I was born and raised in Northwest Indiana. My family immigrated to America after the Korean War and found themselves bouncing from city to city, eventually landing in the Region. For an immigrant leaving behind postwar Korea, Lake County was a safe haven.
I was blessed to be able to attend a great public school system (Go Mustangs!) and receive a top-tier college education. Like most young people, I wanted to move far away and never come back. Many of my friends from the area were successful at doing just that and have great careers on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley.
But I found myself taking my engineering degree back to the Midwest, landing a comfortable job in Chicago real estate, and then mostly by accident, entering into the Indiana House of Representatives.
At first glance, there would not appear to be very many reasons to come back to the Region. There is a lack of high-paying, white-collar jobs; cutting-edge entrepreneurship; and a cohesive cultural identity and accompanying amenities that raise our quality of life.
Even though the big cities have higher costs of living, the opportunities there are boundless, and the culture of risk-taking and norm-breaking constantly beckon, especially for starry-eyed young people like myself. What brought me back home was a desire to see the community I was born and raised in be so much more than what it is now.
Indiana’s future isn’t just about having lower taxes than its neighbors — although that certainly is one arrow in our quiver that helps. It’s about being able to compete beyond the Midwest and even beyond the United States. My generation has to race against not only every other student in the country, but also across the globe.
This new reality will first and foremost require significant investments in public education, with the goal of raising our bottom-10-in-the-nation educational attainment ranking. We’re already playing catch-up as our youth are vastly surpassed by the children of Singapore, Finland and Canada, according to the most recent Program for International Student Assessment rankings.
Since 92 percent of school funding comes from the local and state levels, it is incumbent on my colleagues and myself to fund and direct education in Indiana to become the nation’s gold-standard system. We will never be able to guarantee that every child will have an equal outcome (nor should we), but we should make absolutely sure they have equal opportunity to get ahead, just like I did when my parents moved into their pink brick house on Devonshire.
In my first few weeks of working in the General Assembly, I have been encouraged by the warm welcome I have received from my new colleagues. Every day we see the gridlock in Washington from both parties, but the Statehouse feels definitively more collaborative. Most of my fellow representatives have been willing to show bipartisanship on key projects that will help Northwest Indiana further grow its economy.
Even though many of them are three times my age, they are willing to admit that millennials are much more than just avocado toast-eating, selfie-snapping snowflakes. My generation and I have big ideas to fortify Indiana’s place in the new global economy, and we’re working hard to make that a reality, whether through entrepreneurship, activism or public service.
What makes the grass greener in Northwest Indiana is the untapped potential of our young people, who are willing to bring themselves back to the Region, to work collaboratively and to boldly guide us into the future.