Monday, September 11, 2017

Hidden Gem: Bowl of Pho

Posted by: YPN South Bend on Monday, September 11, 2017 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

Tired of the same ol’ same ol’? Can’t stomach the thought of another burger and fries for dinner? If you’re feeling adventurous – or just looking for something a little different than Italian, Mexican or American cuisine – why not try Vietnamese! Bowl of Pho (pronounced “Fuh”) is located right off Grape Road in Mishawaka near Fresh Thyme, Home Goods and DSW.

They offer a wide range of Vietnamese fare, though they’re known for their various Pho dishes which is a form of noodle soup with various vegetables and protein. A perfect dish to enjoy when you’re in need of a quick warm up or relief from a cold – Bowl of Pho offers large portions at great prices and is great for a quick lunch away from the office or dinner with the family. For more on Bowl of Pho check out their menu.

Let us know what you think! Tag @YPNSouthBend or use #YPNtalk and share your thoughts on Bowl of Pho!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Game Plan of the Office

Posted by: YPN South Bend on Tuesday, September 5, 2017 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

The old saying goes, “Age ain’t nothing but a number,” but in the professional world, your age can define how people perceive you as an employee. Your work ethic, behaviors in the workplace, and overall perception as an employee can be dictated by just finding out when you were born. Since it’s football season, though, let’s take a different look at how the different generations interact with each other in an office setting.

Within the office Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Generation X (1965-1976) and Millennials (1977-1995) have been working together for years now. But right when everyone seems to be settling into their roles in the office the first members of Generation Z (1996-present) are getting ready to join the fun as interns and as full-time employees when the Class of 2018 graduates in May.

No need to worry, the office isn’t going to implode, but to make this office setting of four different generations work it must play to their strengths similar to how a football team must play to the strengths of each one of its players in order to win a game.

The Baby Boomers have experienced so much.

For years, this generation has been extremely hardworking and motivated by perks and their positions. They are career-focused and goal-oriented. They have so much knowledge to teach the younger generations. On the football field, the baby boomers would be the head coach. As talented as the players are, if it weren’t for a head coach’s scheme and play calls, the team would be lost. Employees should look up to the Baby Boomers to give them motivation, leadership and positive feedback on projects and tasks. They’ve seen a lot and have a lot of great experience.

Generation X-ers are like the quarterback on the field.

Those who are part of Generation X are said to be the most effective managers compared to any other generation. Gen X-ers can adapt to any situation, excel when it comes to problem solving and can collaborate with the best of them. None of these things would be possible without knowing how each member of their team works and utilizing that knowledge to effectively manage, just like a quarterback does with his offence. Without the quarterback you can’t run an offense effectively and he or she must make split-second decisions that can ultimately win or lose the game for the team.

If Gen X is the quarterback, who are the Millennials?

The Millennials are like the first-round draft pick running back.They’re talented, quick and can be a literal “game-changer,” but there is a tremendous amount of pressure on them to perform at a high-level and live up to (or break away from) the hype. Millennials are some of the most tech-savvy employees in the office. Their ability to use social media to market an organization is unparalleled and they want their work to have a purpose just like a rookie running back wants to contribute to a team instead of just warming the bench all season. They want to show their talents and when they aren’t given the opportunity to do so may not practice as hard as they possibly can. IF this happens in the workforce, those smartphones might get turned on and take precedence over doing actual work. If Millennials feel their work matters, though, and they are set upon the right path by coaches and QBs that want to help them learn (mentors) their talent will show and they do indeed live up to the hype.

So, the hungry, talented running back called Millennials are juking out defenders, running upfield and scoring touchdowns. Meanwhile, the head coach Boomers are calling plays and the Gen X quarterback is reading the defense and making the right passes at the right time. That sounds like an effective team already, but there are some promising new players – 2.52 billion of them, actually – who are nearing the end of their college years and ready to go pro.

We have been scouting Generation Z for a while to see what kind of teammate they will be. Looking at that scouting report, you’ll notice they have a digital preoccupation that outstrips Millennials. They’ve grown up with a smartphone in one hand and a Fidget Spinner in the other. Despite this preoccupation, they are a generation that cares about face-to-face interaction and creating communities. They’re like a rookie linebacker – very talented, but rough around the edges. The need constructive feedback on their work, room to develop their skills and support, not derision (which the first-round draft pick Millennials have seen a lot of). If they receive that Generation Z can be that final piece to the puzzle that makes up a championship caliber team.

On a football team, no position is more important than another. Everyone has to do their job effectively for the common good of the team. The same is true in an office – no generation is more important than another and when they work together it helps businesses succeed. Each generation has strengths but each has its fair share of weaknesses, but through effective communication you can see how everyone’s skills complement each other just like a winning football team.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

JEFF'S TAKE: $13.6M Impact From Out-of-County Guests

South Bend Region
Posted by: Jeff Rea
President & CEO
South Bend Regional Chamber on Thursday, August 10, 2017 at 9:00:00 am
 Comments (0)

We’re just a couple of weeks away from the 2017 home football opener as the Irish get set to take on Temple on September 2. There is a lot of excitement surrounding this season as the University gets set to unveil the completed Campus Crossroads, a multi-year construction project in which more than $400 million has been invested in Stadium enhancements and the construction of O’Neill Hall, the Corbett Family Hall, and the Duncan Student Center. Contractors have been working diligently for years to meet a construction deadline this month.

Students, faculty and staff, alumni, and fans will have seven opportunities this season to experience one of the best gameday happenings in all of college football right here in South Bend.

A disappointing 2016 season has fans ready to put the past behind and focus on the new season. Those fans will flock to our community from all over the world, many participating in an annual tradition, others crossing off one of those “bucket list” items. Others will seek to reconnect with their alma mater or longtime University friends. Regardless of why they come, our community stands ready to receive and welcome our guests and to provide them with an experience they can’t find anywhere else on a Saturday afternoon.

Many of our business partners have been gearing up for this for some time. Football season provides an important economic boost. The economic impact of a home football weekend is $15.1 million with $13.6 million being from visitors outside of St. Joseph County. In a typical season, we have six home games; this season seven.

Our hotel partners are most excited. We have some 52 properties with 4,331 rooms, and they all hope to be full throughout the season. We are anticipating two more hotel properties opening during football season, adding another 272 rooms to the mix. Our restaurant partners are equally excited and are anticipating some busy weekends ahead!

If you’ll be entertaining guests during the season, contact our team at Visit South Bend Mishawaka for recommendations on gameday and throughout the weekend. Go to visitsouthbend.com for all the latest. I look forward to seeing you out on campus this fall!

Jeff Rea
President and CEO
South Bend Regional Chamber

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

We All Play a Role in South Bend Region's Success

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President & CEO on Wednesday, August 2, 2017 at 2:00:00 pm
 Comments (0)

I had the opportunity to be in Nashville, Tenn., earlier this month with more than 1,000 Chamber of Commerce professionals from all over the world. Those leaders had gathered to share best practices and unique programs, as well as lessons on how they were tackling challenges in their communities back home.

It was an interesting collection of people. Every size city, town or region was represented from a broad geographic footprint. No two communities are exactly alike, but if you look hard enough, you’ll notice more similarities than differences.

I came away with added perspective on what is happening around the country.

My peers told tales of downtown redevelopment and revitalization. They spoke of the important roles colleges and universities play in their development efforts. They shared about efforts to retain young people and stop the out-migration of talent. I heard about workforce shortages and how communities are developing workforces to meet employer needs.

Quality of place improvement was a common theme, as was regional collaboration. I also heard about major infrastructure improvements, about how businesses were working with government and how technology was changing businesses and communities.

Sound familiar? I hope so. Similar efforts are happening across our region, and in some cases we are outpacing our peers. On others, we’re behind. While we love to come together and share best practices, we also recognize the competition is fierce. After all, we’re fighting for the same talent, jobs and capital investment.

We must keep pace.

Where our region lags behind is population growth. Nashville is adding more than 100 people per day. Charleston, S.C., is adding about 50 per day. By comparison, we’re adding about one person per day over the first half of this decade.

Population growth is a key factor in a company’s decision to grow in a community or relocate to an area. Low unemployment has left employers with the chief concern about whether they can attract the people they need to fill available jobs. We’ve seen first-hand that companies that like what our area offers opt to go somewhere else because the workforce is a concern.

New housing opportunities in our downtowns will help. As will new bike trail connections between communities and a faster connection to Chicago via the South Shore commuter train line. Other quality of place improvements are also a plus. If we do it right, the next three years could be transformative. Sputter, and we’ll fall further behind.

Key components of the Regional Cities Initiative were to grow population and build a national brand. The $700 million plus in planned improvements will help us do both. Construction on some of those projects has commenced; others will begin within the next year.

Physical improvements alone won’t drive growth. A coordinated regional effort is essential, as well as ambassadors from every part of the region touting the strengths they see and the opportunities that exist.

Which role will you play: a champion willing to roll up your sleeves and help make a difference, or a critic lobbing in complaints from the sidelines? What I found from my peers was a genuine excitement among its leaders and citizens for the progress in their communities. Our competition is fierce, we must keep pace, and we need you to play an important role in that effort.

Also published in the South Bend Tribune & South Bend Region enews

A Place for Talent

Posted by: YPN South Bend on Wednesday, August 2, 2017 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)


Cities across the country are competing with one another to attract talent. With availability of talent/workforce the number one consideration site selectors and businesses look at when relocating to a new community, retaining and attracting talent are critical to our region’s success.

While it would be nice to simply flip a switch to make talent stay here, it takes focus and effort not only by the Chamber but also from businesses and our cities to create an environment attractive to young talent.


The Chamber began to lay the groundwork to create a more favorable environment for young professionals (YPs) to become better connected when it started the Young Professionals Network (YPN) South Bend 12 years ago. Millennials are a key target group in talent development, and YPN provides the perfect vehicle for YPs to develop, connect and become empowered.

While YPN can’t singularly retain and attract talent, it’s one of the tools in the toolbox that creates a culture appealing to young people. Using events as its main platform, YPN offers its attendees abundant networking opportunities to meet their peers and gives them additional personal and professional connections.

