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Friday, August 2, 2019

SPOTLIGHT: Tri-Pac Relocates to South Bend

Posted by: Unknown on Friday, August 2, 2019 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

In July, Tri-Pac, Inc., a contract filling and packaging firm, officially cut the ribbon to signify its relocation from Vandalia, Michigan to South Bend to better align with its growth plans. Their state-of-the-art facility is located on the corner of Nimtz Parkway and Kenmore Street. The company bought the building previously occupied by Plastic Molding Manufacturing Inc.

Phase 1 of their growth plan is an $8 million investment to expand their strategic focus into manufacturing of consumer health care products, including OTC (over-thecounter), medical devices and personal care products.

The company currently employs approximately 40 people with the addition of 20 new jobs over the next few years expected, with the jobs paying anywhere from $18 to $33
per hour.

Founded in 2009 by Vikram Shah, the company contracts with multinational manufacturers of liquid cosmetics and chemicals—i.e. aerosols—to fill and package custom orders. Their mission is to provide the highest quality contract development and manufacturing and chemical management services to marketers of aerosol, liquid and specialty packaged products while achieving results that protect and increase the value of the customer’s brand equity and theirs. Tri-Pac believes that integrity is one of the most important characteristics a company can possess. The Tri-Pac team, management and associates work very hard to focus on quality, integrity, sustainability and continuous improvement.

At the end of 2018, the company successfully upgraded its Quality Systems to encompass the current good manufacturing practices as dictated by the 21 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), continuing their "customerfocused, quality-driven" policy.

Tri-Pac, Inc.
3333 N. Kemnore St.
South Bend, IN 46628
Website

Monday, July 8, 2019

SPOTLIGHT: Meet Lehman & Lehman

Place Making
Posted by: SBR Chamber Member Spotlight on Monday, July 8, 2019 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)
Lehman & Lehman

“We assist clients and communities in seeking and defining  their next horizon. We refer to this process as transforming horizons,” says Chuck Lehman, president and CEO of Lehman & Lehman. Landscape architecture, planning and placemaking are at the heart of this Mishawaka business, which was awarded with the Small Business of the Year honor by the South Bend Regional Chamber earlier this year.

Now entering its 31st year, the company practices with an emphasis on social economic and purposeful design strategies. It crafts sustainable landscapes, sites and places that create positive change through cross-disciplinary collaborations.

Lehman & Lehman is more than a landscape architecture firm; rather, the company is a visionary of the land, present and future. Their approach is holistic, shaping human perspectives to encourage richer thinking that is deeper and more meaningful in both scope and magnitude.

Their project involvement includes the planning and design of Mishawaka’s Central Park, land use planning of the proposed Indiana Enterprise Center, planning and design of South Bend’s West Bank Trail, Mishawaka High School’s Steele Field Renovations and Alumni Plaza, master plan development for Mishawaka’s Ironworks project, and a 10-county Greenways and Trails Vision for Indiana and Michigan.

The key to the company’s sustainability lies with its ability to collaborate when needed with other firms, engineers and other specialists to implement and execute clients’ vision. For the past eight years, the company has experienced at least 15% growth per year, and it has done so with less staff than in previous years. In 2006, the firm had 14 staff members and four licensed professionals, with projects in 11 states.

But the economic downturn in 2008-09 required the company to reinvent itself, making the decision to stay small to offer enhanced focus. Currently, Lehman & Lehman has three full-time and one part-time staff, serving clients throughout Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Ohio.

While the company reinvented itself, so did Chuck, building relationships and investing time in the community. This engagement means participation on various boards and committees, including serving on two Regional Cities advisory committees and serving on the board of the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership. He is also board chair of the South Bend Heritage Foundation and member of the Mishawaka Education Foundation.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

A Conversation with John Affleck-Graves

Posted by: Excerpt from Chamber magazine on Sunday, May 26, 2019 at 8:00:00 am Comments (0)

 

Since 2004, John Affleck-Graves has served as the executive vice president of the University of Notre Dame. Prior to that, he served as its CFO and served as a professor. In August of last year, he announced that he would be retiring effective June 30, 2019. During his tenure, 36 new buildings were constructed on campus, financial aid for students grew from $58 million to $147 million and the annual operating budget grew from $650 million to $1.5 billion. In addition to his position with Notre Dame, Affleck-Graves also served as chair of the Regional Development Authority and played key roles in our region’s economic development efforts. In this interview, chamber asked Affleck-Graves about some of his accomplishments and views of the region.

