GARY | The Steel City faces a long list of problems but can undergo a renaissance with a realistic vision and an agreement of what it should be, according to a former port director of Burns International Harbor.
James Hartung, who is now managing director of Port Development Solutions LLC, said "now is the time" for Gary's rebirth during the Gary Chamber of Commerce's annual membership luncheon Monday at Majestic Star Casino. The city has many assets that could be a foundation for revitalization, including the lake, its central location, and its transportation infrastructure.
The entire region's success depends on a more vibrant Gary, Hartung said.
"The fact remains that those who believe in Northwest Indiana must embrace Gary citizenship," he said. "The epicenter of Northwest Indiana is Gary. As Gary goes, so goes the region. Northwest Indiana is inexorably linked to the rebirth of Gary. Unless Gary succeeds, Northwest Indiana will never reach its full potential."
People once called Cleveland "The Mistake on the Lake" and Indianapolis "Indiana-No-Place," Hartung said. They wrote off Pittsburgh after its steel industry collapsed in the 1970s and 1990s. But those cities, and others once accused of being dead, have come back, Hartung said. Gary is ready to be reborn.
"If you ask the court of the international world, no city in America is more in need of a renaissance and a good PR man than Gary," he said.
No simple formula or quick fix will turn Gary around. But community leaders and stakeholders need to reach an agreement on what they want the city to be, Hartung said.
A collective vision has to be realistic, intelligent, and grounded in the marketplace, existing competencies and natural market advantages, Hartung said. Gary needs to look at the things it does well today, and build on those.
The city has a vast supply of fresh water at a time when one-third of the nations on earth are water-stressed, he said. Lake Michigan can be tapped as a source of water for consumption, recreation, transportation and industry.
"No nation, no city, no region, no state on earth can succeed without that critical resource," he said.
Gary has the same advantages as Chicago, but without the congestion and costs, he said. Highways, railroads, a nearby international seaport and the Gary/Chicago International Airport all make it an ideal transportation hub, Hartung said. The city could better leverage assets, such as by chasing freight instead of passenger airlines at the airport.
About 90 percent of international trade happens on ships, but about 10 percent of goods are flown because of their high value or time sensitivity. Gary could capture that business.
The city is one transportation day from about 35 percent of the U.S. population, about 35 percent of Canada's population, and half of America's industrial might.
"Chicago is saturated while the global marketplace continues to grow," Hartung said. "Now is the time for Gary. It's less congested. It's cheaper. Its airways and waterways are less congested. It's all here."