In 2016, YPN presented 26 events with a total of 1,969 attendees and has 1,700 contacts on its email list. Events provide education and information, but the greatest benefit to YPs is building relationships with peers. Events are purposely held at different venues throughout the region to immerse YPs in their community so they get to know it better. YPs learn about new restaurants and attractions, hear from elected leaders and corporate CEOs.

Jennifer Speary, external sales specialist for Venue ND taps into YPN, using it as a resource to make personal and professional connections and referrals. “I like to stay engaged in what is happening in the cities of South Bend and Mishawaka, keeping up with news, events, projects, new businesses and other activities. The more I know about South Bend and Mishawaka, the better resource I can be to my clients here at the University of Notre Dame when scheduling activities for them outside campus,” said Speary.

INTERN South Bend Region

In the fall of 2013, the Chamber launched INTERN South Bend Region (SBR), a program to increase the quantity and quality of experiential learning in the South Bend Region. Connecting businesses to the next generation of talent is the key objective. The program provides students with real-world experiences, introduces employers to enthusiastic young people and engages interns with our community and each other.

The Chamber continues to partner with enFocus, the state and regional colleges and employers to increase the pool of post-secondary internship opportunities. Employers are encouraged to post their internships on the state portal, IndianaINTERN.net.

An added component to INTERN SBR is the Summer Community Engagement Program, which provides opportunities for interns to network, learn and explore the good things going on in the South Bend Region. Summer interns participate in weekly challenges that expose them to the community while also making great connections with fellow interns.

In 2016, 154 interns representing 36 employers participated in the summer series. In a survey of last year’s summer interns, 100% of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the program positively influenced their perception of the area, and 79% indicated that they would accept a position from their summer employer.


Quality of Place

Our cities and businesses play an integral role, particularly with quality of place considerations, in creating an environment attractive for young talent.

“South Bend is increasingly a vibrant and inclusive community for its young professionals. The Smart Streets initiative, a recently completed project that attracted over $90 million in private investment, has redesigned the downtown streetscape to be more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly,” said South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

“Several new downtown apartment projects have already opened, and every month more shops, restaurants and food trucks are popping up to serve those who live and work downtown. Our place-making processes involve continuous community engagement, so residents can directly affect their neighborhoods,” he said.

With a workforce where 65% are under the age of 40, tech company KINETIC IT Solutions has had to work on creating a culture of ownership in the company to retain talent. According to Jim Peterson, owner of KINETIC, giving employees ownership in their area of expertise creates pride in their work and continues to build a strong corporate culture.

“The other side of working hard and taking ownership is having fun at and after work. It’s our opinion that enjoying your work and team is critical to having a great company,” said Peterson.

“The South Bend Region has made changes in the last 10 years that have grown the options to have fun with your team and with your friends. With great restaurants, engagement with YPN, and focus on retaining our local talent, we believe that our YPs see our area as a place to stay for their careers. For several decades, many YPs would look to larger markets to start their careers both for employment and social opportunities. The growth in our community has given professionals across all generations the ability to grow their careers while also having fun things to do after work. As our community continues to build opportunities for our YPs, we will see their numbers increase in our local businesses.”

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Fall Into Service

Posted by: YPN South Bend on Tuesday, July 11, 2017 at 9:00:00 am Comments (0)


As summer begins to wind down, you may be thinking, “How can I spend my time now?” Well, you’re in luck because the South Bend Region has many nonprofit organizations that could benefit from your time and talent. Giving back has surprising benefits for you too. Volunteering diversifies your experiences, provides networking opportunities and allows you to have fun all while supporting your favorite cause. Not sure of where to start? We’ve found a number of ways you can give back this fall.

1. You can help raise awareness about lending a hand to our homeless neighbors on Tuesday, September 12 from 6:00 – 10:00 a.m. at HOPE Ministries. HOPE Ministries is in need of YPs to assist with set-up and tear-down at their annual partner Pancake Breakfast. If you are unable to volunteer at the Pancake Breakfast, there are always opportunities to volunteer during their regular hours or other special events. For more info or to sign up, contact Jill Gunn or call 574.235.4150.

2. In conjunction with Hunger Action Month, the Food Bank of Northern Indiana is hosting its inaugural Too Good 2 Waste: An Ugly Food Event to Feed Hungry Kids on Thursday, September 28 at the Gillespie Conference & Special Events Center. Assistance will be needed for registration and set-up. In addition, you can volunteer at the Food Bank during the day Monday-Friday from 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. and in the evenings on Wednesdays and Thursdays. To volunteer and learn more about Hunger Action Month, contact Marijo Martinec or call 574.232.9986 ext. 124.

3. You can raise awareness for cancer survivors and victims at the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer 5K Walk on Saturday, October 14 at Beutter Park Riverwalk. The American Cancer Society is in need of volunteers to distribute water, sell t-shirts, register participants and provide a fun experience for all walkers. Register to walk or volunteer by contacting Nicole Van Duyn.

4. Give the gift of life by donating blood at the South Bend Medical Foundation. The Medical Foundation is always seeking opportunities for businesses to hold an onsite blood drive. Their staff makes hosting a blood drive simple – all you do is select the day and provide the donors, and the Medical Foundation takes care of the rest. No time to organize a blood drive? You can still go to any of The Medical Foundation locations to donate as an individual. Can’t donate blood at all? There are opportunities to assist in the office as needed.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Five Ways to Relieve Stress for YPs

Posted by: YPN on Tuesday, June 27, 2017 at 9:00:00 am Comments (0)


Stress. It happens to everyone, especially young professionals. Whether you have several projects to complete by the end of the day or have a big presentation to give, stress is a regular occurrence in the professional world. It can make you feel like shutting down and going to bed. The good news is this doesn’t have to be the case! We’ve compiled a list to combat stress in the South Bend region.

1. Sometimes when your mind is going in several different directions, the best thing to do is to take a step back and breathe. What better place to do that than at the Grotto on the University of Notre Dame’s campus. This tranquil spot is nestled behind the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, just beyond the shadow of the Golden Dome. As you walk up to the Grotto, a sense of calmness takes over and the heat from the hundreds of lit candles warms your skin on chilly days and nights. Take time to light a candle of your own and say a prayer, or just rest your mind. The Grotto allows you the opportunity to escape whatever is troubling you.

2. Go for a walk along the St. Joe River. The South Bend River Walk is a great place to stroll and let your mind wander. With the backdrop of downtown South Bend in the distance, you can enjoy scenic views every corner you turn. If you decide to go after the sun sets (which isn’t hard this time of year!), you will be able to see the South Bend River Lights near Seitz Park and the Century Center. The River Lights is an interactive light display turning the river into a living art piece making it a great place for reflection.

3. Looking for something fun to do with friends that will take your mind off of the stresses of work? Look no further than Strikes and Spares Entertainment Center in Mishawaka. Whether you want to go bowling with your friends, play a round of mini golf or even try your hand at the go-karts, there is something for everyone. Need to wet your whistle? Keglers Sports Bar has you covered. 

4. One of the more traditional routes to relieving stress is taking a trip to a day spa. South Bend has two day spas in the area, Hair Crafters Day Spa Salon and Therapeutic Indulgence. With head-to-toe treatment options such as massage therapy, facials, and yoga, your stress levels will deplete to nothing.

5. End your day of relaxation with a meal at the East Bank Emporium Restaurant in downtown South Bend. Taste some traditional American cuisine while taking in the great views that the Emporium has to offer. As one of two South Bend restaurants with a patio along the river, you can take in the views of downtown South Bend and the St. Joe River. The meal options offer a taste of the Midwest. Add a cold beverage and good friends to it and you’re all set for a good, stress free time. Make a reservation today!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

South Shore Project Must Get Funded

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
South Bend Regional Chamber on Wednesday, June 21, 2017 at 12:00:00 am
 Comments (0)

Chicago is the third largest city in the United States, and more than 10 million people live in the Chicagoland metropolitan area. Another 76 million people visit the area each year.

Chicago is an international hub for commerce, as well as a leader in industries like finance, manufacturing, technology and telecommunications. It boasts the second busiest airport in the world and has one of the largest, most diversified economies in the world.

For more than 100 years, our region has been closely connected to the metro area via key transportation connections like road (Interstate 80-90), air (four flights daily) and train (via the South Shore and Amtrak railroads). Our residents are frequent visitors and our businesses find it a critical market.

The ease of connecting has become an important driver to our local economy, especially as our region seeks to attract top talent. A study of communities north and west of Chicago show that those within a 90-minute train ride have seen record growth and new capital investment. The current ride to South Bend, though a convenient connection, exceeds two hours in duration.

Shorten the duration, and the region could reap benefits like those realized in the west suburbs. The goal is 90 minutes by 2020, and the pieces are falling in place to make that a reality.

The project has found broad and bipartisan support at the federal, state and local levels of government. When Gov. Eric Holcomb visited South Bend in March, he cited the need for the improvement to the electric commuter train. The Indiana General Assembly concurred and have included rail improvements in the biennial budget.

Partners in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties have followed suit, and soon the federal government will weigh in on their support. Officials in South Bend and St. Joseph County are working to put local support in place. Business and community leaders have also voiced their support. This is the top priority of the business community in the region.

Two projects are critical to meeting the 90-minute goal: construct a new 16-mile track between Gary and Michigan City to make sure two tracks run the full route between South Bend and Chicago; and relocate the station at the South Bend International Airport from the east side to the west side.

Simply put, shorter commute times means more people interested in living and working in the South Bend area.

Funding the project is complicated. Obviously, it will require an investment in the future. Over the past 100 years, the service has cost local communities very little. A finance plan utilizing local, state and federal dollars has been put in place.

The project to add track, improve a number of stations, and make the trains faster will cost an estimated $290 million. The Federal Transit Administration would fund $145 million through the Federal Capital Investment Grant program. The state budget will contribute $72.5 million; Lake, Porter, LaPorte and St. Joseph counties will each contribute $18.125 million. St. Joseph County commissioners approved its portion Tuesday morning.

An additional $25 million is being sought by South Bend for the airport relocation portion.

In the battle to differentiate our area from our competitors, a project like this can be a game changer. Professionals are attracted to the opportunity to live here, work there and vice versa. Those who don’t want the commute are instead attracted to the arts, cultural and recreational opportunities available with this connection.

