The buzzword today in Northwest Indiana is "regionalism." When you think of regionalism, what does that mean to you?
I know what regionalism means to me, because I have been part of a very successful regional organization for 22 years. In fact, Indiana Dunes (Porter County) Tourism, which is the agency I work for, began practicing regionalism long before regionalism was touted here.
We helped create Northern Indiana Tourism, a regional alliance of seven Northern Indiana tourism bureaus. This seven-county partnership pools its resources to promote northern Indiana to our key feeder markets, like Chicago and Indianapolis.
I like three things about this partnership:
- By leveraging our assets, we each get the Cadillac of websites, databases and advertising campaigns on a Yugo budget. Our leveraging results in a $1.8 million marketing effort.
- We attract visitors to the northern Indiana area, but get to retain our individual county identities. The diversity of product in northern Indiana is amazing. Visitors can experience Lake Michigan and the Indiana Dunes, Amish country, Notre Dame country and much more. These leveraged assets are great for marketing the area, but we need to maintain our individual identities because there are other marketing and development opportunities that make sense only in Indiana Dunes country that don't make sense in Amish country or Michigan City/LaPorte — and vice versa.
- We get to be part of a voluntary partnership. If we had been forced to merge, I am confident the partnership would have ended shortly after it began or would have floundered.
We are asked how we formed such a powerful, successful and longstanding organization. Here’s the formula to our success. And I am convinced this formula will work in all types of partnerships, not just tourism.
- Our partnership started organically, which means we came together on our own.
- We created a strong foundation. Each partner has an equal vote on our board, regardless of the size of their organization.
- We have a strong filter test to determine what projects we will do. Our motto is: What can we do together that we cannot do on our own? We tackle those projects that help all of us.
- We respect and treat each other professionally.
- We identify issues in the organization and fix them.
- We hired a strong management team that has advanced our organization.
- A true partnership is a win-win for each partner. Our county has gained significantly because of this partnership.
It's easy to talk about regionalism, but actually creating and sustaining regional partnerships takes more then talk. It takes vision, hard work and commitment. I know, because I have been working with Northern Indiana Tourism since it started. I also had the privilege of being its president for five years.
I encourage businesses or organizations that want to form effective partnerships to follow these steps, because I believe they help form strong, successful partnerships.