece of the puzzle, but it does mean that we should target leverage points that will have positive ripple effects,” said Toppe. “We hope this work is a beginning.”