Rural Indiana has been struggling even as cities and suburbs thrive.
Nearly two-thirds of the Hoosier state — an estimated 62 counties — suffered net out-migration between 2000 and 2010, according to the Indiana Business Research Center.
But a recent study found a ray of hope in the economy of rural Indiana. Think solar panels.
Indiana led the Midwest in percentage growth of rural clean energy jobs between 2015 and 2016, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council. The environmental group found the Hoosier state added more than 800 clean energy jobs, such as service and maintenance technicians for wind farms and solar panels, a year-over-year increase of 8 percent.
"Indiana is only trailing behind Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio in terms of total number of rural clean energy jobs," National Resources Defense Council spokesman Ivan Moreno said. "In Benton County, which contains more than half of Indiana’s wind capacity, wind projects created hundreds of temporary construction jobs and more than 100 permanent jobs for service and maintenance technicians. In addition, wind developers have invested around $33 million in local road improvements and Indiana farmers and ranchers are receiving between $5 and 10 million dollars annually in lease payments from wind farms."
There have been efforts over the years to bring more green energy projects to Northwest Indiana, including to lure more wind farms to the largely rural south Lake County. Merrillville-based NIPSCO plans to retire its last two coal-fired power plants by 2028, replacing them with renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.