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South Bend Needs to Think Big or Get Left Behind

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Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO

The regions we are competing with are thinking big. They are making key decisions to position themselves to beat us. They want to attract the talent we are seeking. They want the companies we believe would be a good fit here. And they wouldn’t mind stealing a few of our existing employers or top employees.

We’ve got to keep pace. That includes maintaining what we’ve got and attracting new people and companies to help grow our economy. New housing and job opportunities will help. Better schools, strong neighborhoods, quality entertainment and recreation opportunities all contribute. Quality of place improvements, like those in the Regional Cities program, should spark population growth.

Our investment in infrastructure is also an important factor. Enhancements to U.S. 31, U.S. 20 and Interstate 80/90 all play a big part in getting people to and from our area. The airport plays a vital role because of its easy connections to major markets in the United States and around the world. And rail will play an increased role in the future in the movement of both freight and people.

Our business community believes passenger rail could be a big advantage in our effort to compete as a quick connection to one of the largest economies of the world. The South Shore railroad has plans for several improvements that will get a trip from South Bend to Chicago down to 90 minutes by 2020. The trip currently takes 2 hours and 20 minutes.

I believe 90 minutes is key. When analyzing commuting patterns and the type of businesses and people that have been attracted to areas within 90 minutes of major metropolitan areas, I think it can be a game changer for our area.

I hope people who live in Chicago will work here, and people who live here can work in Chicago. A quicker ride means a better connection to arts, entertainment and cultural opportunities that exist in the Chicago area.

As the project details are developing, neighbors near the South Bend airport — current home to the eastern most South Shore station — have reacted to the uncertainty and attempted to put the brakes on the project. The neighbors wonder if the 10 minutes of time savings are worth it at the cost of relocating some homes west of the airport. If all the communities along the way took similar approaches, we would never get to 90 minutes and never realize the full potential.

City officials have now pressed pause, too, and gone back to the drawing board with consideration of relocating the South Shore station either downtown, near the Honeywell factory south of the airport or another location. I was just in Washington, D.C., and fear this latest uncertainty could impact our ability to tap into federal funds.

Downtown gets studied every few years. We anticipate it will be ruled out again as it has been many times before because it’s cost prohibitive. The Honeywell location isn’t ideal either, for the same reasons the nearby Amtrak location isn’t ideal. That location isn’t as easy to get to and presents limited development opportunities near the proposed station.

I think the airport is a good fit for the South Shore station. I believe the development opportunities available to the west of airport are a real advantage and ultimately makes the project about more than just moving people back and forth. Like our competition is doing, we have to think big about this once-a-generation opportunity and move forward.

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