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How many times have you heard Northwest Indiana is too fragmented to accomplish anything? I hear it on a regular basis, and our belief of this holds us back. While this may be a perception that plagues NWI, it is not our reality when leaders step forward.

Want to talk about a place that is viewed as fragmented? Washington, D.C. However, much like our region, it is possible to build consensus.

In D.C., I lived it as Director of the Great Lakes Washington Program where my role was to lead and build a bipartisan, bicameral policy agenda for the Congressional Great Lakes Task Force. I started this role in 2010 when the Tea Party swept the U.S. House of Representatives.

Members of Congress from both parties were concerned about how the Tea Party would impact policy making in D.C., and some were hesitant to recruit Tea Party members to join the Great Lakes Task Force. The only way to improve and raise the attention the Great Lakes deserved was to work across the aisle and build a strong coalition. Through my leadership, two of the incoming members became the Republican co-chairs of the Great Lakes Task Force with their Democrat counterparts. In no time at all, the new members and their staff became true champions of Great Lakes issues. Effectively building relationships, trust and working across parties was exactly what needed to happen for the health and protection of one of our country’s greatest assets: the Great Lakes.

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I strive to apply the same consensus-building and coalition style of leadership through One Region for the greater good of our region. As a recent NWI Times editorial indicated, the success of our region is dependent on our ability to work together.

One of my first goals with One Region was to build relationships across sectors and across counties. This was one of the reasons for creating One Region’s bench-marking visits to New Jersey, Pittsburgh and Denver. One Region’s delegations of more than 40 people were diverse and well-representative of the Region. In 2017, the first delegation to New Jersey was a touch shy, reserved and simply getting to know one another. By the time I led our visit to Denver in 2019, it was like a reunion of old friends where people were happy and excited to see one another. The delegations time and time again articulated how visits proved to build trust making it easier to work together.

An outcome of One Region’s visits was the creation of the Northwest Indiana Regional Opportunities Council (NIROC), a council of CEO’s and executives across NWI. Talk about working together and breaking down barriers, the five banks who are a part of NIROC pledged $5 million each, totaling $25 million, to support the financing of Transit Oriented Development across NWI. Another member recently stepped forward with funding to support the Marquette Greenway, a game-changing project for our region.

The Northwest Indiana Regional Opportunities Council is a demonstration of the private sector’s leadership and willingness to work together for the betterment of our region. Some of NIROC’s members don’t have representation in each county, but each member recognizes the intrinsic benefit of working together. The only way our region will progress and make strategic investments is if our leaders work together and build consensus across parties, across counties and across sectors.

Leah Konrady is president and CEO of One Region. The opinions are the writer's.

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