1.) You have often said that the University cannot succeed unless the region succeeds. What steps have you seen the region take that is moving it in the right direction from an economic development and talent attraction standpoint? What steps has the University taken? JAG: One of the biggest steps that I have seen our region take in recent years is to form partnerships and collaborations between city leaders, businesses, nonprofits, schools and universities. This new drive to collaborate grew out of the Regional Cities Initiative that was initiated by our governor in 2015. That state funding inspired our local cities and counties to collaborate in unprecedented ways to create a vibrant, thriving economy in all of the South Bend-Elkhart region.

JAG: The University is a member of our local community, so just like everyone else, we have an obligation to contribute to our region’s economic growth. We want to see not only St. Joseph County succeed, but also Elkhart County, Marshall County, Berrien County and our entire region prosper.

When I worked with community leaders in our area through my role in the Regional Development Authority, we realized that we could achieve so much more if we pooled our resources and worked together as a region. I’m so excited about the role of the South Bend-Elkhart Regional Partnership under the tremendous leadership of Pete McCown and Regina Emberton. The natatorium in Elkhart was the largest-funded project in the Regional Cities Initiative, and it will have a significant economic impact on the community. Undertakings like the workforce housing projects in Marshall County would not have occurred without the hard work of community leaders like John DeSalle and Gary Neidig.

Our IDEA Center at Innovation Park is one way we engage with the local community, and we would like to see even more collaboration over the coming years. We also work with the City of South Bend and encourage entrepreneurs to grow their businesses at the city’s Ignition Park. A few businesses that are there, such as Aunalytics, began at Notre Dame and are attracting talented analysts, software engineers and data engineers to our local community.

As a University, we also play a role in supporting our local nonprofit organizations. Our students, faculty and staff contribute their time and expertise to many great organizations in the community such as Center for the Homeless in South Bend and the Center for Community Justice in Elkhart. In 2001, the University opened the Robinson Community Learning Center south of campus for the residents of the local community, and every week 600 children and adults participate in programs there.

Lastly, we want to contribute to the quality of life in our region. While football games in Notre Dame Stadium have boosted the local economy by bringing business to our area hotels, restaurants and shops, we also invite visitors to enjoy the performing arts, lectures, conferences and special events. With the completion of the Campus Crossroads project, we have been able to host events for the community such as the Garth Brooks concert and the NHL Winter Classic. And, we want to do more in the future.

2.) With the impact of Notre Dame as a leading employer in the region, it is a huge responsibility. We understand that, as the University needs to attract top talent, there is often a trailing spouse. What are some thoughts you have on how to combat this?

JAG: We are continually partnering with the leaders of the cities in our region to strengthen our economy. As entrepreneurs build companies, they create jobs. When we recruit leading faculty and administrators from diverse parts of the world, oftentimes, they will accept our offer if there are attractive job opportunities for their partners. We have a Dual Career Assistance Program for our faculty and staff who are recruited through regional or national recruitment efforts, and we network with local employers who can utilize their expertise. The spouses also enrich our local workforce. Recently, the spouse of one of our recruits took her technical expertise to the City where she leads innovation efforts.

One of the goals of the Regional Development Authority is to improve the quality of life in our region, and one of the many ways we will accomplish that is by transforming the net out-migration to a positive in-migration by 2025. As we attract and grow great companies and invest in the quality of life, more of our residents will stay in this community. Recently, the Regional Cities Initiative invested in 26 quality-of-life initiatives throughout the South Bend, Mishawaka, Elkhart region, and our community will certainly reap the benefits of those investments.

3.) What are the University’s goals in terms of becoming a preeminent research university?

JAG: We want to be a great Catholic university for the 21st century and one of the preeminent research institutions in the world. We want our research to fulfill the vision of our founder, Fr. Sorin, to be a source for good in the world. There are so many exciting research initiatives on our campus, and we want to create a new paradigm. We want to work together with entrepreneurs to commercialize our research in areas such as cancer, energy, global health, environmental change and nanotechnology. We want to be a resource for companies to help them innovate and compete in the global marketplace. And, we want their companies to flourish in our region.

Much of this activity occurs in collaborative relationships. Innovation Park, which was launched in 2009 with the support of the local community, has nurtured over 100 startups, and many of those companies have created jobs for local residents. We know that our University is stronger when our community succeeds. In 2016, the University opened the Notre Dame Turbomachinery Laboratory (ND Turbo) at Ignition Park in South Bend, on the site of the former Studebaker Autoworks assembly plant. ND Turbo conducts research and development for customers like Pratt & Whitney and Honeywell, and attracts talent and capital to the region. We want to see more successes like this.

