When Indianapolis hosted the Super Bowl last month, it was one more sign that the city is far more than the Indianapolis 500, the biggest race in the world. Although Indianapolis is still relatively small in size-34th in metro area with 1.75 million people-the Pacers (NBA) and the Colts (NFL) give it major league status.
The rise of Indianapolis began in the 1970s when civic leaders led by Mayor Richard Lugar teamed up to annex all of Marion County. That now makes the actual city population 12th-largest in the country, with 839,000. City leaders attracted big events and sports organizations, such as the NCAA headquarters. They expanded a convention center in the early 1980s and built a domed football stadium that attracted the Baltimore Colts. They added a major swim facility downtown to attract qualifying trials.
Problems still abound in Indianapolis. The city's public schools, with a 40-year enrollment decline, face a possible mayoral takeover. But a Christian school, Oaks Academy, provides an unusual inner-city private school option in what was once a high crime neighborhood. Oaks features classical Christian education and a 50-50 black-white racial balance. Redeemer Church (PCA) has attracted young families to the near-downtown Oaks neighborhood, mixing old house renovations with outreach to the arts and culture community. Shepherd Community Center has shown how to fight poverty with Christian faith and family rebuilding initiatives.
Top city and state officials in Indianapolis unapologetically profess faith in Christ. Among them are Gov. Mitch Daniels and the top Republican and Democratic candidates who hope to succeed for his job, Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Pence and former Indiana House Speaker John Gregg, who calls himself a "Bible-quoting, gun-toting" Democrat. The current speaker of the state House of Representatives, Brian Bosma, is an Indianapolis Republican who speaks freely about his Christian faith.
New attractions in Indianapolis include the Big Ten football championship, along with Final Four tournaments in college basketball. Several national music organizations have put their national headquarters in the city, and the family-friendly Gen Con convention in early August attracts about 30,000 people who play sophisticated board games and review the latest in high-tech games. The Heartland Film Festival brings in Hollywood actors and producers each fall with its emphasis on movies that aspire to the good, true, and beautiful rather than empty-minded gore and sex. -Russ Pulliam
Not long ago Oklahoma City was just another small city in flyover country, perhaps best known as the site of the deadliest pre-9/11 terrorist attack in U.S. history, the 1995 bombing of a federal building that killed 171 people (including three unborn children).
But today Oklahoma's capital city, with its low cost of living, low unemployment, high level of entrepreneurial activity, and exciting young NBA team, "could represent the future of America," according to Atlantic senior editor Derek Thompson.
City native Patrick B. McGuigan, who edits the online news website CapitolBeatOK, credits the resurgence to a mix of responsible tax-financed improvements and major private investments over two decades-all "without resort to city income taxes or Detroit-style property tax hikes."
Many churches and ministries are also active. Doug Serven, pastor of City Presbyterian, a new church plant downtown, says more Christians "care about Oklahoma City: not just saving souls, but entering into the city and its brokenness and joy, incarnating with the belief that Jesus really does change things."
The Spero Project, for example, mobilizes Christians for ministry to marginalized women, families affected by foster care, international refugees, and more. The 111 Project (1 church, 1 family, 1 purpose) aims to leave no Oklahoma child without a family, and is recruiting foster families from area churches. The Good Shepherd Catholic School, a new school for autistic children, is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation.
Doing its part is Hobby Lobby Stores, the Oklahoma City-based arts-and-crafts retailer, which last year increased its own minimum wages for employees for the third year in a row. Though the federal (and state) floor is $7.25 per hour, Hobby Lobby increased its minimum wage to $12 per hour for full-time hourly employees. Founder and CEO David Green, who closes his stores on Sundays, emphasizes "biblical principles, including integrity, service to others, and giving back to those in need."
Oklahoma City has its problems, of course. The Family Research Council found that only 42 percent of Oklahoma children reach the age of 17 with both their biological parents married. The city's central location makes it a hub for human traffickers. The Global Report Card noted that if you picked up the Oklahoma City school district and dropped it into Finland, the average Oklahoma City student would be at the 9th percentile in math achievement.
But thanks in part to a robust oil and gas sector, Oklahoma City's unemployment rate of 5.5 percent is well below the national rate of 8.2 percent. When Margery Turner, vice president for research at The Urban Institute, recently graded the nation's 100 biggest metropolitan areas on "how much economic security they offer families in these tough times," Oklahoma City topped the list. -Brandon Dutcher
This August the national political spotlight will shine on Tampa, Fla., as it hosts the Republican National Convention. For its center stage moment Tampa officials will be promoting the city's brightest spots: its famed nightlife in the Ybor City historic district, one of the nation's top zoos, its nearby beaches on Florida's west coast, and the roller coasters inside Busch Gardens. Now boasting professional football, baseball, and hockey teams, the area is no longer just a place for sports fans to watch spring training baseball games.
Long considered a great place to retire or vacation, Tampa has seen a nearly 15 percent population growth over the last decade with another 10 percent growth predicted over the next five years. The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area's population of more than 4.2 million makes it Florida's second-most-populous area and the fourth-largest in the Southeast. But it is not all retirees. The area's 18-34 age group, drawn here by the housing boom, now amounts to 20 percent of the population, and that number is rising.
But the housing market that fueled the region's growth now plagues Tampa. Home prices have dropped more than 45 percent since 2007. Nearly 19 percent of homeowners are delinquent on their mortgages. The area's 11.2 percent unemployment rate has remained well above the national average. Those numbers are big reasons why CNBC and Sperling's Best Places in January named the metro area the most stressful in the nation.
But that dismal title was not on the minds of 19 Christian business leaders during a recent daylong gathering. They are part of a network of more than 60 Christian business executives in the Tampa area that includes the president of Tampa Bay Steel and the CEO of Kforce, one of the nation's largest staffing services firms. Together, they employ thousands of workers and control hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. The Tampa region is home to the largest concentration of members of the C-12 Group, a nationwide network of evangelical executives.
Scott Hitchcock, who leads the monthly meetings for the Tampa area C-12 Group, said the members strive to have transformational influences in their hard-hit community. Richard Hayes, who owns a marketing firm, donates up to 40 percent of his billable hours to helping charities, and the entire group has given time and money to renovate dilapidated homes in the area. This culminated in the groundbreaking last summer for two new cottages for Tampa's Hope Children's Home. Surrounded by live oaks, the large, colonial-style homes each have room for 10 children and a pair of house parents.
The homes were built to be energy-efficient and would have cost about $500,000 each. But C-12 members provided 60 percent of the cost. Group member Jay Fechtel's construction company led the effort and secured supplier donations for additional materials. Plans are underway to build four more homes and a central playground. -Edward Lee Pitts