GARY | Establishing networks between communities from Gary through Chicago to Milwaukee, incubating technology businesses and leveraging core assets and unique infrastructure will create a Midwestern version of Silicon Valley and ignite an economic boom heard around the world.
Edmon Lighthall, director of marketplace development for the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, brought what he called a “go big” message about “Garyland” to Monday’s Gary Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
A 20-year veteran of managing large corporations and nonprofits, Lighthall said this explosion of growth is only possible if stakeholders work toward common goals.
“If it’s just about us four, it’s going no where,” he said. “The challenge in economic development is that everybody’s working for themselves. If you lose the big picture going for your little piece, you hurt the big economy.”
Creating a regional approach to growing business is being done in New York, Boston and Los Angeles, Lighthall said.
“As a region, Chicago and Gary are the same,” he said. “To me and my friends, this is Chicago’s south side. The factors that make Chicago work are the same here.”
Those factors include such “vital veins of commerce” as Class 1 railroads, airports, major highways and waterways that connect the area to the world, he said.
A history of manufacturing, professional services in areas such as finance and health care and a highly-skilled, high-educated workforce are other core assets that need to be woven into that larger economic development plan, Lighthall said.
“This area, Garyland, is posed for the most explosive growth in the next 20 years. This is a worldwide growth. We need to attract companies from Brazil, China and Russia,” Lighthall said.
Stopping the brain drain that occurs throughout the area is essential, he said. “The companies from Brazil, China and Russia will come here because of our workforce."
Transportation, logistics, intermodal systems and technology will be the source of much of that economic growth, he said.
“The online companies that succeed in the next 10 years are the ones that have the most information and content,” he said.
Green energy and environmental business are also potential sources of economic development throughout the area, and they need to be nurtured, according to Lighthall.
Several years ago, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce established an incubator project that helps new technology entrepreneurs get a start with offices in the Merchandise Mart and connection with angel investors who help finance the early days of the business.
“We also incubate micro-chambers of commerce within our chamber through such program as the Chamber Leadership Academy,” Lighthall said. “We would welcome the Gary Chamber of Commerce to participate with us.”
Gary Chamber Executive Director Chuck Hughes accepted the invitation and said the executive board and economic development committees would be in touch.
“Then we can invite Edmond Lighthall back to see the progress we’ve made,” Hughes said.
Lighthall said the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce doesn't support a third airport at Peotone because the Gary Chicago International Airport is already available.
"Use what you got here," he said.