Through a recent grant, Notre Dame partnered with Johnson and Johnson, the University of Pittsburgh, and ITAMCO, a manufacturing company based in Plymouth. Researchers at Notre Dame developed a physics-based software that improves the process of 3D printing metals. The local manufacturing company, ITAMCO, licensed this new technology from Notre Dame and used it to launch a new company, Atlas 3D, to apply the technology. Through this collaborative process, ITAMCO developed into a sophisticated software and applied technology company through its partnership with researchers on campus.

Through examples like these, we see our research efforts leveraging economic growth to the benefit of all in our region.

4.) What are your proudest accomplishments while at Notre Dame? And, what’s next?

I came here from South Africa in 1986, and the region has been a wonderful home for my wife, Rita, and our family. The region and the University have given me so many opportunities to work alongside gifted and talented colleagues and students. As the executive vice president, one of my proudest memories is the way Fr. John and the University responded to the 2008-2009 recession. During that time, we did not lay off any employees. Instead, the University was prudent with its resources, so that families would not be impacted.

I have seen so much growth in this community. I am humbled to have served as the chair of the Regional Development Authority, and worked alongside many of our area’s great leaders from St. Joseph, Elkhart and Marshall counties as we secured a $42 million grant from the state in 2015 for economic development. Our counties will continue to benefit from those important projects for many years to come.

After I retire in June, I plan to continue to teach in the Executive MBA program and enjoy more time with my grandchildren. My wife, Rita, and I love this community and Notre Dame. It has made a lasting impact on us, and we treasure all of the friendships that we have made.

5.) What is your impression of the South Bend-Elkhart region now compared to when you first started?

When I came to South Bend from Cape Town, South Africa, I knew very little about this community. I had visited Notre Dame briefly to give a lecture for the Finance Department, but I did not know that much about the region. Over the past 30 years, this community has really blossomed. Collectively, we are making progress to improve our regional economy and provide more compelling career opportunities and increase the cultural vibrancy of our region. This is a great time for the South Bend-Elkhart region, and I could not be more optimistic about the future.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Intern's Take: My Internship Journey

Posted by: Caroline Blue, Saint Mary's College 2019 on Wednesday, May 1, 2019 at 1:00:00 pm Comments (0)

As my senior year at Saint Mary’s College concludes, I have been reflecting on my college experience.  While I am going to miss my friends and going to class, I am also going to miss being an intern.  Yes, I said it.  I am a Communication Studies major with minors in Public Relations/Advertising and Business Administration and really enjoy my major, but career opportunities are so broad it can be overwhelming.  This is where being an intern comes into play.  Internships have allowed me to weed out careers.  I have had three internships over the past four years and each company has provided an amazing learning experience.

My first internship, I worked at Gibson on their marketing team.  I assisted with writing blog content, worked with their social media, and helped develop marketing strategy for a new service they provide to their clients.  I was fully immersed in a marketing role and learned the practical use of marketing principals that could not be learned inside the classroom.  I also learned a lot about insurance, which is important to everyday life.

My second internship, I worked with Purdue Extension-Elkhart County assisting with all things 4-H.  Growing up in Goshen, I was never involved in 4-H, which is rare.  I had the opportunity to interact with community members from all walks of life and of course I got to eat fair food during fair week.  While this internship was not directly related to my major, it gave me the opportunity to further develop core skills such as leadership, time management, and interpersonal communication which will be an integral part of any job, regardless of the industry I enter.

My third internship is with the South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce.  With the Chamber, I get experience with many different things, including economic development, writing articles, preparing presentations, and researching policy affecting Chamber members.  Again, this internship is not directly related to Communications, but it is my favorite experience so far.  I must use problem-solving and writing skills in order to understand and relay a variety of information to a variety of people.  Before this internship, I never realized how many people must work well together to support economic growth in the South Bend Region.

Obviously, there many benefits to internships for the student, but the host company also wins when they have interns.  Innovative and eager minds enter the culture and are ready to work.  Companies are also exposed to fresh talent in their area and have the opportunity to recruit interns for full-time jobs after they finish school.  Regarding finding talent, Indianaintern.net is a great source to post an internship opportunity.  It is a job board for students seeking internships in all industries across the state of Indiana.  It is a “one-stop shop” for students to explore internship opportunities and where employers can connect with EARN Indiana, a program that provides funding for internships.  Now is the time to post openings for interns, since summer is right around the corner!

