The top five ideas Indiana U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, proposes for improving Northwest Indiana include:
Enhance lakeshore's value
We live on the shore of the largest body of freshwater on planet Earth. We need to do everything possible to enhance the value of that shoreline for the personal and economic benefit of everyone living in Northwest Indiana. That is why it is imperative to vigorously press ahead with the Marquette Plan, which calls for recapturing up to 75 percent of our shoreline with a minimum setback of 200 feet for open public use, along with a continuous pedestrian track.
I applaud the mayors and other officials of our five lakefront cities for their work pursuant to a 2003 interlocal agreement and for the progress they have made. For example, Whiting is attracting visitors and businesses to its lakefront park, and businesses are choosing to move to Portage because of its lakefront and riverwalk. Imagine the jobs and economic activity that can stem from our lakeshore. Whiting and Portage are just the beginning. The lakeshore is our most precious natural resource and we must maximize its potential.
Finish region cleanup
I am proud of our ancestors and the workers who chose to develop businesses and settle in Northwest Indiana. However, during 100 years of industrial development, toxic waste was created and discarded in our region. We cannot escape this history, but we must dispose of it to provide an inviting investment climate that will create jobs for the next generation of Northwest Indiana workers.
We have made great strides in these efforts. Millions of pounds of contaminated sediment have been removed from the Grand Calumet River, and only two reaches of the river remain to be remediated. Numerous Environmental Protection Agency Superfund sites have been declared and remedied. But more work remains.
In addition to brownfields and waterways, there are abandoned houses across Northwest Indiana. These structures serve as prominent eyesores and invitations for criminal activity. Government agencies, including the EPA, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, and local entities, have a responsibility for ensuring the cleanup our region. We must do more so future residents and businesses can see that Northwest Indiana is a place in which to live and invest.
Form more efficient government
I believe that a good government will attract good businesses. The more that a government is able to improve the efficiencies of its services, the better the individuals will be in reaching their potential.
For example, there are fewer employees in Lake County government than there were in years past. This efficiency has saved financial resources and allowed management to improve services. I also am proud of the work done in Northwest Indiana to consolidate 911 emergency dispatch services. This trend of consolidation, cooperation and shared purchases is growing, and I am convinced that it will continue to improve governance, attract investments in technology and better serve Northwest Indiana residents.
At the federal level, I am working to ensure that each taxpayer dollar is spent in the most effective fashion possible. For example, as the ranking member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, I have worked to implement $61.1 billion in defense spending reduction over the past two years. Part of this reduction has been to decrease funding for programs that have duplicative functions or unjustified cost growth. As the consideration of fiscal year 2015 appropriations measures move forward, I will continue to work to create more government efficiencies.
Develop employment skills
People are the engine that drives the Northwest Indiana economy. My father taught me that if somebody has a good-paying job, they can take care of most of life’s problems and, most importantly, enjoy a full and rewarding life. We must strive every day to create an environment in Northwest Indiana where people have the resources they need to reach their potential, and the skills to match the demands of their employers. Unfortunately, there remain far too many people continuing to file for unemployment benefits and employers that are unable to find the talent they need to succeed.
We have an opportunity to address this issue through our existing apprenticeship and job training programs, but more must be done. The Northwest Indiana Building and Construction Trades Council has a proven track record of using its apprenticeship programs to develop a skilled labor force, much to the benefit of our local manufacturers. Our local institutions of higher education are being innovative as well. One example of this is Purdue University Calumet’s College of Technology, which works directly with area manufactures to train their next generation of workers with the necessary cutting edge technological skill sets needed to remain competitive in our global economy.
However, we ought to continue to build on these examples and others, to ensure that our community has the skilled labor force to compete as a destination location for new employers. In order to keep and attract companies that will grow our economy and support our communities, we need to have a strong and vibrant workforce. We need to make certain that Northwest Indiana residents have every opportunity to acquire the skills to secure the jobs of today.
Expand South Shore Rail Line
The time is now to expand the South Shore Rail Line. It is imperative that we invest in transformational projects for the benefit of future generations. By providing a robust transportation infrastructure system that is connected to Chicago, we will increase our ability to access the city's $500 million economy and 4 million jobs. We will then begin to draw that economic vibrancy to our region.
I believe that our lack of initiative in providing a comprehensive public transportation system and the economic growth that it fosters is a major reason our children continue to leave our area. Between 1970 and 2012, the population of Lake County fell by 9.6 percent, the median income decreased by 15.3 percent, and the median age increased by 43 percent. The result is that we are fewer, poorer and older.
Many of our children and other talented and ambitious young people are choosing to live in areas that provide a comprehensive transportation network, including Chicago and its environs in Illinois. Expanding our transportation network in Northwest Indiana will make the region more competitive in terms of attracting not only new residents, but also attracting new businesses that are seeking locations that offer quality educational, recreational and transportation opportunities for their employees and their families.