Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb recently announced that 2017 was a record-breaking year for economic development, with commitments from companies across the country and around the world that plan to invest more than $7.04 billion in Indiana and create more than 30,000 new jobs in the state. Combined with an unemployment rate lower than the national average (3.7 in Indiana compared to 4.1 nationally in November 2017), this announcement shows opportunity for growth throughout the state.
However, the forecast is not as favorable for Northwest Indiana, where the unemployment rate sits above the national average at 4.4. Of the largest expansion commitments represented in those projected 30,000 new jobs, a mere 500 are in Northwest Indiana. And, according to the 2016 census, 14.1 percent of Indiana residents live in poverty, compared to the national average of 12.7 percent, with Lake County outpacing the state at 16.6 percent.
Where do we go from here? What ought Northwest Indiana do to evolve and grow economically and socially? As American captain of industry and business magnate Henry Ford once said, “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” At Valparaiso University, we know this to be true. As a campus, we work to nurture dialogue across our differences and to overcome our political, religious, and cultural divisions so that we may work together to achieve a common goal.
During the Convocation service for our annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, inspired by Dr. King’s belief that “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’,” I said that, “it is by focusing on the needs of others that we will all begin to take measurable steps toward a peaceful and just society. When we seek ways to serve our neighbors, we acknowledge their dignity and their humanity. When we eliminate injustice within our sphere of influence, we chip away at prejudice and fear, the two barriers that so often separate us from one another. When we help those around us who cannot help themselves, we remind ourselves and others about the inherent value of all people.”
Northwest Indiana is evolving. Rather than focusing on our differences and the forces that seek to divide, we see more people across engaging in thoughtful and respectful dialogue across city and county lines. We see increased examples of communities across the Region working together toward common purpose.
Clearly, this is the beginning of an evolution and there is much more work to do, but we are beginning to harvest the fruits of pursuing a focused agenda of common purpose. It is by setting aside our own agendas and self-interests and coming together collectively that we will have the capacity to transform our economy, bringing job opportunities to the Region and attracting and keeping a more diverse range of employers and a talented and aligned workforce.
From investments in our precious and unique shoreline to transportation initiatives that will strengthen our ties to Chicago, Northwest Indiana is working together like never before. The current initiative to implement a double-track and the West Lake extension of the South Shore commuter rail line will not only ease access to one of the world’s largest economies, it will serve as an impetus to grow and strengthen our local communities.
This is a critical example of how an evolving Northwest Indiana, one that leverages cooperation, grows trust, and builds confidence, can pave the pathway for greater accomplishments. We must continue to identify the ways in which we agree, advocate with a single voice, and work toward a collective purpose. If we can do this, our progress will be exponential.