I would highly recommend an internship to any college student and company.  Experiential learning is a unique and fun way to learn new skills.  I am so grateful to my past employers for letting me build practical skills to be successful in the workforce.  If you have questions about internships,  IndianaINTERN.net, or the EARN program, contact Kate Lee at klee@sbrchamber.com

 

From the South Bend Regional Chamber on using earn money To Pay for Your Intern

“The South Bend Regional Chamber has provided internship opportunities to many talented students over the years. Caroline is one of two fine interns we worked with this spring. This semester was our first to leverage the EARN Indiana program, and I want to encourage all employers to explore this option. EARN not only extends the internship budget but also allows us to employ ‘two interns for the price of one.’ It is also incredibly user-friendly, from registration to reimbursement,” said Mari Bishop, director of operations for the South Bend Regional Chamber.

 

Hire an Intern & Get Them Involved in Summer Connect

The South Bend Regional Chamber encourages you to hire interns at your place of employment to participate in the talent solutions needed to keep good talent here in the South Bend Region. Every summer, we offer the Summer Connect program to give summer interns in the region the chance to get to know one another more while also experiencing all of the great things to see and do in the area. In this way, the intern may be more likely to stay in the area if offered a job! Learn more!

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

5 Things You Should Know About Appealing Property Taxes

Business, Property Taxes
Posted by: Beth Szweda, Owner
Correct Property Tax on Wednesday, April 3, 2019 at 1:00:00 pm
 Comments (0)
Beth Szweda

Navigating the appeal process of reducing your property taxes is difficult,; doing it without any knowledge of the process is a nightmare. It may feel like there is a secret door to unlock and no one gave you the key. Information published by the Department of Local Government Finance is quite complex. Tax bills are coming soon; make sure they are correct. Here are some important things to know before you file an appeal.

1. Studies show that 60% of all properties in the U.S. are over-assessed, yet only 2% appeal.

A Forbes magazine article indicates this stunning statistic. While this is a broad statement of all U.S. property, Indiana is not far off. It is vital that you investigate all aspects of your assessment to see if you are in the majority of over-assessed property and meet the deadline for filing an appeal.

2. There are strict deadlines for action on appeals.

The filing deadline is 45 days from the date of the notice or May 10th, whichever is first. The deadlines are not just for filing. There are also many procedure deadlines that the assessor and taxpayer must adhere to. Information published by the Department of Local Government Finance is quite complex. There were many changes in legislation that affected appeals in 2017. I urge you to read through all of these or seek the advice of an attorney or qualified tax representative before filing your appeal.

3. Almost all rehabilitated properties in urban areas qualify for a tax break.

This type of deduction is becoming more common with all the urban renewal happening. This deduction is for any building or house that has been restored without adding to the footprint. The exemption applies to the increase of valuation to the property by the local assessor. The property must qualify, file Form 322/RE. It applies to structures within an economic revitalization area. There are specific property types within that area that do not qualify, such as golf courses or recreation complexes. Check with your assessor or a qualified tax rep to find out if you qualify.

4. Some vacant buildings qualify for a tax break.

This type of deduction applies to commercial or industrial property located in an economic revitalization area. The property must qualify for the deduction and meet the deadline to file Form 322/VBD.

5. If a property assessment goes up by more the 5%, the burden of proof shifts from owner to assessor.

What it means is that the assessor is required to show evidence and reasoning for increasing an assessment by more than 5% in any given year. It does not qualify for property that has added improvements. If the assessor does not meet the burden of proof, the assessment automatically reverts to the most recent assessment before changes.

While it is a complex procedure, it is not uncommon for taxpayers to win a reduction. With a little research and/or help from a professional, you can prevail.

Beth Szweda | Correct Property Tax 
Indiana Certified Tax Representative | Level III Indiana Assessor/Appraiser
Member Indiana Assessors Association Inc. | Member International Association of Assessing Officers
Correct Property Tax | 574.286.0431


Chamber Editor Note: the above is a guest blog from one of our member businesses. If you have content that you'd like for us to consider for a future blog, contact Shari Carroll at 574.400.4024. You must be a Chamber member business for consideration.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

KATE'S TAKE: After the Superintendent Selection

Education
Posted by: Kate Lee
Director of Talent Engagement
South Bend Regional Chamber on Wednesday, January 30, 2019 at 12:00:00 am
 Comments (9)

This week I attended the board meeting of the South Bend Community School Corporation. Questions have been raised about the selection process of every superintendent hired since I’ve lived in South Bend--nearly 25 years. Based on conversations and observations, I have seen these same questions asked of corporations across our state; what changes the game is how communities move forward AFTER the superintendent is selected.

