“Top 10 Places to Visit This Summer!” “The Best Cities to Raise Your Family!” “20 Markets Primed for Business!” Evansville has not been a stranger to lists such as these — even ones that aren’t quite as flattering. But what do the rankings truly mean? Are Evansvillians miserable? Is the housing market great for millennials? Do we live in an unsafe city? Is Evansville welcoming to new business?
With a population estimated around 118,930 as of July 2017, Evansville may appear to be an average Midwestern city. Almost 22 percent are under the age of 18. Just more than 15 percent are over 65. Our median household income is $36,330 and the cost of living in Evansville is 10.5 percent below the national average. That’s just the surface of Evansville’s statistics. Did you know we are No. 67 in the cost of doing business? We are a top ten city where millennials are buying homes, and we are the ninth most exciting place to live in Indiana. Dive into the city’s rankings and statistics to find out what is truth, what is fiction, and how it all stacks up in the big picture of what life is like in Evansville.
LIST: Realtor.com’s Cities Where Millennials Are Buying Homes 2018
RANKING: No. 10
When it comes to the housing market in Evansville, it’s move or get left behind. “There’s a really low inventory here. You’re seeing less to choose from, and you’re seeing buyers on the sidelines just waiting for something to come up,” says F.C. Tucker Realtor Ken Haynie III.
This is not a negative, however — on the contrary, Evansville’s real estate market is an aggressive but attractive one that even the elusive “millennial” is taking advantage of. According to an article published in May by USA Today, researchers from Realtor.com have placed Evansville at No. 10 of hot housing markets for millennials. Haynie is not surprised that 55.2 percent of home buyers in the Evansville market are of a younger generation.
“I think it was a myth for a long time that millennials were just renters and not real buyers — that they were scared of commitment, to really put roots in,” he says. “I’m certainly seeing they are not afraid of that at all, and I think that is because in Evansville, we really have a healthy market.”
For Sean and Alyssa Englert of Evansville, that was their exact mentality when searching for and buying a home. The 27- and 26-year-olds rented through their college years and were ready to find a place to call their own when they moved to the city.
“It feels like our monthly payments have a purpose versus just throwing it down the drain,” says Alyssa.
The home search for the Englerts — Sean is a native of Huntingburg, Indiana, while Alyssa is from Ferdinand, Indiana — began in January, and the couple closed on their home on the North Side in Keystone Crossing subdivision at the end of May. They chose Evansville for the job opportunities and for its proximity to their families.
“I think it’s a really good area, and it has a lot to offer,” says Sean, an operations manager at Academy Sports. “I think it’s growing too.”
The five-month search was filled with some unexpected turns for the couple — from what houses fell into their budget to how quickly homes moved on and off the market. Eventually, they would close on a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home that Alyssa says “blew them away.”
“We were surprised by what we found. I think it was kind of surprising to us when we did end up finding our house because it is such an aggressive market,” says Alyssa, who works as a physical therapist.
“I really do think people see a sense of urgency with having the buyer power so much stronger now than what they think it will be later (when interest rates increase),” adds Haynie. “They’ve seen appreciation, and that gives them confidence.”
What are the biggest selling points for those looking to put down roots in Evansville? Lifestyle and value, says Haynie.
“There is a great balance between life, work, and play here. You’re more of a big fish in a small pond rather than being lost in the mix. And you don’t feel a sense of community (in other places) like you do here in Evansville,” he says. “People are making a lifestyle decision to live in Evansville. It’s very promising.”
Sean and Alyssa have seen friends who seemed destined to move away make the choice to stay in Evansville as well. Aspects such as a plethora of events, growing restaurant offerings, farmers markets, and more have excited the couple about living in the city.
“There is always something to do on the weekends. I lived in the Greenwood area (of Indianapolis) and it was nice. We loved the Mass Avenue area, and I feel like Evansville is kind of trending toward that,” says Sean.
LIST: Forbes’ Best Places for Business and Careers 2017
RANKING: No. 67 in cost of doing business
Behind the riverbanks of Evansville is a bustling, developing business climate. What many think of as a sleepy river city actually is on the tip of an iceberg for an exciting time. With businesses expanding and new ones arriving, the economic atmosphere is on an upward slope. What does this mean for our current and future businesses? Everyone knows the big players — Old National, Vectren, Mead Johnson, and Berry Global of Evansville; Sabic and AstraZenica of Mount Vernon, Indiana; Alcoa of Newburgh, Indiana; and Toyota Indiana of Princeton, Indiana, among others. But what is so attractive about the area that keeps these companies here and encourages new investors in our area? Greg Wathen, president and CEO of the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana, says it is part due to the people and the culture of the area.
Wathen says one of the first questions prospective businesses ask him is how many people we have here, and the second is what skills do they have.
