The new ‘His­toric Hillsdale’ welcome sign.

There has been some dis­cussion about the replacement of the signs defining the city boundary.  As with any­thing else, we should think about the purpose of an entrance sign.  It is not likely meant to inform the res­i­dents where the city limits are.  The purpose of such a sign is more likely to let non-res­i­dents who are vis­iting or who are passing through know what is important about the com­munity.

The City has been advised by firms that pro­vided their expertise through the state gov­ernment that it is important for eco­nomic devel­opment to advertise the unique strengths of the com­munity.  This has been rein­forced by several con­fer­ences held throughout the state. While it is true that the people are an important part of Hillsdale, many places will believe that their people are an important part of their com­munity.  What sets Hillsdale apart from nearly all other com­mu­nities is that it is his­toric (very few places have the entire downtown as an his­toric dis­trict) and it is home to a nationally renowned college.

In terms of eco­nomic devel­opment a sign that says “It’s the people” does not convey a clear message to people passing through.  If you have lived here for three years you will under­stand what the sign means, but it is not obvious at first read.  The new signs will clearly identify what is unique about the city to non-res­i­dents. They have been designed as what econ­o­mists call “way­faring signs.”  They start by declaring that city is an his­toric com­munity. In addition, if you read the best-selling book, Triumph of the Cities, you will find that insti­tu­tions of higher edu­cation are one key to eco­nomic success.  When four million people know of Hillsdale College it seems odd that for the past 20 years we have ignored that in our signage.

As for history, the college moved here in 1853 because of the gen­erosity and enthu­siasm of the local res­i­dents for it. In addition for years the entrance sign said “Welcome to Hillsdale, Home of Hillsdale College, Liberal Arts Inde­pendent” and had a picture of Central Hall. You can see it in the 1964 Alumnae Mag­azine, along with the quote: “These 12’ by 20’ boards…are another example of Hillsdale’s college-com­munity rela­tionship.”

Rather than develop some con­spiracy theory, we should be grateful that the college, as it did in 1964, has gen­er­ously donated these signs, in addition to its donation of a van to service the airport.  These signs are actually an example of the college assisting the city in its eco­nomic devel­opment.


Wolfram is a pro­fessor of political economy