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
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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