Porter County is moving forward on the creation of a new economic development agency, a recommendation of the "jobs cabinet" created to study economic development needs in the county. But does Northwest Indiana really need yet another economic development agency?
In September, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels told the One Region dignitaries in Merrillville that Northwest Indiana has so many economic development agencies already that they're counterproductive.
Elsewhere in Indiana, regions have formed a single economic development organization able to make swift decisions to attract businesses.
"We often don't achieve that up here," Daniels said.
It's counterintuitive, but the Porter County jobs cabinet recommendation to create a new department could work toward the consolidation.
Bill Hanna, president and CEO of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, explained that consolidating economic development efforts at the county level could eliminate the need for municipal people in that position. Hanna led the volunteer businesses and community leaders on the jobs cabinet.
"Sometimes you need a head chef," Hanna said, a reference to the adage that too many cooks can spoil the broth.
During last year's election season, some candidates supported a traveling salesman for the county, which perhaps conjured up images of Professor Harold Hill in "The Music Man." This person would go on trade missions, sending a unified message about the entire county, but would also be heavily involved in planning.
The economic development department, or perhaps a single person, this panel proposed is intended to eliminate redundancy and lack of communication between existing departments. This department would also look at infrastructure projects to gauge their economic development potential.
Daniels' point that Northwest Indiana needs a central point of contact is well taken. This department would fulfill that role in Porter County.
Northwest Indiana still needs to consolidate its economic development efforts. To have 28 separate agencies dealing with economic development is too confusing and could chase interested businesses away.
If Porter County goes with this countywide economic development department, it should still push for a single regional economic development agency. The county's economic development leader could and should work with that regional agency.
Remember Gov. Mitch Daniels' advice to Northwest Indiana about the need for unity, rather than further division, on economic development efforts.