Regional Report Card

A Regional Report Card

Many indicators are improving, and some need more attention.

Hello, Northwest Indiana!

I say that with pride as a Northwest Indiana boy who grew up in Highland, where everyone worked in the steel mills or, like my mom, took the South Shore to Chicago for work. Those were the days when most people had fat paychecks, but we were choking on our polluted air, fouling our waterways and poisoning our soils.

Well, those days are long, long gone. The fact is we don't have any more low-skill, high-paying jobs and the future is not going to be in new massive mills with tens of thousands of workers.

Today, the region is higher tech, more efficient and cleaner than ever before. And it's made up of diverse and creative workers with a mix of college degrees, associate's degrees, certifications and specialized training.

Clearly there is no silver bullet when it comes to creating a vibrant, inclusive and sustainable region. But we have some phenomenal assets to build on. The 2016 One Region Indicators Report highlights progress made in key areas in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties between 2000 and 2014.

People–Growing. Four percent growth is slower than the state and nation. But, with 768,748 residents, we are more diverse and more reflective of the nation's population. An influx of new international residents continues, with 652 people moving into the region in 2014.

Economy–Needs improvement. Average wages rose from $31,552 to $44,013, productivity continues to improve, and Gross Regional Product is up to $33.1 billion. But total jobs declined by a couple percent. We need to plan better and invest more in high-quality industrial parks such as AmeriPlex, Northwind Crossings and Thomas Rose and continue to focus on innovation with organizations such as Ivy Tech's Society of Innovators.

Environment–Improving. The air quality index shows significant improvement. Beach action days during the season were down. Our 45-mile Lake Michigan shoreline has 15 miles that are protected for recreation and future generations. We need to do more to support and promote the beautiful natural resources of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the Indiana Dunes State Park.

Transportation–Needs improvement. Commuter rail served 3.6 million riders in 2014. It is critical that the region gets behind the game-changing South Shore Westlake Corridor and Double Tracking projects. A focus on linking transit systems to create greater connectivity regionally and to Chicago is imperative. Valpo's ChicaGo Dash and LaPorte County's Transit Triangle are showing real promise.

Education–Improving. Education levels are rising, with more people graduating from high school. In 2014, 36 percent of the region's residents had high school diplomas; 24 percent had some college; 8 percent had associate degrees; 14 percent had bachelor's degrees; and 7 percent had advanced degrees. Improvements in levels of education and workplace skills will continue by strengthening partnerships between business and education through activities such as Ready NWI, Manufacturing Days, mentoring and internships.

Health–Needs Improvement. Northwest Indiana tends to be less healthy than the rest of Indiana and the nation. With education and the environment improving, there is hope for better health. NIRPC has completed its Greenways and Blueways 2020 plan. Let's start peddling around on our 100 miles of bike trails and paddling on our newly restored Grand Calumet River and other blueways. Take a walk in the dunes or on our 15 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. Sunsets over Chicago are just incredible.

Arts & Culture–Improving. There's a greater and greater focus in this area across the region. Check out the new Artspace Uptown Artists' Lofts in Michigan City. Witness Whiting's lakefront rebirth and Valpo's new downtown ice skating rink.

Our region is being driven by diverse, creative people who invent, produce and distribute the best products in the world. Products such as high-tech jet engine parts at ALCOA, food processing machines at Urschel Labs, MonoSol plastic films, Hoist heavy duty lift trucks, Pratt recycled cardboard and, my favorite, Albanese gummy bears.

We have a lot to be proud of in Northwest Indiana, but there is much work to be done. Let's focus our collective positive energies to create a new and even more exciting Northwest Indiana for all of us!

Author

  • Don Babcock

    Don is a graduate of Purdue University Calumet in Hammond with a degree in engineering and an MBA from University of Chicago. He has 30 years of experience with Northern Indiana Public Service Co. and is involved with many of the utility’s projects and initiatives, not only across northern Indiana, but elsewhere in Indiana and across the country. Don is one of Indiana’s biggest boosters and has accompanied the governor on overseas trade missions several times.

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