Strategy will lead to sustained prosperity and opportunity
From the beginning, this great country has looked to the west for expansion and economic opportunities as part of our Manifest Destiny. This contributed, in many ways, to the official adoption by the Indiana General Assembly in 1937 of Indiana’s motto, “The Crossroads of America,” because of the North-South and East-West highways that easily facilitated the movement of people and goods through the state. This motto implied that Indiana was a pass-through state, though, and not necessarily a destination. Fast forward to today, and we can see how Indiana has capitalized on its centric location and significant investment in the development of infrastructure to transform our state economy. Through planning and seizing opportunities, Indiana has become a destination for people to live, work, go to school, and recreate.
In Northwest Indiana, we know that our region has undergone an amazing transformation during the last century because of our close proximity to the economic engine of Chicago. Thus, as a region, we transitioned from an agricultural base to manufacturing. We developed assets and infrastructure across the region, such as the Port of Indiana, Chicago/Gary Airport, South Shore Line, Class I freight railroads, interstate highways, etc. As a result, communities grew and businesses flourished. That is until about three decades ago, when noticeable changes in the steel industry had lasting and profound effects that rippled throughout the region.
Though things have greatly improved since then, as a region we still continue to lag behind the country, the Chicago MSA, and the rest of Indiana during this post-recession recovery. Many of those indicators are outlined in the One Region 2016 Indicators Report () and on the region profile from the NWI Forum ( ). What I want to share, though, is the exciting steps being taken to create a better, more promising, economic path forward for Northwest Indiana that can complement the efforts and successes of the RDA and NIRPC.
This path is in the form of a truly first-of-its-kind regional economic development plan for Northwest Indiana. The NWI Form has raised over $240,000 from more than 60 regional businesses and stakeholders to engage an economic development specialty consulting firm, TIP Strategies, to champion the planning process and facilitate the plan for the seven counties that make up Northwest Indiana. TIP Strategies has over 20 years of experience developing, and more importantly implementing, similar plans around the country.
Over a six-month engagement, TIP Strategies will be using a three-phase planning model of discovery, opportunity analysis for the next five years, and finally implementation strategies with milestones. What is unique about their planning approach is the creation of strategies that are adapting and growing in an ever-changing economic environment. These strategies are designed to build upon themselves like a foundation, with collaboration and execution from the many regional stakeholders.
Today, Northwest Indiana is at a crossroad. We have an opportunity to change some of the negative trends and accelerate improving ones. To do this, though, we need a roadmap that will help guide us on to a path that will lead to sustained prosperity and opportunity for the entire region. With active engagement of key regional stakeholders through the planning process, we will have strong advocates and champions for creating a plan that is a reflection of ourselves as a region. I am excited and optimistic in the power of unity, and I am confident that we can achieve anything we want regionally, as long as we work together with respect and empathy toward one another.
George Douglas is senior vice president of Indiana Beverage. Prior to his current position with Indiana Beverage, Douglas was the operations manager for the Natural Ovens Bakery in Valparaiso. He also worked as assistant city planner and economic development planner for the City of Valparaiso, and as a case manager for PACT Bradley Center in Michigan City.
- The Making of NWI’s Regional Economic Development Plan - June 1, 2018