Editor's note: The five ideas for building Northwest Indiana that Vanessa Allen, president and CEO of the Urban League of Northwest Indiana, see as crucial concern collaboration, transportation, youth leadership, diversity and inclusion, and income equity.
Northwest Indiana is home to a diverse representation of sole proprietorships, large enterprises, educational institutions and not-for-profit entities that offer a multitude of services to the residents and visitors to the region.
In addition, governmental entities can increase their effectiveness through collaborations in buying big ticket items together and through cooperative agreements.
With the great amount of for-profit and nonprofit resources that exist in the region, there is often a lack of communication between NWI businesses that results in the duplication of services and an ineffectiveness in attracting NWI residents and tourists to live, work and recreate in the area.
To build NWI, the employers, employees and residents of the region will need to seek opportunities to determine the commonalities in their services, establish a marketing plan that will attract more business into the region and join together as a united front of key stakeholders that are invested in the growth and future of Northwest Indiana.
The ability of workers, residents and tourists of Northwest Indiana to travel within the region is an issue requiring immediate and focused attention. The region is severely impacted by the loss of revenue from NWI residents who must commute outside of the region to work and from non-NWI residents who would prefer to recreate in the area, but are limited because of the lack of accessible and affordable transportation. In addition, too many residents of NWI are limited to lower wage employment or no employment because they lack mobility to travel for work and to attend to their family’s needs simultaneously. The growth of Northwest Indiana would be heightened greatly with the development of an affordable bus system that would connect the business districts and residential areas throughout the region.
It is no secret to those considering the growth of Northwest Indiana that the future of the region lies in the hands of those who are 40 years of age and younger. It is imperative to the region’s growth that the younger leaders are mentored in the areas of business, financial management, education, health care, law, philanthropy, environment, media, politics, infrastructure and the arts. Through mentorship and inclusion of the young leaders of Northwest Indiana in the conversations on initiatives that will impact them and their families, the region will be certain to sustain and attract the best and the brightest to work, live and recreate in Northwest Indiana.
Through the partnership and collaborative efforts between NIPSCO and the Urban League of NWI, education is ranked at the top of our agenda. Through a four-year investment in the pilot program called In-Power, 100 percent of those participating students will graduate on time being better aware of the requirements of college expectations, the admissions process, and financial aid opportunities. This could serve as a model.
This type of collaboration enhances the awareness and connectedness of school, education, work, skill-sets, family and outreach services of nonprofit agencies through partnerships with local businesses. This In-Power program could serve as a model for other businesses looking to expand the horizons and expectations of students in our region.
Clearly, education is the fundamental foundation for all future advancements of Northwest Indiana’s population.
Diversity and inclusion
There is a saying that growth is optional, but change is inevitable. One of the effects of the recent economic downturns in our society is the migration of people to different geographical areas to seek a more affordable cost of living. While Northwest Indiana obviously has areas to grow, the region does provide opportunities for those who are seeking affordable housing, child care and options to stretch their dollars further. These opportunities create an environment in which people from varied generations, educational backgrounds, religious beliefs, socioeconomic status and family structure live, work and recreate in the same arenas.
While the presence of such diversity can cause fear in many who are not accustomed to it, the acceptance of the inevitable change in the cultural landscape of the region is integral to its growth. The inclusion of individuals from diverse backgrounds throughout the region is an opportunity to enhance the image of Northwest Indiana as a place where we all may be different, but we share the same vision and aspirations to build strong families, a stable economy and a sustainable future.
Among the numerous occasions that are celebrated with luncheons, galas and other public events in Northwest Indiana, we do not find a regionwide recognition and celebration of diversity, equity and inclusion. For the Urban League, this absence is an opportunity to not only focus greater attention on those who are successfully engaging the diversity of our region but deepen the sense of common purpose for a better future for all Northwest Indiana residents.
The Urban League of Northwest Indiana will present its second annual Diversity & Inclusion Awards Luncheon on March 20 at Avalon Manor.
Income equity and employment
The disparities between those in the region who enjoy a comfortable lifestyle with retirement savings and health care and those who live below the poverty level is devastatingly massive.
The unemployment rate especially in the northern tier cities such as Gary, Hammond and East Chicago is unacceptable! It ranges ranges from 20 percent in Hammond and 28 percent in East Chicago to almost 40 percent in Gary.
Sustainable unemployed can be dealt with through job training and apprenticeship programs that lead to real sustainable jobs.
The gap caused by inequities in wages and salaries in the region must be attended to for Northwest Indiana to have a sustainable future. As with most cities, the lower income residents spend more per capita than higher income residents.
Should the minimum wage and employment opportunities for NWI workers increase to a level where more of the region’s residents are capable of maintaining an affordable lifestyle, the region will inevitably enjoy a greater expansion in the economy, in business development and in tourism.