Our community doesn’t have the luxury of continuing to expend energy on drama, suspicion, and the casting of stones. Our students and educators deserve better. The people working to positively impact our community through private and public investments know that a strong public education system is necessary to ensure that each person reaches their full potential. Business leaders represented by the Chamber want graduates who are prepared to both benefit from, and contribute to, their continued growth.

We will never pick up the pace on equitable, positive change if we’re in a constant state of crisis. The best schools are not just the site of academic learning - but also places of welcome, stability, safety and the building of life foundations.

Let’s support Dr. Cummings as he works to establish a lean, collaborative and action-oriented administrative team to provide systemic stability and the support our principals and educators need to give their very best to the students they serve.

Let’s be honest about our big challenges, even when it’s uncomfortable – and work together – as a community of partners - to establish priorities and implement strategies that make it possible for ALL of our students to succeed.

Let’s establish strong relationships with the business and non-profit partners who stand ready to support our children and educators – giving the broader community meaningful ways to get engaged and truly feel they are part of Team South Bend.

Let’s hold each other accountable, with open minds, dignity and respect and not with tunnel vision and self-inflicted drama.

Let’s build the level of trust, both internally and externally.

It has taken bold action by local business and government leaders to ignite the positive change we’re seeing in South Bend. We are looking to our elected school board and Dr. Cummings to provide brave and bold leadership for South Bend Schools. We believe you see the value in celebrating successes and have the courage to acknowledge and present the very real challenges to our community.

Business leaders expect: clear goals to be set; relevant and accessible student data; strong and timely communication; and a community-wide, laser focus on the strategies selected to drive positive change. South Bend Schools can then ask for – and be prepared to accept - help to address the larger issues impacting student and school success.

As a community, we must do our part. We must not continuously restate what we think is wrong with our schools. If we want to drive positive, systemic change, we must develop a broader understanding of the challenges of public education – from rising expectations and reduced funding to overburdened educators and a high percentage of students who live in poverty.

Then, we all must act – playing whatever role we can to support our children and partner with our schools.

What if we do this so well that Dr. Cummings determines there is no better community to tackle these challenges with and no better place to spend the next decade (or more!) of his career, leading the team that transforms K-12 education in our city?

This is the time for action.

Friday, January 18, 2019

2019 Economic Outlook

Posted by: Jeff Rea, President & CEO
South Bend Regional Chamber on Friday, January 18, 2019 at 12:00:00 am
 Comments (0)
Jeff Rea

As the clock turned to 2019, a fair amount of nervous anticipation exists within the business community about what the New Year will hold. Many consecutive years of economic growth have leaders worried a slowdown might be imminent.

Historically, in the U.S., no economic expansion has lasted longer than a decade (March 1991-March 2001). The current expansion has now lasted more than nine years, leading to those concerns about what 2019 and beyond might hold for the economy.

The prognosticators have been busy looking into their "crystal balls" to offer insight on what the future might hold. Unfortunately, mine is no clearer than theirs, but we thought we'd weigh in as well as share some of that insight from others in this issue of my blog.

Nationally, experts predict that the economy should grow about 2.5%. Those same experts predict the Indiana economy should outpace the national economy, growing at 3.2%. Most growth is predicated early in the year, slowing as the year progresses.

The diversity of our economy in South Bend-Mishawaka-St. Joseph County area is a real plus and means we don't see as wide of swings as other areas might see when the economy surges or slows. We anticipate that this will mean slow and steady growth continuing in our area in 2019. We've been growing slower than the rest of Indiana, however, we'd like to see our area growth keep pace with that of the state prediction.

The fastest-growing sectors in terms of job growth included leisure and hospitality, and goverment, which includes school and hospitals. The biggest decline in employment was in private educational and health services. Indications are the recent growth in sectors like health care, the service industry, and warehousing and logistics should continue.

The last few years have seen more capital invested in and around the local communities than at any time in recent memory. We saw tax cuts, as well as many key public-private partnerships drive new investment, especially in our "city" centers. Many of those projects will near completion in 2019. Others announced recently will break ground in early 2019.

Moderate growth among several other key indicators like median income, population and gross domestic product have investors and our communities optimistic. At the same time, international trade uncertainty, rising interest rates and the availability of workforce allow some pessimism to creep in.

Many cite concerns about the challenges with finding workers needed to fill open spots. We don't anticipate that changing much in 2019. Unemployment should stay about the same, and as a result, the tight labor market will continue to drive hourly wages up. We see two potential fixes to the workforce shortage: increase our labor force participation rate (62.5% of all eligible workers do so) and grow our population. Efforts are underway to advance both of these fixes.

