INDIANAPOLIS | The state's new economic development officials believe Northwest Indiana is perfectly situated to attract jobs and investment, so long as region leaders work together to tell its story.
"We all need to become more collaborative, and that's across the state, because I really do believe that collaboration and working together in the long run is going to be more successful," said Eric Doden, president of the Indiana Economic Development Corp.
Gov. Mike Pence last month appointed Doden, 43, and Secretary of Commerce Victor Smith, 44, to head the state economic development agency established in 2005 by former Gov. Mitch Daniels.
While one person held both of the IEDC's top jobs during most of Daniels' two-terms in office, Doden and Smith have found after their first month on the job that two heads are better than one.
"It really allows us to reach out more," Doden said. "We're so well-informed and I think so in tune with each other that either of us could pick up the ball and use the same audible calls."
Unlike the top-down, headline-maximizing approach to economic development favored during the Daniels era, Smith and Doden said they're looking for local groups, such as the Northwest Indiana Forum, to do more to sell businesses on the benefits of the region.
"Our responsibility is to make people aware of Northwest Indiana," Doden said. "Ultimately, the local leaders have to really sell their own region and who they are."
Both men share the experience of living in Northwest Indiana: Doden earned his law degree from Valparaiso University School of Law; Smith attended La Lumiere School in LaPorte.
Smith said the transportation, recreational and beauty aspects of Lake Michigan, the area's proximity to Chicago, the many road and rail arteries, along with the work ethic of region employees make Northwest Indiana an ideal place to locate a business.
It's made more so by the state's low-tax, low-regulation business environment and state government's commitment to steadiness, Doden said.
"Good businesses do not make a decision to move somewhere because of tax credits. They make a decision to move somewhere because it's the right business move for them in the long run," Doden said. "When you look at Indiana versus other states, we have a Triple-A credit rating. We have a budget surplus. These are things that mean we're going to be stable for the long-haul."
Smith said he sees his job as using the biggest megaphone available to spread that word in Illinois and beyond. He's visiting Turkey this week on a trade mission.
"It's making sure that the decision-makers have the facts. If you have the facts, you're going to make the business decision," Smith said. "And the facts speak for themselves."
Both men said they're still learning about Northwest Indiana's ongoing economic development efforts, which have at times been complicated by competing organizations fighting for the same jobs.
Doden said in the parts of Indiana that are most effective at attracting businesses the mayors, county officials and economic development groups meet regularly to jointly plot strategy and create an environment that businesses want to move to.
"They're collaborative. They're working together. They're trying to figure out how to move the needle in the region," Doden said.
Smith added that it's a choice to work together, but doing so is the right choice.
"With very limited exceptions, companies don't look at county lines or city lines. They look at regions," Smith said.
Doden believes a big part of what makes a particular region attractive is the quality of its work force and the willingness of workers to retrain as technology and other factors make old jobs obsolete.
"Change is now inevitable, and it's happening at a faster rate than ever before in history," Doden said. "Our work force has to be committed to changing with the times and making sure that they are working hard to upgrade their skills to the jobs that are available today."
Worker training and matching worker skills with employer needs is a key component of Pence's agenda. Legislation to implement new job training programs and better coordinate existing services is advancing in the Legislature.