Some questions remain, especially related to the uncertainty of the route into the airport. A number of alternatives are being developed now. In the end, we hope the project moves forward as planned and becomes the economic catalyst we believe it can be.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Indiana's Report Card

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
South Bend Regional Chamber on Thursday, June 8, 2017 at 12:00:00 am
 Comments (0)

Students are anxiously awaiting their final report cards, which are used to determine the quality of their schoolwork.

But the end of our school days doesn’t necessarily mean the end of report cards. In our jobs, an annual evaluation is kind of like a report card, and our companies often track their progress versus their competition.

Report cards are even a necessary tool to track the progress of the state of Indiana and its future growth opportunities.

On Tuesday, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce issued its Indiana Vision 2025 report card at a North Central Indiana Regional Forum in South Bend. The report tracks where the state is making progress on the economic development front and what areas require further attention. Similar presentations will be given around the state in five other regions over the next month.

Indiana Vision 2025 is a comprehensive economic development plan that was launched in 2012. It was developed after extensive input from business and community leaders from every part of the state. The effort aims to provide leadership, direction and a long-range economic development strategy for the state of Indiana. Since its launch, it has helped guide public policy decisions and legislative agendas.

Every two years the Indiana Chamber examines key metrics covering progress in four critical areas: Outstanding Talent, Attractive Business Climate, Superior Infrastructure and a Dynamic and Creative Culture. The 2017 Report Card highlights metrics in each of these four areas using the most up-to-date data possible. The report ranks Indiana nationally (1 to 50) in 62 key economic measurements.

So how are we doing? Indiana improved its ranking (from the 2015 Report Card) compared with other states in 36 metrics (up from 28 two years ago); it declined in 16 rankings (three less than in 2015); and remained the same or there was no updated data available in eight metrics (12 in 2015).

Generally, the state has done really well on things like our regulatory environment, science and tech degrees as a percentage of all degrees, reading and math scores, state and local government spending, university business spinoffs, and small business policy index.

The state hasn’t fared as well in areas like the generation of clean energy, the Kauffman Entrepreneurial Index, urban industrial property tax rates, net job creation for new companies, populations with associate degree or other credential, and the percent of population with science and engineering bachelor degrees. You can view the full report at www.indianachamber.com.

The north central Indiana region is lagging behind the state in areas like education attainment (those with an associate or bachelor degree or higher), the number of people with STEM bachelor degrees, the number of people above poverty level, per capita income and net domestic migration.

Growing the economy, adding jobs and new capital investment and attracting, developing and growing new businesses is hard work. And it’s something every other community, region and state is doing. It requires a lot of partners, broad community buy-in, and a sustained effort.

The Indiana Vision 2025 plan has made great progress in its first five years, but much work remains ahead. Our region will play a critical role in the success of the plan; it’s up to all of us to roll up our sleeves and get to work on improving the performance of the region.

Source: South Bend Tribune

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Michiana Forty under 40 Demonstrates Pool of Talent

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
South Bend Regional Chamber on Wednesday, April 12, 2017 at 12:00:00 am
 Comments (0)
Jeff Rea

Last week, the Michiana Forty Under 40 Class was revealed. The 2017 class represents the 11th Michiana Forty under 40 class. This program is an annual collaborative effort between the South Bend Regional Chamber, the Young Professionals Network South Bend, the Elkhart County Community Foundation and other chambers of commerce across the region.

The program recognizes 40 regional business and professional leaders who have achieved success before the age of 40. It was developed originally to shine the spotlight on 40 of the area’s most talented and dedicated young executives, professionals and leaders who demonstrate career success and community engagement.

This year’s class includes a broad collection of individuals from a variety of industries: higher education; health care; food service; manufacturing; computer science; banking; government; financial services; legal, business services; retail; utilities; early childhood and K-12 education; engineering; insurance; construction; accounting and real estate.

Organizers of the first class wondered if the program could sustain over time. Would there be enough young professionals to recognize each year? Eleven years and 400 honorees later, there is no shortage of talent. The recognition has become highly sought after. This year, 200 nominations were received for the 40 slots.

Recipients were selected based on the following criteria: initiative and dedication in pursuing their career; proven success and achievement in their job/career; investment in and service to others through their involvement in civic, charitable and/or religious organizations; and passion for their community that motivates them to give back because of that passion.

In addition, nominees had to be under the age of 40 on May 16, and live and work in Michiana (LaPorte, St. Joseph, Elkhart, Starke and Marshall counties in Indiana; and Cass and Berrien counties in Michigan). Anyone in the region could complete a nomination, which are received in the spring of each year.

A committee from across the region annually reviews and scores the applications received, performing what has become a very difficult task of narrowing the list of 200 down to 40.

So why does this all matter? It should give us all confidence that our area has a “deep bench.” That we have leaders in virtually every industry and in each community in the region stepping forward to make a difference. That we have young people who have chosen to stay right here to launch their careers and plant roots instead of fleeing for larger metro areas or warmer climates.

The next few years are critical to our region. As we seek to attract young people, new families and businesses to our region, it will take a team effort from across the region. You’ll see members of this class play a vital role, especially as they join with their peers who were selected before them and work collectively to promote and grow the region.

Congratulations to this year’s class! We’ll celebrate their contributions at a recognition luncheon on Tuesday, May 16, at the Gillespie Conference Center. If you would like to join us for the celebration, visit sbrchamber.com. The list of this year’s honorees is below.

The 2017 class of Forty under 40 honorees will be honored May 16 at the Gillespie Center. They are:

Jenna Bauer, Saint Mary’s College

Hayley Boling, Boling Vision Center

Dawn Brockey, Culver Coffee Co.

Joshua Cameron, Notre Dame Turbomachinery Laboratory

Emanuel-Cristian Caraman, Bethel College

David Cieslak, Aunalytics

Kristen Collett-Schmitt, University of Notre Dame

Ansley Covey, 1st Source Bank

Ryann DeMoss, Beacon Health Foundation

Katelan Doyle, Elkhart County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office

Kyle Everett, Robert W. Baird & Co.

Dawn Farmer, Saint Mary’s College

Anne Fischesser, Faegre Baker Daniels

Dustin Geyer, Ranch Fiberglass

Latorya Greene, Saint Joseph Health System

Alexandria Hall, Ivy Tech Community College

Andrew Helfrich, Barnes & Thornburg

Angela Johnson, Faegre Baker Daniels

Erik Johnson, J2 Marketing

Brian Krider, Ben’s Soft Pretzels

Brian Main, Town of Bremen

Ashley Molyneaux, Elkhart Education Foundation

Ali Oesch, Ali Oesch Jewelry

Oluwaferanmi Okanlami, Memorial Hospital of South Bend

Andrew Polaniecki, Holy Cross College

Mark Robinson, Indiana Michigan Power

Dusten Roe, Beacon Health System

Dan Rousseve, TCU

Emily Rupchock, Early Childhood Alliance

Jennifer Sears, Penn-Harris-Madison School Corp.

Emily Smith, Naissance Inc.

Clinton Squadroni, Worldwide Express

Shawn Stevens, Edward Jones

Bryan Tanner, Lawson-Fisher Associates

Katie Tryniecki, Gibson

Matthew VanSoest, Ancon Construction Co.

Tammy Weisweaver, B Present Studio

Andrew Wiand, enFocus

Daniel Wolfson, RSM US LLP

Rudy Yakym III, Bradley Co.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Give Local St. Joseph County

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
South Bend Regional Chamber on Thursday, April 6, 2017 at 12:00:00 am
 Comments (0)

The Chamber has been a big advocate of the Regional Cities program since its inception. From the beginning business leaders recognized the importance of working together across the region and the value that quality of place improvements could provide to regional efforts to grow the economy. This summer we’ll see construction on many of those projects begin as almost $700 million in improvements are planned.

The business community is excited about another collaborative effort set to happen next month in St. Joseph County; that is Give Local St. Joseph County on Tuesday, May 9. On that day over a 24-hour period, 67 charities will benefit from the generous donations of the community together with $2.4 million in matching funds! A similar effort in 2015 attracted 5,487 donors who contributed more than $6.7 million.

The dollars raised will enhance other quality of place improvements like those happening with the Regional Cities program. Among those organizations participating this year will be organizations that offer local events and programming related to things like Arts & Culture, Camps, Parks & Recreation, Community Development, Education, Health & Human Services, and Youth Development.

The Community Foundation of St. Joseph County is leading this effort. Their mission is to build permanent resources for our community, Give Local St. Joseph County is designed to support local charities now and from now on. How? By passing through 75% of net dollars raised for each charity to support current programming, and by placing the other 25%—plus generous matching funds—into each charity's permanent endowment, increasing the annual support it receives year after year.

The help of you and your business is critical to this effort. I encourage you to get involved and to take advantage of this unique opportunity to benefit key nonprofit organizations working to improve the quality of life in our community. The 2015 effort was one of the tops in the country. Though there is no similar competition this time around, there is an opportunity to once again show others the generosity of this community.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Continued Prosperity Means Continued Collaboration

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
South Bend Regional Chamber on Wednesday, March 22, 2017 at 12:00:00 am
 Comments (0)

More than 720,000 people call one of the five primary counties in our region home.

Together those counties include close to 2,500 square miles of territory, parts of two states, and about 47 cities and towns. Add in those neighboring counties that are part of our media market and you have one of the larger economic engines in the Midwest. The land mass alone rivals large economic engines like Indianapolis and the doughnut counties.

The region has a long history of making things, of innovative manufacturing, of productive agribusiness, of a skilled workforce, of a strong transportation infrastructure, and of many other features that helped attract both you and me here. The region boasts easy access to Chicago, Indianapolis, Detroit and all of the major markets in a seven-state region with more than 56 million residents.

The area includes big cities, midsized communities and small towns, sandy beaches, rural farmlands, quality recreational opportunities, a variety of job and housing options, a low cost of living, easy connections to anywhere in the world, top-notch higher education, high-quality arts and entertainment opportunities, and just about anything else someone might want in a region.

