Whether you love Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels or hate him, it's hard to make a case for him being unaware of Northwest Indiana issues.
"I've 'ignored' Northwest Indiana about 173 times," he told a crowd of more than 600 at Thursday's One Region meeting at the Radisson Hotel in Merrillville. That includes at least 75 trips to Lake County alone, he said.
So when Daniels offers advice to Northwest Indiana, he knows what he's talking about. And what he's talking about is coalescing as a single region.
Elsewhere in Indiana, regions have come together to form a single economic development organization to represent their region. The Indiana Economic Development Corp. and businesses interested in locating there know who to contact for swift decisions.
Not so in Northwest Indiana, where there are seven or eight entities that include economic development in their mission -- and that's just in Gary, Hammond and East Chicago. Zoom out to the entire region, and there are 28 such groups.
Time is money, and quick decisions are needed to recruit businesses. "We often don't achieve that up here," Daniels said.
Don't talk about this as a Republican vs. Democrat issue. Daniels spoke highly of Democratic mayors like South Bend's Pete Buttigieg, East Chicago's Anthony Copeland, Gary's Karen Freeman-Wilson and Hammond's Tom McDermott. "People are noticing this attitude of progress and growth," Daniels said.
But instead of being pro-growth communities, we need to become a pro-growth region. Daniels nailed it when he said, "This meeting is called One Region. Can we be honest here and say we're a long way from that?"
Even though the movers and shakers are moving in the same direction now, there are too many exceptions to the rule.
The E911 consolidation in Lake County is a perfect example. There are still 17 different 911 dispatch centers in the county. That's almost three times as many as the Hoosier county with the second-highest number of call centers.
State law clearly requires consolidation, yet there are politicians holding out hope for a break from the Indiana General Assembly. The lawmakers are clear that no such help is coming. The deadline is coming, though. Get moving.
And get moving on economic development. Work on that consolidation to give the single strong voice Northwest Indiana needs.
Illinois businesses are fleeing the state because of its crippling taxes and other business-unfriendly policies.
Northwest Indiana is perfectly positioned, geographically, to attract those businesses. Don't let that opportunity slip away by acting like balkanized republics instead of one region.
Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or Doug.Ross@nwi.com. Follow him at www.facebook.com/DougRossNWI and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.