HOBART — Five hundred Northwest Indiana public officials and business and nonprofit leaders were urged to further efforts to work through differences and find consensus to move the Region — and country — forward.

"I want us to get back to basics. I want us to reflect, to think about first principles," said Buie Seawell, keynote speaker at the annual One Region luncheon Thursday at Avalon Manor. "At this difficult stage in our nation's history we need to pause and reflect about who we are, where we came from and where we're headed."

Seawell, a recently retired professor from the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver, said today's divisive politics threatens self-government and democracy.

"The first freedom is the freedom to govern yourself, and to participate in your government," Seawell said during a 25-minute address that brought a standing ovation at its conclusion. "If we lose the freedom of self-government, all others are in jeopardy."

Seawell, a North Carolina native and 45-year resident of Colorado, worked as an ordained minister during the civil rights era in the South, and then had a career in politics and public policy before entering academia.

Seawell said America's form of government is kept alive by a striving for consensus. "What has kept us alive for 241 years is that we finally come to agreement and move forward."

"Factions don't work, in the end, in this country," he said. "A fractured national is not a nation that will long survive."

Seawell commended the attendees at Thursday's luncheon for their efforts to achieve the consensus he believes necessary.

"Democracies are fragile. That's their very nature," he said. "And ours is in a place in time where what you represent in this room and what you do together is priceless, is critical, is absolutely necessary."

Seawell was invited to Northwest Indiana by a former student, One Region President and CEO Leah Konrady, who anticipated Seawell's themes when discussing One Region's activities and goals at the luncheon's opening. 

Consensus-building in support of the South Shore Line's West Lake Corridor and double-tracking projects proved the area's willingness to work through differences, Konrady said.

"I have seen real evidence of collaboration and teamwork to move our Region forward," she said.

Konrady said population growth, particularly attraction of members of the millennial generation, is One Region's central goal in its effort to draw and retain talent and to boost incomes.

She said the organization, which is governed by a nine-member board of directors from business and education, is studying several growing regions as models for Northwest Indiana: the New Jersey suburbs of New York; Pittsburgh, a steel city that's transformed itself in recent decades; and Denver, which has invested heavily in infrastructure and is attracting millennials by the thousands.

Connectivity to Chicago, strong and active downtowns and the Lake Michigan shore will help "promote our Region as the best place to live in Chicago," Konrady said.

"Our Region is primed to rock-and-roll," she said.

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Andrew covers transportation, real estate, casinos and other topics for The Times business section. A Crown Point native, he joined The Times in 2014, and has more than 15 years experience as a reporter and editor at Region newspapers.