SCHERERVILLE — Leah Konrady recently returned to her roots in Northwest Indiana after living in Colorado, Washington D.C., and California. Now the Michigan City resident focuses on determining priorities and strategies for future advancement in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties as One Region president & CEO.
At Friday’s Lake County Advancement Committee monthly meeting at Teibel’s Restaurant, Konrady outlined the challenges facing Northwest Indiana and how One Region’s civic action platform and other programs help stimulate discussions.
Lake and LaPorte counties continue to decline in population while Porter County has seen some increase, she said. Part of the problem can be attributed to what's often called the brain drain.
"We’re losing our talent,” said Konrady, who has been head of One Region for nine months.
Goals driving the nonprofit organization include “growing population and attracting and retaining talent to improve quality of place,” she told those attending the luncheon. “One Region needs to take action … Let’s think differently.”
One Region has an initiative that undertakes a benchmark study and then visits an area where that benchmark has been achieved, Konrady said.
Another called “New Voices” focuses on the age group known as millennials, many of whom leave the area after high school and college.
“Millenials jump ship like that,” she said, snapping her fingers.
“We’re brainstorming what people here really want to see in the future,” Konrady said. “I think it’s great to be from Northwest Indiana. We’re close to Chicago. We have Lake Michigan. We have to stop being down on ourselves.”
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The South Shore railroad system will play a major role in growing Northwest Indiana, she said.
A project to double track the South Shore commuter rail line from Gary to Michigan City would reduce commute times to Chicago drastically, she said. For example it would reduce the commute from Michigan City to Chicago from the current 1 hour and 45 minutes to just a flat hour.
"That would change this area drastically,” Konrady said.
The West Lake Corridor that would extend the South Shore line nine miles south from Hammond to Munster and Dyer “is a game-changing project for the Region,” she said
Rail lines are important to Northwest Indiana for several reasons, she added.
“There are 490 miles of (commuter) rail lines in the Chicago area. There are 30 miles of rail in Lake and Porter counties. The population in Illinois has grown 225 percent. We grew 4 percent in Porter County,” she said.
The household incomes in those Illinois communities with transit-oriented developments around train stations have also increased, Konrady said.
“We need to do what brings in talent and grows household income,” said the fifth-generation Northwest Indiana resident. “The Region hasn’t seen this since the steel mills.”