If you are young and just getting started, I would like to think this is the place for you. On the other end of your career, this region works too. Thinking about settling down, starting and raising a family, then there’s something here for you, too.

But does it look that way to the outside world? Do they see us as some sort of super region? A well-oiled machine working together toward a common goal? Or a bunch of disparate parts all moving in their own direction? Is our area on the radar when people are thinking about where to locate their business or where to plant roots and raise a family? Do you feel like you are a part of something bigger if you live in Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph, Elkhart, or Marshall counties? How about if you are in Kosciusko, LaPorte, or Fulton County?

Business leaders love the regional concept. Though they are quick to support the important community events in their own hometowns, they recognize that their employees and their customers come from a much broader geographic footprint not confined by political boundaries and as such they need to think broader than their own locale.

Elected leaders are sometimes slower to embrace the regional concept. After all, they were elected to represent particular interests within a defined geographic area. They often fear they’ll lose their identity as a community or that what’s to follow the regional discussion is a unigov concept.

Friendly rivalries born on the high school football field or on the basketball court often move beyond the athletic fields and into communities. People are really proud of where they come from, and aren’t afraid to boast about that. But for some it’s easy to lose sight of the concept that a win is when a new resident or a new business chooses our region over the other 8,000 communities competing for the same thing. And conversely, a loss impacts the whole region as well.

It’s going to be up to all of us to pull together for the region to truly succeed. Together, we can go toe-to-toe with about any region in the country; individually, we’ll languish. The business community stands ready to help lead this effort and will continue to champion the efforts to work collectively as a region.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Indiana Needs to Continue Advancing to Remain Competitive

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
South Bend Regional Chamber on Wednesday, March 8, 2017 at 12:00:00 am
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A budget surplus. A balanced budget. A AAA bond rating. One of the top five states in the country for doing business. More people working than at any time in its history. Record new investment. Low unemployment. A national leader for economic growth. Indiana has a lot to be proud of and has become the envy of its peers in the Midwest and across the country.

The state’s chief executive, Gov. Eric Holcomb was in Washington, D.C., last month to share some of Indiana’s successes with governors from across the country. Last week, he came to South Bend to meet with business leaders from across the region.

But what the governor shared was less about Indiana’s past accomplishments and more about what the state needs to do to continue moving forward to maintain its competitive edge. It’s a message Holcomb has championed back to his election in November and during his State of the State address in January.

In that address, Holcomb reminded Hoosiers of the words of Apollo Mission Director Gene Krantz, “Complacency is not an option. Leadership is all about continually moving forward, relentlessly looking for ways to improve. We know the world will not stand still, and those who don’t keep up will be left behind.”

Holcomb wants to make sure Indiana is not left behind and in January revealed his "Five Pillars of Indiana's 2017 Next Level Legislative Agenda." They included:cultivate a strong and diverse economy by growing Indiana as a magnet for jobs; create a 20-year plan to fund roads and bridges; develop a 21st century skilled and ready workforce; attack the drug epidemic; and deliver great government service.

In South Bend, the governor dove deeper into each of the five areas and talked about the steps necessary to achieve those goals. He encouraged the group to play a role and do their part. The General Assembly is currently debating many of those priorities.

Holcomb’s message resonated with like-minded business leaders. Business people understand the need for continuous improvement and the need to stay ahead of the competition. Business leaders understand living within their means and at the same time the need to innovate and enhance their offerings to their customers.

On the campaign trail last year and during his short time in office, Holcomb has traveled the state and visited those innovative companies and those progressive communities that are well positioned for future growth. The South Bend-Elkhart region has caught his attention. The governor championed the regional efforts of this region as well as those in other parts of the state that will help Indiana win the battle for attracting talent.

But competition is fierce with every state and locality seeking to attract and retain young people. With 700,000 baby boomers planning to retire and 300,000 new jobs that will be created, the job can be a big one. The governor knows to fill this need Indiana can’t rest on its laurels and instead must move forward on those items he mentioned in his five pillars.

In the State of the State, the governor reminded us of what another great Hoosier, Abraham Lincoln, once said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” In South Bend, the governor challenged and encouraged leaders to help create it and to not be afraid to think big, be bold, and act with courage.

Also Published in the South Bend Tribune, March 8, 2017

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Annual Try for Sunday Alcohol

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
South Bend Regional Chamber on Wednesday, February 8, 2017 at 12:00:00 am
 Comments (0)

The Indiana General Assembly has more than 1,000 bills that have been filed this session. We’re early in the process of consideration; many discussions, debates, hearings and votes will happen between now and the conclusion of the session in late April.

The experts are busy picking which bills they think will live or die this next month. Issues like road funding, the budget, pre-K expansion, our schools and workforce development are dominating the early discussion.

A couple of others may be of interest as the session progresses. Senate Bill 352, designating the red fox the state’s official mammal? How about House Bill 1109, designating the Say’s firefly as the state’s official insect? Or Senate Bill 470, designating the milkweed flower as the state’s official wildflower? What about Senate Bill 81, allowing grocery and drugstores to sell cold beer for carryout and for stores to sell alcohol on Sundays?

Which do you think are more likely to survive? I’m betting on the fox, the firefly or the wildflower and against the Sunday sales bill, which never seems to make much progress despite its annual recurrence.

Two things happen at this time of year, every year. The groundhog emerges from its hole to make a weather prediction and the General Assembly considers whether this is the year to consider Sunday sales. Each year the groundhog goes back into its hole as does the bill on Sunday sales, not to be heard again until the following year. Will this year be different?

Early indications were that we wouldn’t see much action on Sunday sales this year. However, just last week it began gaining some attention. The Senate Rules Committee may take up the matter in Senate Bill 81. Or it may not. No senators from our region sit on that committee.

“Blue laws” were where Sunday limitations originated, primarily for religious reasons. The fight these days is less about religion and more about disagreements between retailers and package liquor stores. Retailers want the ban repealed; package liquor stores think Sunday sales would unfairly benefit retailers. Rarely is the convenience of customers a consideration in the debate.

You currently can buy beer, wine and liquor at bars and restaurants on Sundays but not to carry out of a store. Retailers want the right to sell and claim it’s all about customer convenience. Liquor stores, which are closed on Sundays, have fought the move for fear it will cost them too much to compete and in the end really change how the alcohol/liquor market operates.

I do think some legislators are growing tired of the annual argument and are anxious to bring resolution to the issue once and for all. Leaders in the House and the Senate have hinted it’s time to move this debate forward. The challenge may be with other language getting attached to the original bill. In the past that ultimately has derailed progress for any bill. Each amendment generates new opposition to a proposed bill.

Indiana is currently losing the battle to attract young talent. Laws like this Prohibition-era restriction only tell those considering our state that we are not very progressive. Prohibition ended in 1933. Only a handful of states still limit Sunday sales like Indiana.

Indiana has recognized the need to stem the outmigration of talent and has initiated programs like Regional Cities to improve the quality of place and aid in attracting young people to Indiana. Legislators need to take another step and show young people Indiana can be progressive by moving out of the Prohibition era on this issue.

Also Published in the South Bend Tribune

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Effect of Tax Caps on Local Services

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
South Bend Regional Chamber on Wednesday, January 25, 2017 at 12:00:00 am
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The town of Osceola dominated the headlines this past week as it wrestled with the best way to provide fire protection to its residents. Osceola has struggled to respond to emergency service calls and the Penn Township Fire Department has stepped forward to fill that need. The issue came to a head as Penn Township protested about not getting paid to provide such a service.

The story is just the latest example of the struggles of local governments as they react to shrinking revenues and the fiscal impact that the full implementation of property tax caps will cause when it goes into effect in 2020. The rest of Indiana has already made this adjustment; Lake and St. Joseph counties will be the last to make the change.

The Indiana General Assembly passed the tax caps into law in 2008. The caps were set at 1 percent of the assessed value for residential property, 2 percent for rentals or agricultural land, and 3 percent for commercial property. Those caps were placed in the state Constitution in 2010 when 71 percent of Indiana voters voted in support. At the same time, a 1 percent sales tax increase was passed to help lessen impacts.

Experts predicted the tax caps would save the taxpayers/cost local government around the state about $500 million. Most local governments believe that number was low and in St. Joseph County, taxpayer savings is approaching $70 million annually among all taxing units.

In an effort to keep up with the rising demand for services and the increased costs associated with delivering those services, we’ve seen local governments begin to make major changes in how they do business.

The closing of a public pool, the sale of city-owned golf courses, the changing of bus routes, the consolidation of the 911 center, the limiting of where people can pay their taxes, the hours at the libraries or across-the-board budget cuts are just some of the steps we’ve seen to date. Most of those actions have been unpopular to a vocal public that supported tax caps.

To date the public safety units have largely been spared from the cutting board, but the Osceola situation scratches the surface of an issue we’ll hear a lot more about in the years to come. In St. Joseph County, we have at least 12 different fire departments that cover various parts of the geography. They, like Osceola, may soon find that the tax rate simply won’t support the level of service that residents have come to expect.

Consolidation of any services is a difficult conversation. Each jurisdiction wants to be in control of its own destiny and wants to determine the level of service it believes is appropriate. The key question will be whether taxpayers are willing to pay for that.

So what’s next? The news could be dominated in the years to come by the threats of closings or the elimination of services and reductions in staff. That won’t help efforts in our region to attract new people, new jobs and new investment. In fact it could really hamper those efforts.

Or we could begin working outside of the silos and collectively across political boundaries and across party lines toward potential solutions.

It’s time for a countywide plan that includes each of the cities, towns and townships, for how critical services like fire and police protection, road maintenance, general government operations, recreation services and other quality-of-life improvements will be delivered and paid for. The business community stands ready to offer its experience and expertise to preparing that plan.

Also published in South Bend Tribune

Friday, January 13, 2017

Roads Funding Hot Topic During General Session

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
South Bend Regional Chamber on Friday, January 13, 2017 at 12:00:00 am
 Comments (0)

The debate is underway at the Indiana General Assembly about 2017 priorities. It’s a budget year, so there is a long line of worthy endeavors hoping to find a spot in the biennial budget. Legislators are left with the task of prioritizing the state spending and ensuring the long-term financial stability of the state.

