Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Upbeat Duneland economic summit touts regionalism

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Northwest Indiana economic development groups exuded optimism for the days ahead during Thursday’s summit held by the Duneland Economic Development Company at Sand Creek Country Club.

A total of nine organizations were represented on a panel at the event as were 70 others in attendance. County commissioners, municipal officials, business owners and business professors heard from the panel whose theme was cooperation over competition in order to move toward economic restoration.

DEDC representative and Chesterton/Duneland Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Heather Ennis got the ball rolling by emphasizing the need for finding leadership that can guide those who are passionate about creating changes for new opportunities in economic growth not just for one community, but the region of Northwest Indiana. She feels regional cooperation is important.

“Doing things the same way doesn’t always work out the best,” she said.

Ennis served as proctor for the evening and asked each panel member to speak about their organization and what they felt was their best achievement for 2010.

Northwest Indiana Forum President Mark Maassel said over $300 million has been invested in the region this year, along with the $4 billion from the Amoco/BP expansion. He said the NWI Forum works to enhance the environment through a business perspective and to provide good paying jobs and bringing the economy back up to the desired level can be a “slow and painful with a lot of work still left to be done.”

David Blumenthal of the Porter County Economic Development Alliance said he was most pleased with the branding initiative undertaken by the county tourism bureau that even included the lesser known communities like the Pines. He praised the efforts of the tourism bureau and credited the Indiana Dunes for bringing business to Porter County.

Porter County EDA is an organization that works with county officials, educational entities, and workforces to reinvest wealth for the benefit of all communities countywide.

John Swanson, executive director of the Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission, said the agency recently gathered public and stakeholder input for a 20-year comprehensive plan which was favored with a 28-1 member vote. He said he also has been impressed hearing the voice of smaller towns like Kouts who have wanted to get involved with bigger projects.

Swanson also said Porter County has met clear air standards for its ozone this year. “I think we should give our business community a lot of credit,” he said.

Other panelists like LeAnn McCrum of the Northwest Indiana Small Business Development Center cited job creation as their proudest accomplishment. McCrum in particular said NWISBDC saw the creation of 300 new jobs.

Don Babcock, director of economic development for the Northwest Indiana Public Service Company, said he is proud of the $1 million that NIPSCO gives annually to sponsor community groups and activities.

“It’s about more about building our community. It’s working with good leaders. We’re getting better on defining roles and creating efficiency,” said Babcock.

Babcock said he is also looks forward to the economic impact that will be brought in once the Illiana Expressway is built.

Winning, Not Whining

Asked the question what challenges would be faced in 2011, all panelists said the year will be challenging overall but commonly agreed businesses should be prepared to take action on whatever form of challenge may arise.

For 2011, Babcock said businesses “need less whining and more winning” in bolstering the economy. He said the conversations never seem to end and firms should act on their plans.

“They need to get used to winning,” he said. “We need to have more selfless leaders to pull this region together.”

Maassell called for bringing in more jobs and investing more money to make up for what funding will be lost by the property tax caps that were voted in this year.

Sandy Alverez, business consultant of Center of Workforce Innovations located in Valparaiso, said her company’s goals are to work with schools as well as finding strong consultants. She said the goal of CWI is to find opportunities for employers, educators, and job-seekers.

Blumenthal cited the need for businesses to have access to a broadband fiber optic cable network.

The panel also discussed ways to reduce redundancy in the business world. Some said a collaborative model between regional groups should be made rather than competitive models and working progressively towards those goals.

Some panelists felt redundancy could have positive effects.

“It’s not inefficient if they are willing to work equally on a professional level,” said Dewey Pearman, a member of the Northwest Indiana Economic Development District which helps district members find opportunities to get federal funding.

Hospital Talk

Later at the meeting, Chesterton Town Council President Jeff Trout pooled the panelists for their input on what the Town of Chesterton can do regarding the construction of the new Porter hospital to have the surrounding area become more prosperous and help those who live close by.

The future hospital, which Trout said is was the largest building project in the county since the Bethlehem Steel plant in Burns Harbor, will be located in unincorporated Liberty Twp. at the northwest corner of U.S. 6 and Ind. 49.

Babcock told Trout it would be best if the town or county developer a bigger plan on a larger scale.

Jim Stanton, director of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, chimed in saying there needs to be a plan to capture tax revenue from the hospital and take the revenue and “put it back into the ground.”

Porter County Treasurer Mike Bucko sitting in the audience said the county should take a closer look at developing a plan for the U.S. 6 corridor stretching from Ind. 149 all the way to County Line Road. He said the state would pay much more attention and consideration if such a plan is developed.

Ennis also felt another plan should be developed specifically for the Ind. 49 corridor with the implementation of the hospital which is scheduled to open in 2011.

Ennis moved the meeting along to a group activity to gather ideas for possible initiatives the group could pursue.

Audience members and panelists felt cooperation from the schools was a priority to increase skills for the next generation of workers.

“We’ve got to get back to the kids. That’s how you are going to develop,” said Purdue North Central business professor Anthony Snidone.

Other plans focused on expansion of the Gary Airport and the groundbreaking for the C&N railway, the Gateway to the Dunes project, and making the community more aware of the progress made.

See You In the Spring

Ennis said this is the second time the DEDC has held summit, with the first one occurring in October 2009.

She hopes to expand the summit to twice a year, one in the spring and one in the fall starting in 2011.

She said the purpose for the summit is to educate community members on what the “regional players” are doing and create clarity to outside observers.

 

Posted 11/12/2010

 

 

 

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