Northwest Indiana stands at an economic crossroads. The region’s economy has long been driven by its deep manufacturing base, proximity to Chicago and Lake Michigan, multi-modal transportation infrastructure, and agricultural production and processing sectors. It offers scenic natural amenities, well-regarded higher education and healthcare institutions, a skilled workforce, diverse communities, and a competitive business climate. Most regions of the country would be truly grateful to possess Northwest Indiana’s assets and advantages.
Figure 1 shows the most recent results of Area Development magazine’s “Survey of Corporate Executives.” The annual survey queries executives on the site location factors they view as most important in the current economic environment. Indeed, many of the top-10 rated factors are strengths for Northwest Indiana, such as highway accessibility, labor costs, quality of life, taxes, and proximity to major markets.
However, there is a growing acceptance in the region that more must be done to revitalize growth and prosperity. The region can no longer rely solely on its traditional activities and strengths to ensure economic vitality. The causes for worry are evident. The region is losing population due to out-migration. The labor force has not grown in almost two decades. Overall job growth remains stagnant. Much of the region’s job creation is occurring in lower-wage service sectors. Poverty and distress persist in some communities.
Certainly, these patterns are not unique to Northwest Indiana. Some are the consequence of national and global forces that have been building for years and are difficult for local communities to overcome. However, there are numerous examples of regions that have successfully adapted to new economic realities and invigorated economic growth. This is already happening in places throughout Northwest Indiana. Just a few examples include housing redevelopment in Whiting, downtown redevelopment in Michigan City, and agricultural tourism at Fair Oaks Farms. The challenge for Northwest Indiana is to amplify these and other successes regionally, to position the region’s amazing assets for new opportunities, and to build a connected and sustained regional economic development partnership.