DOUG ROSS: 'Da region' is bigger than Northwest Indiana

2012-08-01T00:00:00Z DOUG ROSS: 'Da region' is bigger than Northwest IndianaBy Doug Ross doug.ross@nwi.com, (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 nwitimes.com

How do you define "the region"? It's not as easy as it sounds.

Is it just Lake and Porter counties? LaPorte County as well? Is it the whole seven-county region Ivy Tech Community College Northwest serves? Or does it seep into Illinois?

According to a Metropolitan Planning Council program I attended Wednesday at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago, "Da Region" includes the cities of "Da Coach," Mike Ditka, and "Da Brewers."

That's right, it's the entire Chicago metropolitan area, from Milwaukee to Northwest Indiana.

The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development conducted an economic analysis of the Chicago metropolitan region, which should serve as a baseline for the new Tri-State Alliance for Regional Development.

The OECD has conducted territorial reviews of this kind around the world, although this is the first in the United States.

I looked at that March 9 report, and the results were not flattering. It did, however, show how much potential this large region has.

Part of that turnaround involves changing the image of this enormous economic powerhouse. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was eloquent about this last week.

"We have allowed outsiders to define us as the Rust Belt, and all the negative connotations that go along with it," Barrett said.

But that's not an accurate representation, he says. Looking at Milwaukee, "LaVerne and Shirley don't work there anymore," Barrett said.

"America's Fresh Coast" is a better description of the tri-state area, with the proximity to Lake Michigan distinguishing the Chicago area from other major economic regions.

The OECD report identified a lack of cooperation in the tri-state area. That's changing, as Wednesday's luncheon showed.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson looked at the metro area's combined transportation assets, and not just I-94, which runs through all three states.

"If you look at large metropolitan areas like ours, they certainly have a number of airports that are thriving," Freeman-Wilson said.

Gary/Chicago International Airport is expanding its runway, and that will expand its options. "The Gary airport has a number of opportunities that it did not have before," Freeman-Wilson said. That includes Allegiant Air, which now flies to and from the airport, along with Boeing, White Lodging and other corporate operations there.

"The more people have choices in flying, the stronger the area is going to be," Barrett said, because it will improve options for corporate travel to and from business meetings.

Now that all three major parts of the metro area are starting to work together, maybe the region — the bigger region — can shed the rust and get this economic engine firing on all cylinders again.

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.

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