Some community and industry leaders believe finding solutions to long-standing problems, from redeveloping abandoned industrial sites to preserving the environment for future generations, requires a group effort.

Organizers of a new initiative bring together representatives from Indiana and Illinois, including major corporations, government officials, preservation groups and various nonprofits. They believe pooling collective knowledge and leveraging resources is the best way to get something done. 

"I believe we have a unique opportunity," said Bill Steers, general manager, communications and corporate responsibility, for ArcelorMittal, who along with Mark Bouman, with the Field Museum in Chicago, are co-chairmen of the Calumet Collaborative, a group dedicated to sustainable development in Northwest Indiana, southeast Chicago and south Cook County. 

Steers said in more than a decade at ArcelorMittal he's worked with and seen various groups address a variety of issues from how to best handle brownfield sites to preserving the environment. 

"I continue to see areas overlap where similar organizations tackle similar challenges on their own and duplicate efforts," Steers said. "I've also seen cases where if some of these groups had access to slightly different areas of expertise, they would have greater impact." 

The idea is to bring together experts from Indiana and Illinois in a single group where best practices are shared, which may lead to solutions to benefit both states. 

"We believe there are a lot of opportunities for sustainable development that no one organization can achieve on its own, but maybe through this new model of public-private partnership, we can advance regional-scale sustainable development," Steers said. 

The collaborative's advisory panel consists of 39 members who will meet quarterly. The group's first meeting was in June and its next meeting is Tuesday. 

Conversations to launch the group began in December 2015, said Sarah Coulter, the collaborative's executive director. The group's name was derived from the Calumet watershed, which covers the Little Calumet and Grand Calumet rivers.

Stakeholders soon realized collaboration would benefit communities in both states.

"As the world is shrinking, it's not practical to compete between communities, nor is it practical to put one state against another," Coulter said. "We have to think bigger and work to be more competitive on a global stage."

The collaborative is focusing on brownfield redevelopment, conservation, wayfinding to guide residents around the area and creation of a Calumet National Heritage Area to showcase the Region, which is home to an abundance of natural assets in addition to heavy industry. The group hopes to foster common goals to build a stronger region. 

Coulter said numerous groups are addressing each of the collaborative's main focus areas. The goal is to take the work being done by those organizations, then find the best practices to develop action plans.  

"The collaborative doesn't just want to meet and talk, they want to take action," Coulter said. Committees will report back to the main board during their quarterly meetings. 

Steers said the collaborative is working toward establishing benchmarks to measure progress. For now, the collaborative and its two paid staff members are supported by The Chicago Community Trust, ArcelorMittal Foundation and the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, but it is seeking nonprofit status, to enable it to pursue other funding sources. 

"This is not a temporary effort," he said. "The hope is that we will create something that will have long-term impact within the Region that has sustainable momentum." 

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Business Editor of The Times of Northwest Indiana