The Northwest Indiana Forum released a "strategy for economic transformation" Thursday that it hopes will align the activities of the many actors involved in economic development around a common set of goals and the means to achieve them.
"I firmly believe that cooperation is the key to economic success for our region," Forum President and CEO Heather Ennis said during a plan roll-out luncheon. "We have so many amazing assets here in our Region and we simply have not been living up to our potential."
The 89-page study was prepared by the consulting firm TIP Strategies of Austin, Texas, during nine months of interaction with stakeholders in seven counties. It analyzes the area's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges and includes detailed statistics describing the state of the Region and surrounding counties.
"Ignite the Region: Northwest Indiana's Regional Economic Development Plan" states five goals: better efforts to recruit and grow businesses along with a more robust marketing strategy; fostering a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation; ensuring infrastructure meets the area's needs; attracting talented people to strengthen the workforce; and placemaking activities to create amenities that will attract new residents.
The plan concludes that several economic sectors are best fits for Northwest Indiana: the agriculture value chain, including food and livestock processing and other agriculture related business; heavy industry; tourism; intermodal activities, including transportation, logistics, product distribution and e-commerce; and business services, including engineering and corporate offices.
But the plan notes a decline in population in recent years, and a stagnation in the workforce relative to its growth elsewhere. Jeff Marcel, senior partner at TIP Stragegies, said those facts, along with a negative perception some people have of Northwest Indiana, the lack of a supportive environment for entrepreneurs and challenges regarding infrastructure, hold Northwest Indiana back.
But, "these are things you can change," Marcel said.
He described "Ignite the Region" as five-year plan that will have measurable goals.
"We've got a lot of work ahead of us," Marcel said in regard to the plan's implementation. He said annual updates would report on progress toward goals. An "implementation workshop" is scheduled for Oct. 11.
Several members of the plan's steering committee participated in a panel discussion at the Thursday luncheon at Avalon Manor, attended by about 500 people. The panelists talked about the coordination the plan's writers deem essential.
"It's all about alignment. It's all about moving forward together," Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Ty Warner said.
One Region President and CEO Leah Konrady said the plan can build on work already being done by many of the businesses and organizations represented in the room.
"There are things in the plan that a lot of us are working on and will continue to work on," she said. "You all have a lot of really positive work going on."
Keep doing that, Konrady suggested, while making an effort to "create that coordinated and stronger alignment among the various organizations."
More than 60 businesses, organizations and individuals contributed a total of more than $200,000 toward the plan's cost. "Igniting the Region" is now available on the Forum's website, www.nwiforum.org.