We anticipate the demand for housing will remain strong in the New Year. The experts say it's a sellers' market, with a lack of inventory driving some prices up. The number of new homes built rose again in 2018, and a significant amount of high-density residential projects were started, completed or announced. What happens with interest rates in 2019 could have a major influence on the housing market in the New Year.

Our recent successes with growth and development should be celebrated. These successes have also attributed
to a shift in attitude in the region.
This is huge. We must continue to strive to keep pace with the state and national economies. Otherwise, we'll fall behind.

Population growth and income growth should be our top priorities. A great roadmap has been laid out by our partner, South Bend–Elkhart Regional Partnership, to help guide growth in the coming years. We need to commit to seeing the plan through and working closely with our regional partners on enhancing growth opportunities. Here at the Chamber, we're all about seeing you and your business succeed. Onward in 2019, and we look forward to working with you as we seek to catalyze that growth.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Per Capita Income Trending Upward

Posted by: Jeff Rea, President & CEO
South Bend Regional Chamber on Wednesday, November 21, 2018 at 12:00:00 am
 Comments (0)
Jeff Rea

Last week, the report came out on 2017 Per Capita Personal Income Data for Counties across the country. This metric is a measure of the amount of money earned per person in a certain area. It can apply to the average per-person income for a city, region or country, and is used as a means of evaluating the living conditions and quality of life in different areas.

It is a key metric we utilize to help track how our economy is doing. One of our principle goals is to drive this number up. From the beginning of our Economic Development program, we've focused on the type of industries and companies that will help improve this number. We've now seen it go up nine straight years, with the 2016-2017 difference being the greatest improvement in that nine-year period.

The current per capita personal income for St. Joseph County is $46,118. While encouraged by the growth of that number, truth is, it still is only 89.3% of the national average and 95% of the Great Lakes average. We're trending in the right direction, or, we're getting closer to those "averages." Once again, our average exceeds the Indiana average.

Though average doesn't seem like a stretch goal, in this case it is. We'd love to continue to push this number closer to the national average and we believe that will continue to send a strong signal about the health of our regional economy.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

JEFF'S TAKE: Mid-Term Recap

Posted by: Jeff Rea, President & CEO, South Bend Regional Chamber on Wednesday, November 7, 2018 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)
Jeff Rea

Wow, the mid-term elections are over, and attention will soon turn to municipal elections. A big thank you to all candidates and their willingness to run! Each has made tremendous sacrifices over the past several months in an effort to connect with voters. A big thank you to each of you as well for voting or for encouraging your employees to vote, and thank you to those who shared the ChamberPAC-endorsed candidates with your associates. Frankly, we were really excited about the candidates who genuinely offered great ideas and solutions, and we were disappointed by those candidates who merely offered “sound bites” and “second-guessed” their opponents. In our minds, second-guessing isn’t a strategy.

One interesting stat for me that jumped out when analyzing the results was that 51% of all ballots cast were a straight ticket ballot. This day and age, that really surprises me, and leads me to believe people don’t spend as much time getting to know candidates as they should. That’s why efforts like the Chamber’s endorsement process are so critical. We try to dig deeper than the party affiliation.

Overall, four of the seven candidates that we endorsed, or 57%, won elections.

We’re especially excited about Commissioner Andy Kostielney’s win. Commissioner Kostielney has been a strong leader for the county, and his efforts have helped put the county on a path for economic and population growth. We believe good things are ahead for St. Joseph County, and we’re excited to have the commissioner serve for four more years.

We’re also excited about what the county council will look like moving forward. We believe it will be one of the better councils in recent memory, and we look forward to seeing the council and commissioners working together as the county navigates some difficult budget challenges. Congratulations to ChamberPAC-endorsed candidates Robert “Bobby K” Kruszynski, Jr., Corey Noland and Dick Pfeil. Joining them will be former Mishawaka Councilman Joe Canarecci, who won his first term on the county council after defeating ChamberPAC-endorsed candidate Brian Pawlowski. Diana Hess won re-election; she was unopposed.

The South Bend School Board produced two closely contested races, as ChamberPAC-endorsed candidates Stan Wruble and John Pinter lost to Oletha Jones and Ruth Warren, respectively. We will look closely at the school corporation moving forward, as challenging times are ahead, and this school board will need to provide strong and effective leadership.

