MERRILLVILLE | Rumors speculating the death of Midwest cities such as Gary and Hammond have been greatly exaggerated, U.S. Department of Labor official Jay Williams said Thursday.
However, these communities need strong economic and social partnerships among residents and political and business leaders to help them recover and eventually grow, he said.
Williams, the former mayor of Youngstown, was among the speakers at a leadership luncheon sponsored by the One Region, One Vision committee and Northwest Indiana Quality of Life Council. Leaders from both groups said they decided to hold a joint event because the entities have similar missions.
"To those who are looking for the eulogies for cities like Youngstown (Ohio), or Gary or Hammond or Flint, Mich., let me tell you that these cities are alive and kicking," said Williams, speaking to more than 600 people at the Radisson Hotel at Star Plaza.
Times Publisher Bill Masterson Jr. said he is pleased with the progress of One Region, One Vision, since the effort started in 2008 with a personal challenge from Indiana State Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary. One Region, One Vision is an initiative to engage community leaders to benefit and sustain economic, human and community development.
Masterson, chairman of the effort, said he was pleased with the progress area mayors, hospital executives and college leaders made in getting in the same room to address issues of regional significance.
"A lot has been accomplished, (but) a lot more needs to be done," Masterson said.
Williams touted the progress Youngstown made in getting residents involved in the process of implementing a new community plan and changing the culture in the city to one that encouraged people and businesses to invest there.
Following Williams' presentation, Martha Kanter, under secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, complimented the schools in Northwest Indiana that were "islands of excellence." After a visit to Calumet High School on Thursday morning, she said efforts successful at schools need to be duplicated to increase achievement around the country.
"We are way too siloed," Kanter said.
Ivy Tech Community College Northwest Chancellor Lupe Valtierra said all Northwest Indiana residents have a stake in improving the region. Valtierra and Danita Johnson-Hughes, president and CEO of Edgewater Systems for Balanced Living, honored the eight Quality of Life award-winners Thursday for their volunteer and other contributions to improve life in Northwest Indiana.
"This is where we live, this is where we work, this is where we play," Valtierra said. "And we really really need to push the envelope, and we will, as we look at issues that are forwarding and advancing the quality of life in Northwest Indiana."
Williams has served as the executive director of the Department of Labor's Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers for about a month, but said people can't always look to Washington, D.C., for direction.
Masterson estimated at least 620 people attended Thursday's event, which is up from the 375 people who attended last year's summit in Gary.