Perhaps no issue will get more attention than infrastructure funding. Experts estimate our roads and bridges need close to $1 billion more annually for upkeep. That really would allow us only to take care of what we have; additional dollars would be needed for new projects.

The simple truth is there is no way to accomplish this goal without it costing you and me a little more money. A variety of proposals out there seek to collect the needed funding from a variety of different sources. As with any proposal to raise taxes or fees, it likely will face some opposition. At the same time, it is expected many will step forward now in support. I’m one who believes the time is now to fund the state’s 20-year transportation plan.

The tolling of existing interstates will be one option that is studied. I’m a believer in this “user” fee: When I want the speed and convenience of the Toll Road, I utilize it. I think others around the state would follow suit. The Indiana Toll Road helped us pay for 20 years of transportation needs. New toll roads will help address the next 20.

Certainly the easiest section of interstate to toll would be that 24-mile section of I-80 between the west end of the Indiana Toll Road at Portage and the Illinois state line. Some might argue that users through this corridor are already used to tolling through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Critics might argue that those in the north part of the state have already paid a disproportionate share with the Toll Road being in existence since the 1950s and it’s time to look toward other parts of the state.

Tolling an existing interstate roadway won’t be popular or easy to do, but could very quickly raise the kind of funds necessary to fund state transportation needs. It remains to be seen whether elected officials will have the appetite to initiate such difficult change.

Without a tolling plan, additional pressure is placed on other funding options like an increase in the gas tax. Such a change was easier to consider a month ago when gas prices were closer to $2 per gallon than it might be now with gas prices averaging about $2.30 per gallon. The last time the gas tax was adjusted was 14 years ago. A change this time around should include indexing the tax to inflation. A 10-cent increase would add about $4 to the average user's monthly bill.

Additional annual fees on vehicle registrations also will be considered, including a statewide infrastructure improvement with a significant amount for electric vehicles that now don’t pay much of a gas tax but utilize the roadways.

It won’t get easier or cheaper to fix this long-term need. A balanced approach and widespread support will be necessary. Contact your legislators now and share your preferences for how to best solve this need.

Source: South Bend Tribune

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Building on a National Brand

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
South Bend Regional Chamber on Wednesday, December 28, 2016 at 12:00:00 am
 Comments (0)

Last week, I took a look back at some of the great successes in 2016 related to residential, hospitality and retail development. Today, I’ll take a closer look the office, industrial, utility and health care industries as well as some of the key infrastructure projects that helped drive development in the past year.

The office market saw some nice activity in 2016. Advance Centers for Cancer Care will soon call One Michiana Square home after a major renovation. Main Street Row in South Bend is undergoing a face lift. Catalyst One and Two have opened in Ignition Park with the University of Notre Dame Turbomachinery Laboratory as a primary tenant among several others. Construction has also begun in the Renaissance District on the former Studebaker buildings.

On the industrial front, General Stamping and Sheet Metal neared completion on its new Blackthorn location. Pepsi, Chase Plastics and Fed-Ex moved into new space at Ameriplex 80/90. AM General announced plans to occupy a new 200,000-square-foot building at Ameriplex. Patrick Industries announced it would occupy the former Affinia Building on 12th Street in Mishawaka. Total Quality Logistics expanded in Blackthorn, and 3B Tech said it would occupy the former Invacare Warehouse at Blackthorn.

Three major health care projects progressed. The Department of Veterans Affairs began construction on its new $38 million clinic, and Beacon Health began construction on the $50 million Memorial Children’s Hospital. Beacon also completed construction and opened the new Beacon Health and Fitness Facility on Beacon Parkway.

A number of major infrastructure projects aimed at supporting development also advanced in 2016. Those included a $200 million investment aimed at improving the Indiana Toll Road, major improvements to Indiana 23, the implementation of Smart Streets in South Bend, and the elimination of one more stoplight on U.S. 31. Also, the South Bend International Airport advanced plans for its international services and a new fixed-based operator opened at the airport.

In addition, a number of key utility projects were advanced or completed in 2016. AEP constructed solar facilities in Mishawaka and New Carlisle. St. Joseph Energy began construction on a $500 million natural gas generating power plant in New Carlisle. The University of Notre Dame moved forward on a major geothermal project on campus and announced plans for a hydroelectric facility in Seitz Park in downtown South Bend. Mishawaka made plans for future water needs with the acquisition of property that will be the home a new well field on the north side of the city.

Innovation Park at Notre Dame announced plans for a $13 million project to add a second building. The St. Joseph County Public Library announced plans for $5.5 million expansion in downtown South Bend. Indiana University South Bend completed renovations of Northside Hall and the Administration Building, and Notre Dame completed construction of a new boathouse near the Farmers Market.

Beyond all of those projects, Notre Dame is perhaps in the busiest construction period in its history with more than $712 million in planned improvements. Work is underway on the Campus Crossroads project, Jenkins Hall and Nanovic Hall, the Hesburgh Library, two undergraduate residence halls, and an interdisciplinary research facility.

The projects I mentioned today as well as those mentioned last week are important and contribute to a growing economy. But we’ve got a lot of work ahead to keep pace with our competition across the country and around the world. Another year like this past one and it will be hard for the outside world not to take notice. For more information about projects happening in the region, visit southbendregion.com.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Housing, Hotels Rise in 2016

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, December 21, 2016 at 12:00:00 am
 Comments (0)

The Indiana Regional Cities Initiative was designed to help communities across Indiana come together to transform their regions into nationally recognized destinations to live, work and play. Our region was one of three regions selected, and 2016 will be remembered as an important turning point in growing that national brand.

Our end-of-the-year report card reveals high employment, low unemployment, rising wages, growing population and some $300 million in new private investment on key projects around the area. Local, regional and national investors have taken note and are buying in and investing in the bright future that lies ahead in our region.

Residential construction will dominate most year-end reviews for the area. More than 2,400 new residential units, most in the urban core of South Bend or Mishawaka were announced, were under construction or were completed in 2016. In Mishawaka, the River Rock project was completed in the downtown, adding 70 units to the marketplace.

Elsewhere, construction should begin early in 2017 on several other downtown Mishawaka housing projects, including the River Walk Apartments, River Front Forge Condominiums (33 units), and the Mill at Ironworks Plaza (230 units). Add to those, construction at GrandView (200 units), Fir Road North (400 units) and Fir Road South (516 units).

But that tells only a part of the story, South Bend has a housing boom of its own underway. Recently, the former Hoffman Hotel (48 units) and the Colfax & Hill Development (17 units) have opened. In the midst of construction is the renovation of The LaSalle (67 units), the JMS Building (52 units) and the former Chase Tower (83 units). On the drawing board are the East Bank Flats (12 units), the Wharf site Project (24 units), River Race Flats (32 units), the Commerce Center (250 units), the former Madison Center (55 units), Berlin Flats (120 units), and the Hibberd Building (12-16 units). Another 90 residential units are planned on the former Transpo site, just east of downtown. Also, the 202 units at The Pointe in South Bend experienced a major renovation in 2016.

Two new hotels opened in 2016, the Holiday Inn and Conference Center on Douglas Road in Mishawaka and the Motel 6 in Roseland. Construction is now underway at the Aloft Hotel and Courtyard by Marriott Downtown South Bend and the Holiday Inn at Toscana Park, the Home 2 Suites on Edison and the Candlewood Suites on Douglas, all in Mishawaka. Another hotel is planned for construction at Blackthorn and the Inn at Saint Mary's experienced a major renovation in 2016.

On the retail side, Wilshire Plaza in Mishawaka experienced the biggest transformation as it added Sky Zone, Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, Christopher & Banks, Carter's Osh Kosh, and DSW over the past year.

Our stock is on the rise. We are anticipating a strong 2017 when you add the announced projects above to those nearing completion. Today, people all around Indiana are taking note and in the future people around the country will also realize all our region has to offer.

But we've touched on just a part of the story. Next week I'll take a closer look at the office, industrial, utility and health care sectors as well as some of the key infrastructure projects driving development in our area.

Also published in the December 21, 2016 South Bend Tribune

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Early Childhood Learning a Top Priority

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
St. Joseph County Chamber on Wednesday, November 30, 2016 at 12:00:00 am
 Comments (0)

In Indiana, a recent focus on building the necessary infrastructure and creating the right business climate has positioned the state to be a leader in job creation in the Midwest and across the country.

But business and policy leaders recognize that without the people to fill important positions in the employment pipeline, the state won’t reach its full potential. And they know that developing people begins with getting kids off to the right start with quality prekindergarten programs.

I was lucky. When I was very young, I was blessed with some outstanding learning opportunities at home, at my church, at the YMCA, and at my elementary school prior to entering kindergarten. I began school with a good educational foundation and a strong support network at home. That helped me excel in elementary, junior high, high school and college.

Those experiences prepared me well for the workplace and helped me succeed in the various jobs I’ve held through the years. Many of you likely have a similar experience. Unfortunately, these days many people do not. Many lack the opportunities prior to kindergarten to build that necessary foundation and spend a lifetime trying to play catch-up.

Today, Indiana is one of only eight states without a publicly funded pre-K program. Only 36 percent of Indiana’s 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled in pre-K programs, compared with 46 percent nationally. And Hoosier families currently spend a higher share of their incomes on early childhood care and education than do families in other states, about $7,500 annually.

The need is great. For example, just 31 percent of low-income 3- and 4-year-olds attend public or private preschool/prekindergarten programs, as compared with 41 percent of their peers from higher-income families. Indiana’s share of children from low-income families is substantially higher than the national average — 62 percent of children ages zero to 5 are from low-income families, compared with a national average of 47 percent.

State leaders have taken the first steps to implement a statewide pre-K program. In 2014, Indiana lawmakers created a voluntary Early Education Pilot Program that offers prekindergarten in five counties. Elkhart and St. Joseph counties were passed over for that pilot. The pilot currently serves only 1,585 children, but the effort signifies a significant step toward developing a permanent state-funded pre-K program.

A statewide program will likely contain three priorities: creating or expanding existing highly rated child care programs, recruiting and retaining a well-trained preschool workforce, and funding infrastructure changes where needed.