As our attention shifts to municipal races in 2019, we hope some of you are considering a run in one of the many races on the ballot. Like we’ve said before, the national elections get most of the attention, but the local ones make the biggest difference in our daily lives. Want to talk more about being a candidate? I’d love to sit down with you and share with you those issues on the mind of the business community.

Email me

Friday, September 21, 2018

Indiana Enterprise Center Development

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President & CEO
South Bend Regional Chamber on Friday, September 21, 2018 at 8:00:00 am
 Comments (0)
Indiana Enterprise Center

 

The Indiana Enterprise Center (IEC) development on the county’s west Side is getting a lot of attention in the news these days. This includes that area near New Carlisle where major industrial projects like IN TEK/Kote, St. Joseph Energy Center, Unifrax, and several other large industrial developments have occurred throughout the past 30 years.

The presence of large tracts of land, utilities, the two highways, potential rail connections, and its proximity to major markets made it an attractive location for those businesses and has piqued the interest of many others over the years looking at business opportunities in our region. But development has been complicated because of the lack of shovel-ready sites.

Issues like zoning, wetlands, land control and utility connections meant a great deal of uncertainty about development and has often caused developers and companies to quickly rule out this area and move on to other sites.

The county is undertaking a comprehensive planning process in the area. That process includes a closer look at all factors that influence development, as well as what types of uses are ideal. Careful consideration has been made to provide a balance between the need for growth, development and new jobs and the need to protect the town, its residents, and the people that have made major investments in and around the area.

Despite what the media would have you believe, there are no plans to develop 20,000-plus acres. The planning area is that big, but that is because it is important to plan any new development within the context of what exists in and around the area.

Projects like this are complicated and complex. Without the plans, critics would complain planning was done in a vacuum and wasn’t inclusive. With plans, come fear and misinformation about the true intentions of the county. It’s complicated, and that is a big reason development in this area has been intermittent at best. The county is seeking to make it less complicated.

We believe the county is approaching planning for this area the right way, and we commend them for the efforts they are making to ensure planned and orderly growth and development. We hope it advances, and we encourage those that have concerns take some time to be involved in the process.

Learn more about the plans.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Population Growing, But Slowly

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
South Bend Regional Chamber on Wednesday, April 4, 2018 at 12:00:00 am
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Five years ago, Indiana began taking an important look at its future. Slow population growth had the state concerned about its future economic viability and it knew it needed to do some things differently to spark growth. Eleven regions across the United States were studied and the Regional Cities Initiative was launched to help Indiana capitalize on those lessons learned from those dynamic, growing regions. The end goal, make Indiana communities attractive for new enterprises and for talented workers.

It may still be too early to tell of the Regional Cities program’s impact. Many of the projects are just coming out of the ground. But just two weeks ago, the Census Bureau released its 2017 Population estimates, which gives us a good indicator of the progress Indiana and our area is making. The 2020 Census will be an even more important check-up. Population growth is an important indicator for the state and the communities in it. Communities that aren’t growing are dying.

Indiana is now the 25th fastest-growing state in the country. Fifty-five of Indiana’s 92 counties saw their population grow in 2017, the largest number in more than a decade. The state is growing faster than our Midwest neighbors.

Overall, Indiana grew at .5%. Our metro area was on the plus side though a little slower than the state number, with South Bend-Mishawaka growing at .3% and Elkhart-Goshen growing at .4%. Though there are some encouraging signs in the 2017 numbers, since 2010, the United States has grown at over 5%, Indiana at 2.4% and St. Joseph County at 1.4%.

Several factors influence population growth and decline. Certainly, births and deaths are big factors, but the migration of population is a more important factor and one that communities have a little more influence over. Regional Cities projects are aimed at helping make sure people migrate “to” here instead of “from” here.

What the Regional Cities study showed was that quality of place improvements would help drive population growth. Our local communities have taken that to heart and have major investments planned in parks and recreation, housing, art, public places, and the overall look and feel of the built environment. Much of that early work is focused in the downtowns and will continue to expand out from there.

Those improvements are at times controversial. Taxpayers demand the delivery of essential public services like schools, public safety and road maintenance. Public officials must carefully weigh the demands of both, as each are essential for sustained community growth.

What about the future? The Census Bureau makes population projections going out through 2050. Those projections for St. Joseph County aren’t great. The 2050 estimate is only 207 people more than the 2017 estimate. Though that estimate will keep our area on the positive side of the growth column, that level of growth will leave us well behind our peer communities, the state and the nation.

The Indiana Business Research Center predicts that “just a handful of metropolitan areas will be responsible for most of the state’s population gains in the future.” Our region is positioned to be one of those areas and our Leaders are determined to make sure those 2050 projections don’t come true.

