MARC CHASE: Let's grow local jobs, not just ship workers elsewhere

2014-04-08T00:00:00Z MARC CHASE: Let's grow local jobs, not just ship workers elsewhereMarc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com
April 08, 2014 12:00 am  • 

It's become an all-to-common scene in Lake County: Box-laden dollies being tugged up the metal ramps of moving trucks as folks seek greener pastures elsewhere.

A recent Indiana University analysis of population and migration trends concluded nearly 1,700 people left Lake County in 2013.

It represented a percentage loss of only 0.34 percent, but most of us realize a universal truth of growth and progress: If you're staying the same or losing numbers, you're conceding the race to other communities and regions.

The release of the IU analysis is well-timed to a move afoot by U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky to secure local income tax contributions — to match with federal dollars — for an expansion of the South Shore commuter rail system. In a column last week, I questioned if the value of expanding the rail service to essentially two new communities — Munster and Dyer — was worth each of Lake's 19 municipalities giving up the requested 34 percent of their economic development funds from the newly adopted local option income tax.

I still question the potential bang for the requested buck, though I realize commuter rail access can attract and retain residents — particularly white collar folks — to live in our area but commute to Chicago for work.

I also believe, however, some opponents of the Visclosky rail expansion plan are making good points when it comes to growing our local economy — and the job opportunities that follow — before we look to ship our workforce to Chicago, even though I don't believe the two sides are mutually exclusive.

On Facebook in recent weeks, I've seen plenty of local officials and political figures questioning why we're not putting our economic development dollars into attracting more businesses to Lake County and creating jobs right here. I've heard this from Republicans, Democrats and independents.

The need to grow our local business economy and job opportunities should not get lost in the flurry of talk — both pro and con — for South Shore rail expansion. Local business growth would expand the county's tax base and potentially entice population growth and retention at the same time.

Viscolsky's camp argues — and I don't disagree — rail expansion could attract and retain more residents, providing them quick, easier access to the higher paying jobs the Chicago market offers. We're also kidding ourselves if we think Northwest Indiana will ever match Chicago's economic might.

But that doesn't mean we're doing nearly enough to grow the local job market and business climate.

Lake County communities are surrounded by major interstates, one of the biggest and busiest heavy truck/freight corridors in the country and the largest inland freshwater network in the world.

We have plenty of selling points. If we're to have this obtrusive local option income tax, we should at least invest it in finding ways of getting new businesses — and the jobs they offer — to buy into our region.

Investigative Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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