But legislative leaders are advocating a go-slow approach to expanding the state-funded preschool program and warn there might be little money to boost school spending in the next state budget. Widespread rollout could carry a big price tag. Currently 65 out of 92 counties in Indiana have no state preschool investment.

Data from recent studies suggest that Hoosier families are unable to access, afford or realize the benefits associated with high-quality programs without an expanded state role in funding and regulation. It will be one of the most important debates in the 2017 legislative session.

Business leaders will have an opportunity to learn more at a “Success Starts Early” breakfast at 8:30 a.m. Friday, Dec. 9, at WNIT Television, 300 Jefferson Blvd., South Bend. There, leaders will learn more about how making a commitment to high-quality pre-K programs can yield a high return on investment and contribute to a stronger economy.

Representatives from Early Learning Indiana and local leaders will share information and answer questions regarding what is slated to be a hot topic in the next legislative session. Interested parties can register at www.sjchamber.org. For more information on pre-K programs in Indiana, visit www.earlylearningin.org.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Is Housing Boom in Area Related to Population Growth?

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, October 26, 2016 at 12:00:00 am
 Comments (0)

I had an opportunity last week to join the celebration of the grand opening of the River Rock Apartment Project on West Mishawaka Avenue in Mishawaka. The $15 million project includes 73 one- and two-bedroom units close to downtown and the popular Mishawaka Riverwalk.

The site has special meaning to me and my family. My great-grandfather started his business on the site in 1932 and was a prominent part of the block for next 25 years. Over time, the block included a number of notable landmarks like the North Side Theater, Joey’s Restaurant, several apartment and residential buildings and municipal parking. The block, however, is probably best known as the site of the former Pleasureland Museum.

Mishawaka envisioned something greater for the downtown and the riverfront area and the Redevelopment Commission worked to assemble the land for future development opportunities. A downturn in the economy and several starts and stops on other downtown projects left people wondering about whether the site could ever reach its full potential.

A private sector developer teamed up with the city and took great risk to make the project happen. That developer may have been the only one who thought the concept could become a reality. Fast forward and you have a finished project with 63 percent of the units occupied and the developer looking at other downtown opportunities.

Elsewhere, construction should begin early in 2017 on several other downtown Mishawaka housing projects, including the River Walk Apartments, River Front Forge Condominiums (33 units), and the Mill at Ironworks Plaza (230 units). Add to those construction at Grandview (200 units), Fir Road North (400 units) and Fir Road South (516 units), and Mishawaka is going through a mini high-density housing boom.

But that tells only part of the story. South Bend has a housing boom of its own underway. Recently, the former Hoffman Hotel (48 units) and the Colfax & Hill Development (17 units) have opened. In the midst of construction is the renovation of The LaSalle (67 units), the JMS Building (52 units) and the former Chase Tower (83 units). On the drawing board are the East Bank Flats (12 units), the Wharf site Project (24 units), River Race Flats (32 units), the Commerce Center (250 units), the former Madison Center (55 units) and Berlin Flats (120 units). Another 90 residential units are planned on the former Transpo site, just east of downtown.

Projects like those above, especially in the downtown areas, are complicated. They take a significant amount of time to develop and require the right public-private partnership to make them a success. Developers could reap great rewards or could experience significant losses. These developers feel the great momentum happening in South Bend and Mishawaka and hope the timing of these developments helps them capitalize. Constructions workers should remain busy in the foreseeable future.

The high-density housing boom in the urban core is a result of efforts to attract and retain young people and give them more urban options for living. Their efforts are critical to the efforts to grow population in our area as each contributes to our area having attractive places for people to work, live and play.

New construction in South Bend and Mishawaka has both communities positioned to capitalize on new people discovering our region. How can you help? Have a former classmate, son or daughter, family member or friend not living in the area, make sure they know about the great new opportunities that await them here in our region.

Source: South Bend Tribune

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Role of Business in Talent Development

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, October 12, 2016 at 12:00:00 am
 Comments (0)

So who is responsible for making sure today’s students are prepared for tomorrow’s jobs? Ask different people and you’ll get different answers. The truth is that responsibility doesn’t fall to any one individual or organization but instead rests in widespread community collaborative effort.

Traditionally, the bulk of that burden has fallen to our schools and the teachers, administrators and guidance counselors. They’ve been tasked with giving students a broad knowledge base, helping students hone specific skills, identifying student interests and encouraging career paths that align with those special skills and knowledge.

Parents play a critical role too, often influencing and guiding students as they seek to answer that age-old question of what they want to be when they grow up. Parents also provide that crucial home support base that supplements the work going on in the schools with their children.

Businesses are recognizing they also must help develop that pipeline of workers. A recovering economy with low unemployment has left a fierce competition for talent. As the quality of applications for open positions has deteriorated, businesses know that the status quo won’t do and that the time is now to roll up their sleeves and make sure future employees know about opportunities in particular industries.

Many of yesterday’s most reliable positions and industries are finding it hard to attract young talent to open opportunities. Positions like manufacturing workers, mechanics, plumbers, electricians and other skilled trades are currently filled by an aging workforce that will need to be replaced in the near future.

The nature of many of the positions has changed over the years, and the perception of those jobs doesn’t always match the current reality. Last week in St. Joseph County, four school corporations, 30 businesses and more than 600 students came together to help change that perception on Manufacturing Day 2016.

The local effort was organized through a partnership that includes the Chamber, National Tooling and Machining Association Michiana Chapter, Ivy Tech Community College, Purdue Polytechnic South Bend, South Bend Community School Corp. Career & Technical Education, Career Academy, Mishawaka High School, Penn High School and many manufacturers and supporting organizations who hosted tours and shared their stories with students.

Similar days were organized across the country, including other local efforts in Berrien and Cass counties in Michigan and Elkhart and Marshall counties in Indiana. Manufacturing remains a key part of our local economy, representing about 15 percent of our total workforce in St. Joseph County. That number is higher in neighboring counties like Elkhart.

During the course of the day, students visited with local businesses and Ivy Tech and had an opportunity to see first-hand the work environment and ask questions that ranged from pay and benefits to training requirements for specific positions.

nufacturing? Demand is driving the attention. Eighty-four percent of executives surveyed agree there is a talent shortage in the industry and six out of 10 open skilled production positions are unfilled due to this talent shortage Also, today’s manufacturing is technologically advanced, with ample use of automation, 3-D printing, robots and screen technology. And manufacturing jobs traditionally pay well. In the South Bend region, the annual average salary of manufacturing workers starts in the range of $33,000 to $40,000 with the ability to grow into positions that could average more than $75,000. Manufacturing employees also traditionally have long tenures on the job and most have medical benefits.

Manufacturing Day was a great example of what happens when businesses and schools come together to collaborate. The winners are the students who now have a better understanding of career options in our community. The community also wins, as the Manufacturing Day model is easily replicated with other high growth industries.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Regional Transportation Priority Moves Forward

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, July 20, 2016 at 12:00:00 am
 Comments (0)

Our transportation network is critical to the growth and development of the region. Over the years, community leaders have identified top transportation priorities then marshaled the resources to make those projects happen.

Construction of projects like the Indiana Toll Road, U.S. 31, U.S. 20, Indiana 23 and Indiana 331/Capital Avenue have all helped better connect our local communities and have especially helped our businesses move goods and services in and out of our region.

Because of the high costs often associated with the design, planning, right of way acquisition and construction, many of those projects have spanned long periods of time from the introduction of the concept to the final construction. For example, Capital Avenue was on the drawing board for about 50 years. U.S. 31 has been a priority for even longer.

In the last decade, major construction projects have been completed on U.S. 31 between South Bend and Indianapolis, cutting significant time off a trip to the capital city and making it much safer. Improvements on six stoplight intersections, two railroad crossings, 100 intersections and 200 driveways remain on the wish list.

In the 1950s, work began on the U.S. 31 Bypass around South Bend. In 1967, plans were made to extend U.S. 31 north from the state line to Interstate 94. Leaders saw the road as a vital artery to the region, connecting two busy interstate highways and opening up new development opportunities in the corridor.

In the early 1970s that construction began and portions of the roadway moved forward until it was interrupted in the late 1990s by a rare butterfly. The proposed roadway cut through an area that was the habitat of this endangered species. Construction was halted near Napier Avenue in Benton Harbor.

For close to 20 years, construction of the final phases, connecting the roadway to I-94, has been in limbo. Concerns over the butterfly habitat and the lack of adequate funding left the road’s future in jeopardy. In the meantime, businesses and consumers have longed for the completion of this important improvement.

Earlier this month, Michigan announced plans to move the project forward. The final phase of the U.S. 31 corridor project in Berrien County has been added to the Michigan Department of Transportation’s five-year plan. That plan includes an initial appropriation to finish right of way work for the corridor.

The completion of the original plan won’t happen overnight, but the good news is that for the first time in several decades, it’s on the priority list and back on the top of minds of legislative leaders from across Michigan thanks to the efforts of state Rep. Al Pscholka, MDOT Director Kirk Steudle, and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.

The project will be broken into three phases, including the connection of U.S. 31 to I-94, the replacing of the interchange at downtown Benton Harbor and the resurrecting of 10 miles of I-94 in this area. The project is estimated to cost $92 million.

Though the project sits across the state line, it is vital to the South Bend area. Southwest lower Michigan boasts numerous tourist destinations that have become popular get-a-ways for Indiana residents. And businesses see the I-94 connection as a key connection to important markets like Chicago, Detroit, Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids.

Our region is growing, and that includes the north part of the region in Cass and Berrien counties. The construction of this final link will position the region to better take advantage of future development opportunities.

Also published in the South Bend Tribune 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Teens Build Skills on Job

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, July 7, 2016 at 12:00:00 am
 Comments (1)

I started mowing grass and shoveling snow in the neighborhood when I was very young. Shortly thereafter I began looking after neighborhood kids. I worked a regular shift at my family’s drugstore. I later cleaned the meat room at a grocery store, cashiered at a retail outlet and tried my hand in an Elkhart factory.

I wasn’t alone. Many of my friends and classmates also entered the workforce at a young age — bagging groceries, flipping burgers, scooping ice cream, delivering newspapers or lifeguarding at the local pool. The opportunities seemed plentiful and we had many chances to try our hands at different things.

