If cities and towns aren't improving — and most importantly growing — then they're no doubt losing a competitive race with neighboring communities and states.
It's pretty simple: Municipalities that continuously find new ways of maintaining and growing respective tax bases thrive while others falter.
The difference can be seen most starkly when comparing Northwest Indiana's urban core to the vibrant communities of south Lake County and Porter County.
That's why it was encouraging to see The Times special report Sunday that so many Region municipalities keep the concept of annexation within long-term development plans.
We encourage all Region communities to consider annexation of surrounding unincorporated areas as a means to this end. It should be remembered, however, that a viable plan for expanding infrastructure, including roads and utilities, must be front-and-center of any long-term annexation strategies.
Bistate political ads, billboards and just general economic reality remind us daily that Northwest Indiana, and our greater state, are in prime position to steal population and businesses from the financial tatters defining neighboring Illinois.
Incorporated Region communities should be looking at growth through the annexation of contiguous unincorporated areas as a means to begin that endeavor.
Lowell wisely is eyeing rural parcels along Indiana 2, particularly near the Interstate 65 interchange, for potential future growth.
Valparaiso and Kouts slowly are growing toward each other through annexation, scooping up the rural land between both communities.
St. John, one of the fastest growing Hoosier municipalities in terms of population, undertook five separate annexations in 2017 and has a long-term annexation plan that coincides with expansion plans for municipal utilities.
Cedar Lake has taken a contested annexation plan to the Indiana Supreme Court because it sees the value of home rule and growth opportunities.
The way Indiana law is written, it's important for cities and towns to incorporate diplomacy when seeking annexation. A statute that took effect in 2014 made it more difficult for municipalities to annex land unless all affected property owners favor it.
But big changes that maximize opportunity require big thinking and strategy.
Our Region should be encouraged so many communities are in the hunt for future annexation opportunities.
New housing stock and commercial parcels for growing business offerings need land upon which to build. The ultimate goal of growing local tax bases must have elbow room to reach fruition.