“Probably one of the biggest challenges we have is not so much of companies expanding or new companies looking at us, it is about talent (people),” saysWathen. “Do we have the requisite talent somebody needs, whether it is an existing business or a new business looking at us for the first time, where we can meet their particular needs.”
Evansville has that talent. According to statistics provided by the Economic Development Coalition, the population of our economic region is almost 350,000, and 63.3 percent of these people participate in the labor force. Our economic region is composed of the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) — Vanderburgh, Warrick, Posey, and Henderson counties, as well as Gibson County, which is included in the Economic Development Coalition’s statistics, provided by Chmura Economics and Analytics and JobsEQ. These five counties make up the statistical analysis of the area. These statistics are only trending upward. Although many areas around the country felt the hard hit of the recession in the late 2000s, Evansville did not experience dramatic drops like other parts of the country. However, Wathen says we have experienced incredible growth patterns during the recovery period.
“We have been consistent,” says Wathen. “We are seeing some good signs of potential growth, and we are seeing more people come back to the workforce who have been out of it for a while.”
The unemployment rate is continuing to decrease as well. As of May 2018, unemployment was at 2.9 percent, which is one percent lower than the national rate. As more people join the workforce, an increase in wages also has been seen. Evansville’s annual wages per worker increased 1.1 percent since the first quarter of 2018. Wathen says the Bureau of Economics Analysis defines our economic region as composed of 24 counties covering southeastern Illinois, southwestern Indiana, and northwestern Kentucky. With Evansville as the economic heart of the region, this gives businesses about 800,000 people in their market.
“Evansville is the core community of this area. We have a much broader population from three states, which can sustain and support all kinds of business,” says Wathen.
One of the businesses the community has attracted is Polyram Compounds, located in Evansville at 15000 Foundation Ave. Polyram is a plastic engineering company that specializes in binding incompatible plastics together. Neta Etziony, operations manager, says she was pleasantly surprised with the hiring process here in Evansville.
“There was a large pool of employees to choose from,” says Etziony. “I am very happy with our employees, and all of the workers initially hired still work here.”
Not only were people available here, but Evansville also already had the talent a company like Polyram would need. With predecessors like Berry Global, the company was able to have an easy transition here.
“Evansville is like the plastic capital of the United States,” says Etziony. “There is a lot of industry here, as well as a strong workforce and industrial services that already know the plastic compounding business.”
The ability to get involved and integrated into a community is an important aspect new people are taking into consideration. When new businesses come to the area, they have the opportunity to become entrenched in the community here. Wathen attributes this partly to the cost of living, which is 10.5 percent lower than the national average. Having a lower cost of living allows people to be more comfortable. For younger age groups who like to be involved, there are many opportunities to do that in Evansville.
“I think one of the most exciting parts is there is so much going on now in our region, I think we are at the very tip of the iceberg for what’s going to be happening over the next five to 10 years,” says Wathen. “You have the opportunity to get involved and to be a part of it. I haven’t seen this kind of excitement probably in 30 or 40 years”
Another benefit that comes from having a strong culture is getting people to stay. Wathen says it takes more than a business posting a job opportunity to get outside people in. Those who travel to work here need a strong community for them to stay.
“In many cases, if they don’t have a robust network they have created, how do you help them become integrated into the community,” says Wathen. “I think that’s all of our responsibilities, especially in the business community. You have to take on the responsibility of creating wrap-around services that help them get networked into the community to retain people long-term.”
Etziony can attest to this statement. She has traveled all the way from Israel to work in Evansville and says the city has been so welcoming to her and the business she represents. Evansville seemed like the ideal place for Polyram to lay down their international roots, she adds.
“One of the reasons we chose Evansville is because it is a very welcoming community,” says Etziony. “The people here are very supportive, and the community reminds me of Israel — very friendly and a family-like atmosphere.”
LIST: Safewise’s The Safest Cities in Indiana 2017
RANKING: No. 92 of 97
Evansville is no stranger to danger according to multiple online lists. Safewise, a comparison engine for security systems, ranked Evansville 92nd out of 97 cities in Indiana in terms of safety. NeighborhoodScout, a database for real estate information, assigned Evansville a crime index of 4, meaning the city is safer than 4 percent of all U.S. cities. The site also claims the probability of becoming a victim of a violent crime in Evansville is 1 in 157, while in Indiana as a whole it is 1 in 247.
However, these statistics do not tell the whole story. Sites like Safewise and NeighborhoodScout use figures from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, a list of crimes reported to police departments by city.
“[The FBI’s website] tells them not to use this to rank cities, because there are too many variables in here to accurately do it,” says Jason Cullum, public information officer for the Evansville Police Department.
He notes on Safewise’s list, Gary, Indiana, is higher than Evansville at No. 83. However, Gary, with a population of 76,556, had 46 murders reported in 2016, while Evansville, with a population of 119,908, only had eight murders reported that same year.