My chief objective in those assignments was to make a few dollars. As I got older, I realized I needed money for those things I was most interested in.

At the same time, I was learning many valuable lessons about being in the workforce that I believe have helped me be a better employee, co-worker and boss. My education in the classroom was important. But the education I was getting in the workforce was also critical.

I learned a lot about responsibility, about problem solving, about critical thinking. My employer and our customers were counting on me, and I didn’t want to let them down. I learned about working in teams and about getting along with co-workers. I got a feel for what I was interested in, and more importantly what I wasn’t. My future career interests were largely shaped by those early experiences.

My story is not unlike most from my generation. But our story is proving to be very different than today’s young people who are preparing to enter the workforce. Employment among those between the ages of 16 and 19 is at its lowest point in decades according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And BLS predicts it will continue to decline over the next decade.

Overall, the labor force participation rate among all ages is 62.6 percent. (The labor force participation rate is those people either working or actively seeking work). Among 16- to 19-year-olds nationally, that rate is now just 34 percent, down almost 20 percent over the past 20 years.

Locally, only about 28 percent of those 16- to 19-year-olds eligible to participate are actually participating. The demands of school, sports and other extracurricular activities contribute to the declining numbers. In addition, fewer employment opportunities exist today. Many of those positions traditionally held by young people were filled by older adults during the height of the recession.

Employers’ chief complaint these days is about the workforce and the lack of soft skills, those personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people. Many workers haven’t had the opportunities like I and others did when we were younger to develop those key skills in an entry level position.

Employers need to recognize the important role they play in the talent pipeline and once again make available entry level positions for young people seeking experience. Though youths may be raw in experience, their enthusiasm and exuberance as well as the fresh perspective from a new generation of worker can be an important asset for the company.

But the real responsibility lies with parents. Parents must encourage their children find a job to gain that valuable work experience. It doesn’t have to be glamorous or even in line with a student’s career aspirations, just something to give them those valuable life lessons. Young people have to start at the bottom and work their way up. Their long-term success and the long-term success of our economy depend on it.

Source: South Bend Tribune, July 6, 2016


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Community Needs to Get Behind New Superintendent

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, June 8, 2016 at 12:00:00 am
 Comments (0)

On Tuesday night (June 7), the South Bend Community School Board took the final step in hiring Kenneth Spells as its new superintendent of schools with the approval of his contract. That action clears the way for Spells to join our community on July 1. I look forward to meeting him.

Spells takes over for Carole Schmidt, who is retiring after close to five years on the job. Schmidt has worked hard to advance the corporation in the midst of many challenges and leaves the corporation better than she found it.

Spells brings a strong background that includes experience as a teacher, coach, principal, superintendent and adjunct professor. He most recently served as the superintendent of the Alton School District in Alton, Ill.

Schmidt announced her retirement in December. The hiring of Spells caps a six-month process during which the school board hired a consultant to lead the process, sought public input on the necessary skills of a new superintendent, interviewed candidates, made an offer and approved the contact. And in just a few weeks, Spells will step into one of the most important CEO positions in the area.

Spells’ new responsibilities include the oversight of the corporation’s 39 schools, more than 1,100 employees and a budget that exceeds $230 million. More importantly, Spells’ focus will be on the success of the more than 18,000 students enrolled in the district.

As Spells readies for his move, it’s important the community also readies for his arrival. We should be ready to roll out the red carpet and welcome him and show our support to him and his administrative team as he prepares to lead the corporation at a really important time.

Success at the corporation is a team effort. Solid leadership is required, and strong partnerships are essential. Students, parents, teachers, administrators, staff, volunteers, the school board, business owners, community leaders, neighborhood advocates and others will all be part of the recipe for success.

Each has an important role to play and each has a vested interest in the success of the corporation. And each group should be ready to roll up its sleeves and do what they can to ensure Spells and our students succeed.

Declining enrollment, aging buildings, rising costs, shrinking revenues, the full implementation of property tax caps, increased competition and ever-changing education policy present great challenges. But Spells has answered the call and is prepared to guide the corporation through those choppy waters.

Some hard decisions lie ahead, and people won’t agree with every decision Spells makes along the way. That is inevitable. But how we react as a community will be key to our success moving forward. We can’t get sidetracked by second guessing from the sidelines; those who are critical must bring real suggestions and alternative solutions to the most complex of problems. We’ve hired Spells to be the CEO, and we must allow him to make CEO-like decisions.

So what else can we do? We need strong advocates. Be a champion for your community and for your school corporation. This isn’t the same corporation that it was five and 10 years ago. Though some of the challenges are greater, there are some great stories of success to build upon.

We are in a battle for talent with communities across the country. We must continue to grow our population to succeed long term. A strong school corporation is a critical tool to attracting that top talent and growing that population. The business community looks forward to welcoming Spells and joining him in his efforts to help our students be successful.

Jeff Rea is president and CEO of the St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce. Contact him at jrea@sjchamber.org.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Census Estimate a Good Sign for Region

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, May 25, 2016 at 12:00:00 am
 Comments (0)

Census data help the state and communities make some assumptions about their overall health.

In 1902, the Census Bureau was formed for the purpose of counting the number of people in the United States. The data collected would become valuable for important tasks like allocating federal funds each year and determining the seats of the U.S. House of Representatives to the states based on their population. The data is to be collected every 10 years.

Throughout the other years, the bureau conducts dozens of other censuses and surveys, including the American Community Survey, the U.S. Economic Census and the Current Population Survey. The various censuses and surveys conducted by the bureau today help allocate more than $400 billion in federal money every year and help states, local communities and businesses make informed decisions.

The bureau has recently released its 2015 population estimates. Indiana’s growth remains slow, with more than half of Indiana counties losing population. Overall, Indiana has grown at about 2 percent since the last decennial census in 2010. But Indiana’s growth outpaces our neighbors in Michigan, Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky. The Midwest is growing at only 0.3 percent.

Most growth in Indiana has been in the center of the state, with four of the five fastest-growing counties surrounding Indianapolis. Generally, those suburbs outside metro areas have experienced the most gains while rural counties have experienced the most losses.

In our area, the populations of St. Joseph and Elkhart counties have increased again; both are among the faster growing counties outside the center of the state. In 58 of Indiana’s 92 counties, the population shrank or stayed flat. In St. Joseph County, we’re bucking a trend that included decades of population stagnation.

Population growth is at the center of the Regional Cities mission. Experts had predicted slow to no growth for our area, but Regional Cities projects are intended to help buck that trend. We’re off to a good start, but it’s a little early to celebrate our success.

A closer look at South Bend estimates shows growth for the fourth straight year, reversing a trend of population decline that lasted several decades. In all, population has grown by only 719, with the trend being what should excite us most, even more than the number.

Population growth will be critical in the years to come to help fill new housing inventory currently under construction. Though single family residential growth has remained slow, in the next few years several hundred residential units are set to come to downtown South Bend and Mishawaka as well as on Mishawaka’s north side.

The people of our region play an important role in continuing this recent growth trend. Reach out to those friends and family who have left the area and tell them about all that has changed since they left. Or reach out to those former classmates or associates who have yet to experience our area and invite them for a visit.

While they’re here, be our chief salesperson.

We must build upon our moderate growth, complete key projects that will improve the quality of place, and attract young people to our region. Our future depends on it.

First Published in the South Bend Tribune on May 25, 2016

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

It's Time for New Time System for St. Joseph County

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, April 6, 2016 at 12:00:00 am
 Comments (0)
Jeff Rea

Businesses look regularly to control costs, eliminate waste, increase efficiency and reduce the probability of errors. Those efforts help improve the bottom line and can be the difference between success and failure.

Rising costs and the full implementation of property tax caps at the end of 2019 should have local government thinking along similar lines. The Indiana General Assembly gave St. Joseph County and Lake County a decade longer than other Indiana counties to prepare for the full implementation of property tax caps. We’re nearing the end of that time frame.

John F. Kennedy once said “the best time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining.” The storm clouds (property tax caps) are forming on the horizon, and the time to fix that “roof” is now. But fixing the roof isn’t easy especially within the current structure of local government. Calls for reform and modernization have long been ignored.

In the news last week was a story that helps shine the light on that need for reform. St. Joseph County and the city of South Bend plan to implement a new automated employee time keeping system. Officials believe the new system will eliminate errors, improve efficiency and ultimately save money. The private sector has been using similar practices for more than a decade.

But approval of the new system was not without controversy. The three county commissioners, who are essentially the CEOs of the county, couldn’t all agree. And a number of other elected county department heads have yet to buy in to utilization of the new system that experts estimate could save the county $1.8 million annually.

In the end, two commissioners elected to move the county forward on that new system despite a third commissioner’s opposition. Moving forward was the right decision.

Only in county government do you have three CEOs. No private business or nonprofit organization has three CEOs. They recognize if more than one person is in charge, nobody is in charge. Even city government has realized the need for one single chief executive, the mayor.

Calls to move to a chief executive at the county level, i.e. a “mayor” of the county have long been resisted in counties across Indiana. Critics fear too much power would be consolidated into one position, though it works at the city level with a mayor.

Common-sense business decisions like the implementation of a new time system illustrate why one chief executive ought to be in place to make and be held accountable for important business decisions. But the time system debate doesn’t end there.

While many county departments see the benefit of moving from a system where employees write their hours on paper at the end of each pay period and people in each department manually verify those time sheets, not all have bought in.

The antiquated system of county government has elected officials, not the commissioners, still in charge of individual “silos” — departments — and in a position to resist changes such as the time system.

To date, only about half of the county’s roughly 1,200 employees would use the new system. For example, the county clerk has said she doesn’t plan to use the new system for her 61 employees; the old system works just fine.

In a modernized county government, a chief executive would be in a position to make decisions like this for each department and all employees of the county, and in the end would be held accountable for the decision. It’s time to revisit recommendations from the 2007 Kernan-Shepard Report before those storm clouds roll in.

Monday, March 28, 2016

SBCSC Superintendent Search Important to All of Us

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce on Monday, March 28, 2016 at 12:00:00 am
 Comments (0)

There’s a help wanted sign hanging outside the South Bend Community School Corp. offices. The school board has embarked on a search for the next superintendent of schools. Carole Schmidt will retire at the end of this school year.

