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