GUEST COMMENTARY: Industrious efforts are driving NWI forward

2012-02-19T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Industrious efforts are driving NWI forwardBy Mark Maassel
February 19, 2012 12:00 am  • 

It is easy to focus on problems. Without question, unemployment remains unacceptably high in Northwest Indiana and across our nation. More needs to be done to educate residents and our region needs to promote itself as a great location to raise a family.

But let's not ignore our successes.

In 2011, for the first time, Northwest Indiana measured our business climate. The measurements showed that more than $41 billion in sales happened in Northwest Indiana and that the workforce has improved its educational attainment.

In Northwest Indiana, we successfully increased the number of jobs in our economy. Northwest Indiana competed aggressively with other states and groups and brought businesses here. We advertised heavily in Illinois, touting Northwest Indiana as a great place for business, especially after Illinois raised its income taxes.

An independent analysis of the benefits of doing business in Northwest Indiana showed clear advantages from, among other things, a strong workforce, lower cost buildings and a great physical location for shipping raw materials and finished merchandise. That is why, for example, Modern Forge located in Merrillville, CN Railroad located in Gary and Fronius -- which makes components for the solar industry -- located in Portage.

In addition, Northwest Indiana saw many local employers make commitments to remain in Northwest Indiana. Between the new companies attracted to Northwest Indiana and those that expanded existing operations, our region attracted more than $90 million in new investments and thousands of construction jobs.

And all of this while continuing to improve the environment. In fact, in 2011, Northwest Indiana met all the official standards for reducing the emissions of extremely small particulate matter, what we commonly call dust.

Also, national leaders came to Northwest Indiana to learn about the good things happening here and encourage our work to make the region even better. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood spent time discussing the role of railroads in our economy, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan supported the efforts to improve the education of Northwest Indiana residents.

But this year looks even better. There is a strong partnership in place to promote Northwest Indiana to business leaders outside our region, encouraging them to bring jobs. Similar efforts are under way to support the employers in our region in keeping the jobs we have now and to support any increased employment they might propose.

Investments in improved roads, bridges and broadband will support growth in businesses and jobs. Private companies are investing in their production operations and in the equipment to further improve our environment. Strong partnerships are in place to focus education more on creating the workforce of tomorrow.

While neither Northwest Indiana nor the world is done with the problems of the past, we are driving forward.

Mark Maassel is president and CEO of the Northwest Indiana Forum. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.

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