"I know this city well, and I wouldn't live anywhere else." This quote might seem biased, considering it came from the mayor of the Morgan County seat. But you might be surprised to know that Martinsville claims to have more long-standing citizens per capita (people who have lived in the city 25 years or longer) than any other city in Indiana.
Martinsville is known for its rugged, forested scenery and conservative heritage. It's home to 13,000 of the 58,000 people that live in Morgan County. Many moved to Martinsville in the high-growth 1970s, and easily commute north or south on state roads 37 or 67.
As the county seat, Martinsville's downtown consists of a picture-perfect town square and a surrounding business district. Its retail shops, law offices and antique stores make up the Downtown Merchant Association, led by Peg Broyer. Broyer says members meet to discuss issues important to a thriving city center-- such as zoning, parking expansion, yearly town festivals and marketing plans for attracting new businesses.
Two years ago, downtown Martinsville received a major facelift with nearly $4.5 million dollars of renovation projects completed. In Morgan Street Phase One, as the city planners named it, about 95 percent of the standing downtown buildings received some structural improvement. Backed by the mayor's office and the Chamber of Commerce, the improvements included new sidewalks street surfaces and street lamps.
After seeing the town's support of this renovation, private business owners on the town square took the initiative and made additional improvements to their buildings.
"Downtown office and retail space is being snatched up at an aggressive pace. Business owners enjoy being based out of Martinsville because the town possesses small-town ambience with the convenience of short commutes to the large Indiana cities," says Broyer. In addition, the town's commercial downtown district has recently been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
"Martinsville is not an industrial city," says Bill Cunningham, executive director of Martinsville Chamber of Commerce, "We do have a handful of large companies headquartered out of our town that have been very good to our economy and our population." Cunningham is speaking primarily of Harman Motive, a manufacturer of automobile speakers. Harmon Motive employs 900 workers and has driven the good employment record that Martinsville has experienced.
Morgan County Memorial Hospital, Twigg Corp., maker of aircraft components, and Roger Block, manufacturer of concrete and decorative block, round out the town's major economic players.
The local school district has a topnotch athletic and academic program, "rivaling school systems 10 times our size," says Superintendent Ron Furniss. The high school has taken home the Academic State Championship for the last three years in a row, and the girls golf championship eight out of last nine years.
Shannon Buskirk--a second-term mayor, 55-year native of Martinsville and 26-year veteran of the Martinsville Police Department (12 years as chief)--works hard trying to attract new business. "We have an industrial park, but the city didn't design the park to accommodate the high growth and expansion that we are experiencing." As a result, local resident Henry Birk and the mayor's office are attempting to turn the 113-acre Birk family farm into another industrial park. "Hopefully this endeavor will bring in new manufacturing, and these potential tenants will appreciate the city's amenities that the future park will offer," says Buskirk.
Martinsville's Annual Summer Festival in June and its Fall Foliage Festival in October are the town's largest events of the year. Broyer says these festivals help to draw businesses downtown. Complete with food, flea markets, commercial vendors, retail sidewalk sales and musical entertainment, the four-day Fall Foliage Festival is said to be the second-largest parade and festival in the state (after the Indianapolis 500 Festival Parade). Last year marked the festival's 40th year.
An organization called PRIDE--People Respecting Individuality, Diversity and Everyone--coordinates efforts to advocate racial harmony and counter the bad press the city received from a shouting incident at a high school basketball game. The group has started an annual banquet to honor someone in the community who has been helpful to children. Albert Merritt, an African-American Martinsville resident who started a boys club for underprivileged young boys, will receive the honor this year.
This initiative and others are paying off. Martinsville is a nominee for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce's Outstanding Indiana Community of the Year award.