Region’s infrastructure experts focused on future
The TV shows make it look so easy to “do it yourself.” No matter your generation, whether it is today’s Chip and Joanna Ganes or yesterday’s Bob and Norm from “This Old House,” they make it look easy to DIY. All you need is a little gumption, a saw, some paint, a little drama about the budget and voila in less than an hour you too can reveal a more attractive and functional house.
Oh sure sometimes they give a quick shout out to their “experts,” saying they couldn’t do it without them. But it is taken for granted that these experts are easy to find locally and equally easy to work into the project budget and schedule. Doesn’t every neighborhood have somebody who can make an affordable custom dining room table and chair set in less than a week from the tree you cut down in your backyard?
Our theme for this issue is infrastructure. It is the fourth installment of our yearlong exploration of the themes identified in the Northwest Indiana Forum’s Ignite the Region plan. Too often business people treat infrastructure like these DIY shows treat their experts. We think that the most cost-effective infrastructure will be in perfect working order with extra capacity and available to us at a moment's notice without giving much thought to how it was built and who paid for its construction.
Infrastructure is often narrowly defined with a heavy focus on transportation-related needs resulting in an undervaluing of its importance and its contribution to economic health and growth. A more broad definition of infrastructure also includes the services and consulting skills a business community needs to survive and grow in addition to their transportation-related needs.
In this issue, several of our articles take a broad look at our local infrastructure. We interview leaders from many of the local groups that are helping to maintain the infrastructure we need today, and planning and building what we need for tomorrow.
Building infrastructure is a lot like ordering appetizers to share at a restaurant. Most folks are hungry and agree it is a good idea to order something, but the challenge is who decides what we order, how much we order and how we share the cost?
Paying for infrastructure always has been a challenge. The lack of funding can delay or derail a project before it begins. Should we rely on governments or private industry to build, maintain and fund our shared infrastructure? I remember during President Barack Obama’s second presidential campaign that he was quoted as saying “You didn’t build that.” Some business owners interpreted it to mean that they didn’t build their businesses on their own without government funding. Others understood the president to mean that businesses didn’t build all of the infrastructure needed to fuel our modern economy without government funding.
Either way, with the level of infrastructure needed, I think it is fair to say there is plenty of room for public and private funding. I am glad there are local groups helping to identify and coordinate a master plan for maintaining the infrastructure we have now and building what we will need in the future.
Think of it this way. Imagine someone offers you free land in an area with no taxes to move or expand your business — sounds too good to be true, right? The catch is the land is completely undeveloped. It doesn't have any roads, people, houses, hospitals, etc. — nothing but dirt and trees within a 20-mile radius. How much would it cost to build the infrastructure needed to run your business on that land without any outside help? I think Northwest Indiana is a better bargain, don’t you?