Gary, with five times the amount of murders as Evansville and a smaller population, is ranked higher because of how other crimes are reported. Agencies can have different methodologies in how they report crime. For example, Cullum says Gary may list battery as a misdemeanor, which would not be reported, while the EPD reports the same occurrence as a felony battery, a more severe charge.
“The city ranked No. 1 [Ligionier, Indiana, on Safewise’s list] is a city that has 4,000 people in it. Of course you’re going to have a different amount of activity; you have a fraction of the people,” says Cullum.
Other aspects these lists do not consider are resources communities have for crime prevention. In 2013, WeTip, an anonymous tip line, was launched in Evansville. Since then, 5,000 anonymous crime tips have been reported in Vanderburgh County through WeTip, surpassing the average 12 calls a week in most areas, according to the Vanderburgh County Prosecutor’s Office.
“The crime may be small, but the sense of security in the neighborhood is impacted,” says Cullum. “That allows us to take care of the problem, and people can feel good about where they live again.”
LIST: Business Insider’s 11 Most Miserable Cities In America 2013
RANKING: No. 8
When Evansville residents read about themselves in national news, they probably get a strong feeling of whiplash. A list published by Business Insider in 2013 claimed Evansville was the eighth most miserable city in America, while a list compiled by Motovo Real Estate a year later listed Evansville as the ninth most exciting city in Indiana.
So is Evansville miserable or exciting? Most of these lists are read with a grain of salt, especially the rankings that are impossible to back up with hard statistics. Business Insider compiled its list through Gallup Poll, which gathered data by calling residents at random and asking questions about life, work, health, and basic necessities in the city. But what are the criteria for being miserable? And what is the threshold for being an exciting area?
No one can speak to the entertainment scene in Evansville quite like Kerry Chesser can. As the owner of four restaurants and bars in the city — KC’s Timeout Lounge, KC’s Marina Pointe, KC’s Corner Pocket Bar & Grill, and the soon-to-open KC O Brady’s Bar & Grill — he knows the city’s entertainment culture better than anyone.
Even with four successful nightlife hotspots, he says he understands why some might think Evansville is a difficult place to cut loose. It isn’t personal; it’s business.
“We love it here,” says Chesser. “We have been fighting to do what we’re doing. We tried to do this on Franklin Street, and it was a battle. If everybody who wants to start a business up in Evansville sees that and they think they have to go through that, they will probably go elsewhere.”
For a long time, Evansville has lost opportunities and visitors to bigger nearby markets, like Louisville and Nashville. However, Chesser and operator Chad Brady have been on a mission to change the mindset that Evansville doesn’t have as much to offer, starting with KC’s Timeout Lounge in 2010.
At KC’s Marina Pointe, bands have visited from Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, and Nashville. The closest city to Evansville many of these bands would play is Louisville, but Brady adds many of these bands try to play bigger markets even than Louisville.
“People are leaving here on the weekends and going to Nashville because of the things Evansville doesn’t have to offer,” says Brady. “That is what we are trying to do here — bring more things here so people don’t have to go out of town to get a taste of it.”
When it comes to culture and how we view ourselves, the efforts of the e is for Everyone movement are on the same page as Chesser and Brady — working to create more inclusivity and positive change to show Evansville is a great place to be and has potential for more.
“The ultimate goal is for people to take ownership of e is for Everyone,” says Mary Allen, an active member of the branding effort. “Basically, it’s a platform — we’ve started a platform for people to be able to connect and share their stories.”
In its first year, the moniker has been adopted by businesses, professionals, restaurants, entertainment venues, events, and more as a way to promote the belief that Evansville is a place for all.
“We’ve seen people change the way they think about producing events and having more diverse music line ups in order to align with that message of inclusion,” says Matt Wagner, who helped start the e is for Everyone campaign. “It’s not anything we’ve done necessarily, but it’s just the message is out there and it’s a reminder to be intentional about inclusion.”
But of course, not everything is perfect — Allen and Wagner are quick to point out the branding effort is not only about being cheerleaders for the city, but providing an outlet for conversation about what can also be improved. Another goal is that the people of Evansville — longtime residents and natives, as well as newcomers — see a chance to speak up when they did not feel a chance before.
“If someone who moved here from another country sees that message that Evansville is for everyone, they might want to step up and step out,” says Wagner. “That kind of message might give someone that bit more of confidence to think this is the kind of place where they could start a business or restaurant and feel accepted.”
“As a white, middle class woman, I’ve never experienced not feeling included. But we’re seeing people who have had that experience saying they are feeling welcomed. That this initiative makes them feel more connected and valued,” says Allen. “There’s a culture shift that needs to happen, and I think we’re starting to see it.”