This might be the most important and complicated CEO search happening in this community this year. In the end, a new leader is expected to begin serving around July 1 and will be ready to tackle the challenges of the 2016-2017 school year.

Since Schmidt announced her retirement, a search firm has been hired, the school board has contemplated what it desires in a new school leader, 113 personal interviews and focus groups have been conducted and 831 people have weighed in via an online survey to gauge community input. You can find more detail on the leadership profile created from that input at the school corporation website.

Expectations are high, with a wide range of wishes it would seem only a superhero could fill. Truth is, some people will be thrilled with the eventual pick, some won’t like it, and some won’t care. But we all should care. Schools play a critical role in the growth and development of our community, and a strong leader is needed to build upon the momentum already built by Schmidt and others.

But let’s think about role for a second. Some 18,669 students are enrolled in South Bend schools, making it the fourth largest district in the state. There are 34 schools that house those students, 1,214 teachers who provide classroom instruction, part of a staff of close to 2,000 total employees.

The corporation is the fourth-largest employer in our area. Annually, its budget is close to $215 million. In addition to the classroom, it also has the largest transportation and food service program in our region. And there are great expectations from more than 100,000 “shareholders” (the people who live in the district).

Superintendents are called upon to make significant decisions daily. It’s a job that’s hard to escape, basically keeping them on call around the clock, seven days a week. The school day begins early in the morning and often stretches well into the evening hours with activities. Students, parents, teachers and staff all expect to see that superintendent supporting key corporation activities, whenever they may occur.

On top of that, property tax caps have placed additional stresses on school budgets, and money that once went to public schools is now diverted to charter and private schools. The full implementation of tax caps in St. Joseph County in 2020 will place additional challenges on the budget over the next four years.

Because of the complexity and enormity of the job, the pool of candidates could be shallow. But despite its challenges, I believe the South Bend superintendent position is an attractive one and I’m confident the corporation will attract top candidates.

Ultimately, the decision rests with the seven members of the South Bend school board. I have confidence in the school board selecting a charismatic and dynamic leader who exemplifies many of the qualities outlined by parents, educators, staff and community leaders.

Most importantly, as a community we must be ready to rally around that new superintendent and give him or her the support needed to be successful in our community. The work ahead is great, but our expectations must be reasonable.

The time frame is short and we can’t waste our time or energy second-guessing the decision. In that scenario the real losers are our children.

Jeff Rea
President and CEO
St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Attracting Talent Shouldn't Limit Opportunities

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 at 12:00:00 am
 Comments (0)

Business leaders across the country will tell you that their top challenge is attracting and retaining talent. Top employees are critical to company growth and can be the difference between a company succeeding or failing. But companies are having a harder time these days keeping those top employees.

Gone are the days of employees working at one company their entire career. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average worker today stays at each of his or her jobs for 4.4 years. But employers say the expected tenure of the work force’s youngest employees is only about half of that.

Think about our own marketplace. Our history is dotted with stories of people who worked 30, 40 or even 50 years for local mainstay employers like Studebaker, Bendix, Uniroyal or Dodge. Few of those opportunities exist today.

In the old days, economic stability, health care plans, and pension plans were big factors in an employee staying at the same place for a long period of time. Couple that with limited opportunities and you have a recipe for employee longevity.

But employees have a lot more options available to them today. A broad mix of employment opportunities gives employees the chance to carefully assess those opportunities that provide them the flexibility, pay, benefits, and work conditions they desire.

Technology has made it easier to work for anyone from virtually anywhere in the world.

Employees have a basic desire for better opportunities for themselves. Higher pay and better benefits make it easier to take care of those basic challenges like paying a mortgage, buying a car, sending a kid to college or taking a dream vacation. But employees also desire a workplace where they feel valued.

Out of necessity, employers have become more flexible and have had to find creative ways to keep those top producers or to lure new talent. That has been much easier to do in the private sector than in other sectors. The private sector traditionally pays better and is able to offer better flexibility and benefits.

Flexible hours, work from home options and new office environments are among the things that can separate one employer from another. Though not all employers are able to offer them, business leaders are quickly looking at those factors that make them a preferred employer.

This is especially a challenge for the public sector, which traditionally has been less flexible in the workplace and now is finding it harder than ever to retain top talent. Though some employees are attracted to the opportunity to make a difference within a community, fewer will make the commitment for a whole career than their predecessors did.

Locally, a number of public sector employees have come under fire in recent months for moving to a new opportunity in the private sector. Some have suggested it was improper and soon the South Bend City Council may even consider trying to limit city employee opportunities in the private sector.

We live in a relatively small community, where many companies do business with the city and depending on your field, your opportunities can be limited. The private sector also recognizes that there are many talented people in the public sector who could thrive in a new opportunity. There are countless checks and balances to protect the interests of the public sector.

If the public sector wants to win the race for top talent, it must figure out how to pay workers a competitive wage and offer the type of workplace and flexibility employees are seeking.

Source: South Bend Tribune


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Stand for Business

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, February 17, 2016 at 12:00:00 am
 Comments (0)
Jeff Rea

I feel compelled to defend the interests of the business community. Businesses seem to be thrust into the middle of so many important conversations happening today at the local level, the state level and across the country. For example, presidential candidates can’t help but bring up business interests at every campaign stop, and the interests of business are at the center of some of the most contentious debates in the Statehouse.

Daily, we celebrate the success of businesses starting, adding a location, growing, hiring more people or doing other good things for the community. At the same time, we often condemn businesses that haven’t been successful, have closed, downsized or decided to move elsewhere. Recently, critics also have been targeting those that make a profit.

Generally, business owners are the people who live next door to you, pass you on the street or sit next to you at church on Sunday. They are ordinary people, trying to make a living, hoping that they have a product or service that customers will ultimately buy.

Business owners are people who have taken great risk to launch their venture. Many have come up with a new idea or a better way to do something. Others have an idea for an improved product. Some have identified a need in a particular geographic area that is missing. Business leaders see an opportunity then figure out how best to seize that opportunity.

Many business owners have tapped their life savings, leaned on their friends and family, mortgaged their home, dipped into their retirement, or robbed the kids' college fund just to get started. Some will experience great success, and enjoy the fruits of their labors and the rewards that go with that success. But about half will lose everything trying to make a go of it.

History is filled with business leaders who failed at first, like Akio Morita (Sony), Bill Gates, Colonel Sanders, Frank Woolworth, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Walt Disney. All found success after initial failures.

Businesses do want to make money, and don’t and shouldn’t have to apologize for that goal. If they make money, they stay open, they grow, they expand, they hire more people and they invest more in the community. If they don’t make money, the opposite happens.

To make money, they rely on customers. If customers aren’t buying their goods and services, they aren’t making money. There is great competition for customers, no matter what industry you are in. People have a lot of choices related to where, when and how they buy goods and services. Businesses will do whatever they can to attract and retain customers; they know consumers have a lot of choices.

To make money, they also rely on employees. There is fierce competition for employees, who have a lot of choices these days about where to go and who to work for. Businesses know that good employees make all of the difference, and every effort needs to be made to attract and retain top talent.

In the end, my hope is that people will remember the important partner that our businesses are in the growth and the development of our communities. Businesses are critical to growth and development of our local economy. We can’t vilify them; instead we must find ways to support them and champion them, and create a climate where they can grow.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Do We Expect Too Much from Elected Officials?

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, February 3, 2016 at 12:00:00 am
 Comments (0)
Jeff Rea

Our expectations of our elected and appointed leaders are great, and they should be. At the same time, I think those expectations can be unrealistic.

Do more with less. Fix that deficit but don’t cut those important things. Adjust to rising costs, but make sure it doesn’t cost more. Educate our kids. Fix our roads. Keep my neighborhood safe. Provide quality recreational opportunities at little to no cost. Make sure you’re open at hours that are convenient.

We see those expectations playing out in the daily news as the community wrestles with change. The sale of the Elbel Golf Course is a good example. The city has looked to sell the course that is outside the city and has been a drain on the city budget. Opposition has gathered to stop that action and opposes any sale or lease, though no plan includes revenue to fund any different path.

We’ve seen it play out in many other examples, ranging from bus routes to library hours, from after-school programs to vote centers, from police protection to 911 service. We demand great things from our government and from our schools. It costs money to deliver those things citizens demand.

Our area is embarking on some challenging times. We’re now less than four years away from the full implementation of property tax caps in our area. Already, we’ve seen the belt tightening as taxing entities prepare for significant revenue losses. That belt tightening has led to some efficiency, but a lot of resistance to changes that leaders have suggested as necessary.

The rest of the state is ahead of us. Property tax caps were implemented in 2008, and made part of the state Constitution in 2010. Hoosiers approved the caps that limit property tax bills to 1 percent of the assessed value of homes, 2 percent for farms and rental properties and 3 percent for businesses. St. Joseph and Lake counties were given an extra 10 years to implement the caps.

More than 70 percent of the people voted to place those caps in the constitution, an overwhelming mandate from the public for lower costs and more efficiency from our governments. Estimates at the time were for more than $500 million in annual savings to taxpayers.

The loss of tax revenue has forced city and county governments and schools to consider consolidation options. In many areas, government units have eliminated some services. Local governments are also looking at revenue-enhancing tools such as other taxes and higher charges and fees where possible.

We see similar dialogue at the national level, where we demand lower taxes and a reduction in the budget but don’t want any changes to things like national defense, Social Security, Medicaid or Medicare, or other important programs. We see this at the post office, where despite losses well into the billions, we demand services at the same level we see today.

So how do we fix it? It’s essential we have quality leaders willing to make the hard decisions. Our businesses make those hard decisions each day.

This is an important year for us to select those leaders, with elections that impact you at every level, ranging from president all the way to school board. It’s critical your voice is heard by way of your vote.

Then we have to trust and support those leaders to lead. Yes, we have a responsibility to hold them accountable, but let’s make sure our expectations are realistic. And if we disagree, we have to come with a real plan. Second guessing isn’t a strategy.

Source: South Bend Tribune


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