Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Jeff's Take: A Look Back at History

Posted by: Jeff Rea, Chamber President and CEO on Wednesday, July 22, 2015 at 12:00:00 am Comments (1)

The Chamber is in the process of moving offices. After 30 years at the Commerce Center on the East Race in South Bend, we’re moving across the river into another important, historical downtown building, the American Trust Place Building.

We’ll occupy our new space beginning Aug. 3.

Moving can be a chore. Imagine 30-plus years of accumulation all in one spot. We’ve collected a lot of stuff during that time. Add that to the valuables we had accumulated in our 70-plus years before in other locations and that adds up to more than 100 years of treasures.

Like many of us do in our homes and businesses, we hung on to things just in case we might need it again someday. We also had a great deal of historical information that helps paint the picture of what our communities looked like throughout the years. I’ve had a fun time looking back and a better understanding of some of the key issues our business and community leaders dealt with during their day. Some of the issues may surprise you.

Going back at least 75 years, business leaders seemed to have had great concern about finding quality workers to fill positions within their companies. It seemed that the workplace was changing with the advent of new technology and employers wondered whether the workers of the day had the skills necessary to help them compete. Sound familiar at all?

Transportation was a top priority. Leaders recognized the importance of a strong transportation network to help move goods, services and people, and they sought ways to fund necessary enhancements to the system. Imagine, those leaders being concerned about not enough resources to fix existing roads or build new ones. Another familiar theme.

The tax and regulatory climate was a key concern. There was great concern with our ability to compete with other markets both in and out of the state. At the same time, there was concern about having the necessary resources to meet the increasing demand for public services.

Communities were growing, which was putting great demand on our infrastructure as communities prepared for new growth. I think I’ve heard that one before.

Through the years, the issues of the day popped in and out of files. Everything from time zones to toll roads to taxes.

The late Harry Chapin penned a great song, “All My Life’s a Circle.” Harry might have been right. The issues of yesterday seem very similar to the issues today. Only the businesses and individuals have changed. And each has chosen to approach the issues of the day from a little bit different angle.

But are we making any progress? If we are moving again 30 years from now and reminiscing through our new accumulation of stuff, will our look back be eerily similar? Or will this be the era that changed it all. Will we have redefined our area? Will we have tackled some catalytic issues that helped propel our communities? Will we have put aside political and personal differences for the betterment of our region?

The communities that have thrived have done so because they had bold leaders in the public and private sectors. They weren’t afraid to try new things and tackle difficult or even controversial issues. And they found ways to inspire others to get on board. It’s up to each of us to decide how our future goes; we all play a role. We have an opportunity today to help right what the history books say about this era.