CROWN POINT | To return Northwest Indiana to its economic vitality, “we need a new paradigm,” U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, told those gathered at Friday’s Morning Business Hour at First Financial Bank.
That new focus must have two components, he said -- investment in infrastructure, and providing career opportunities and facilities to keep younger generations in the region.
Visclosky pointed to such infrastructure projects as the Marquette Plan to recapture Lake Michigan's shoreline for recreation, expanding the Gary/Chicago International Airport, dredging area ship canals and replacing deficient or demolished bridges.
Work began decades ago on some of these infrastructure projects such as the Marquette Plan that started with a conversation over lunch in June 1985. Today, the 100-year plan has worked toward recapturing 75 percent of the lakeshore for public use.
“It will also help to attract investment dollars (for further economic development),” Visclosky said.
He also pointed to Whiting's revitalization and economic development under the leadership of Mayor Joseph Stahura, who pursued a vision of a major park and a beach.
A collective effort among the city, state, federal government and private industry created both in Whiting over the last seven years, Visclosky said.
“There is not one empty storefront on 119th. The city is building housing that will attract young professionals,” he said. “Whiting is the future of Northwest Indiana.
Although Gary's airport continues to garner controversy, Visclosky said “there is finally dirt being moved" there.
It can be a hub for cargo, general aviation and charter services, he said.
“More money will need to be invested. There is no debate that the work will be completed (at the airport),” Visclosky said. “The charges at O’Hare will soon be so high that (businesses) will need to go somewhere else. Eventually, you won’t be able to fit one more Piper Cub at Midway.”
Infrastructure nationwide is crumbling, however, and there’s not enough money to repair or replace it, he said. Estimates to fix what’s wrong are at $3.6 trillion with about $2 trillion earmarked for that work.
For example, more than 4,000 bridges across the United States are either deficient or obsolete. Visclosky focused on two bridges -- the one-lane structure with a stoplight over the Kankakee River and the Cline Avenue Bridge that was demolished.
Dredging Northwest Indiana’s shipping canals will be part of that infrastructure redevelopment, he said.
“Those are our kinds of jobs, the kind of jobs that will make our economy grow and are good paying jobs,” Visclosky said.
The brain drain of talented young people moving away from Northwest Indiana to pursue careers elsewhere also needs to be halted, he said.
Amenities, housing and high-paying jobs are among the magnets that will attract that workforce, he said.