Molly Marshall commutes from Jackson County to Columbus Regional Hospital twice a week. The roughly 25-mile, one-way trip takes the registered dietitian about 35 minutes — depending on traffic and at what time she leaves.
Marshall said she commutes because she likes her job and because she has lived in Seymour all her life, except during her college years.
Marshall is among 12,582 people who drive to Bartholomew County for work. About 3 in 10 people who have jobs in Bartholomew County are commuters, according to data released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau.
With 35,843 jobs in Bartholomew County, nearly 82 percent are held by people who also live here.
People commute to work in other counties for many reasons, including cost-of-living advantages and ties to their community, said Kumares Sinha, an Olson distinguished professor of civil engineering at Purdue University.
Sinha said people generally try to minimize their housing and transportation costs. Gasoline costs easily can be offset by much lower living costs in a city removed from their workplace.
Marshall is among 2,721 people who come to Bartholomew from Jackson County, which brings more commuters to the Columbus market than any other county. Jennings, another neighboring county to the south, ranks second (2,572). They are followed by Johnson (1,973) and Brown (1,013) counties. Combined, those four counties account for about two of every three commuters coming into Bartholomew County.
Marshall has made the commute from Jackson County for 16 years. For the first six of those years — before she and her husband, Chris, had children — she worked full time, driving to Columbus five days a week.
Making the drive only two days a week makes it more manageable for her now.
“I wouldn’t want to do it five days a week,” she said.
Her husband also is from Seymour, and the couple built their home on family ground, further rooting them in Jackson County.
Avoiding a move
Sinha said that a lot of working adults, especially those with children, develop a connection to their communities that can trump commuting expenses. People develop relationships with friends and neighbors, and their children build a network of friends at school. Relocating also brings stress and additional costs.
“So a lot of people end up staying,” Sinha said.
Sinha knows this firsthand: His son, who lives in West Lafayette but commutes at least an hour to Indianapolis, wanted his children to go to highly rated schools in Tippecanoe County.
Jacquelyn Jean-Claude, who commutes to Columbus from the north side of Indianapolis, said she has stayed in the bigger city primarily because of family and friends.
Jean-Claude, a human resources manager for Cummins Inc., has made the 58-mile commute five days a week for nearly five years.
Cummins offered to relocate her five years ago, but Jean-Claude said she declined because her children were in school in Indianapolis and because she had just moved her mother there.
“I have a life here in Indianapolis,” the Dayton, Ohio, native said. “After a while it just becomes home.”
Jean-Claude said she tells others, though, that if they can live in Columbus, they should, in part because the drive in winter can be treacherous.
In January 2009, Jean-Claude had what she called “a near-death experience” on Interstate 65. She was driving home on slippery roads when a box truck hit two cars near her. She tried to get in front of a semi in the right lane next to her and almost struck another semi. Jean-Claude’s car started spinning on the highway, and she let go of the wheel.
“I just said, ‘Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.’ There was nothing I could do.”
Her car ended up in the middle of the interstate. After gathering herself, she pulled the car off the road and phoned her children and her mother.
The incident has made her pay close attention to weather reports to determine whether to adjust her departure schedule to avoid bad weather or to work from home.
“I definitely look at my different options,” she said.
Dynamics are key
Commuting patterns are influenced by a complex set of dynamics, said Michael Hicks, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research and an associate professor of economics in the Miller College of Business at Ball State University.
Households today typically have more than one worker. That means that choosing to commute has more to do with the household than the job, Hicks said.
Nationally, research also indicates that weather and geography play much less of a role than previously thought, and that the availability of playgrounds and especially access to public education are much more important.
People are willing to accept a somewhat lower income and higher property costs to live in a place that has more jobs, a greater diversity of jobs and more amenities that are important to them, Hicks said. That means especially that affluent and well-educated people may stay in central Indiana, for example — rather than moving to Boston or Brooklyn — even if they earn a little bit less, because they believe the quality of life is higher in central Indiana.
For many commuters, quality of life away from their place of work also outweighs the hassles of a commute.
Marshall, who lives west of Seymour, said she takes country roads for much of her commute, then gets on heavily traveled Interstate 65 at County Road 450S.
Winter weather can make things difficult, especially on the country roads, where she also has to watch for deer. And although she has seen accidents and spent time stuck in traffic, she said she can put things in perspective: Traffic is much worse in big cities, and she is grateful for the hospital’s flexibility in letting her work two days a week.
“I’m very fortunate to work at the hospital,” she said.
Going north for jobs
The census data also show that about 6,500 Bartholomew County residents drive to work outside of the county. That means nearly 2 in 10 Bartholomew County residents who have a job work elsewhere.
The top destination for commuters who leave the county for work are Marion (1,539) and Johnson (1,402), both to the north, and Jackson (1,058).
Sinha said the local commuting patterns — people come to Bartholomew County primarily from smaller communities and leave primarily for bigger ones — make sense.
Bigger communities offer more jobs and more diverse job opportunities, Sinha said. For example, while people commute from West Lafayette to Indianapolis, a lot of residents of nearby smaller communities commute to West Lafayette to work at auto plants and Purdue University.
Michael Oakes, MBA director and senior lecturer in finance at IUPUC, said it is reasonabale to expect the number of people who commute to Bartholomew County will increase with the number of job opportunities.
“That logic ... would apply for professionals and for skilled labor alike,” Oakes said. “It’s one thing to be living in Seymour and have finally gotten on the day shift at Cummins or Toyota. It’s another thing to consider picking up the household and moving.”
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