There is a great sense of urgency and a realization that now is the time to capitalize on Indiana’s business climate and efforts to attract new jobs and capital investment. Look for major improvements in the next few years to further position the region to win the battle for talent migration.  

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Let's Keep the Positive Momentum Going

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, January 17, 2018 at 12:00:00 am
 Comments (1)

Indiana had a record year for new job announcements in 2017 with commitments for more than 30,000 new jobs were secured, according to Gov. Eric Holcomb and the Indiana Economic Development Corporation. Unemployment hovered below 4 percent in the state and counties in our region.

There are more than 3.1 million people working in our state. That’s about 370,000 more than were working at the low point of the recession in July 2009. For 100 straight months, the number of people working has increased as our region numbers mirror the state.

Per capita personal income in our region grew at more than double the national average in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, while per capita personal income in 2016 was $42,946, up from $33,160 in 2010.

We continue to lag behind the national average in per capita personal income. Our region’s is only 87 percent of the national average, but we’ve made significant progress. In 2010, we were only 82 percent of the national average. Increasing wages, low unemployment and high employment should have us all optimistic about 2018.

Construction in 2017 also has us optimistic about 2018. The number of projects either announced, started or recently completed is significant. This is arguably the busiest we’ve seen the construction industry in some time. But will we see some slow down in the economy? We don’t think so, at least not in the short term.

Industry experts are predicting a rise in deal volume in 2018. Despite rising costs and labor concerns, those experts indicated there is no slowdown in sight and that a prosperous 2018 should be expected. Let’s hope they are right.

So, how do we keep the momentum?

Next month, a new regional economic development plan will be released. The plan is centered around industry growth, entrepreneurship, attracting talent, education and workforce, and diversity and inclusion. The plan is a follow-up to those developed as part of the Regional Cities process.

Our economic development teams will be on the road telling the story of our region, visiting 12 states for 28 different events or meetings. At the same time, others will hear about the great progress here and reach out to us as they consider whether this is the right spot for the next phase of their business. Many will visit our community to understand more.

This is where we all have an important role to play. Our businesses, cities, towns, neighborhoods, families, schools, churches, civic groups and social groups all play a key role. Each is an important voice in our effort to attract new people and businesses. When people ask, make sure they know you are excited. Maybe reach out to others in your address book and tell them they should come see what’s happening here. We’re in the middle of a big comeback, and it’s taken many people to change our direction. It will take many more to make sure we stay on the right path.

Also published in the South Bend Tribune

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Chamber Continues Push for South Shore Improvements at Airport

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, January 11, 2018 at 12:00:00 am
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The South Shore Railroad Airport Relocation Project remains a top priority of the business community and we believe it should move forward. The project is critical to our community’s efforts to attract and retain top talent. Ideally, we would like to see it completed in a time frame that aligns with the completion of the South Shore Double-Track project.

Both the station relocation and double-track projects will help our region accomplish the goal of a 90-minute South Shore trip by 2020. A 90-minute trip puts our region in a strong, competitive position with other Chicago suburbs. Indiana is well positioned to take advantage of a poor Illinois business climate, and the South Shore will become even a more important connection for people living west of our area coming to South Bend to work and those living here traveling west for work.

The Chamber is committed to seeing the South Shore’s South Bend station being at the South Bend International Airport.

That connection provides the most logical, safe, economical and convenient options for travelers coming to and from our region. The airport location of the South Shore station provides convenient options like parking, restrooms, concessions, as well as the ease of connections to buses, air travel and taxis. In addition, the safety and security of the airport has been a real asset, as people generally feel comfortable coming to a facility that is occupied by many people, is clean, well lit, and has adequate security.

For these reasons, we don’t believe it makes good economic sense to construct a new station near Bendix Drive as has been suggested. Plus, it’s hard to justify the added expense of acquiring land and designing and constructing a building when resources are tight. There are ongoing operational costs to consider as well, such as staffing, security, snow plowing, grass mowing and other maintenance and upkeep.

It is also suggested that even if a Bendix station was built, South Shore intends to continue to the airport. The Chamber has a difficult time wrapping our arms around how the community would benefit from having two stations so close together. It only creates confusion for consumers as they are deciding where to board the train.

The airport connection could open potential economic development opportunities around the airport, especially on the west side. The rail connection, added with the airport air-freight opportunities and the ease of truck access positions that area for future logistics operations seeking the benefits of a multi-modal facility.

The Chamber is sensitive to the concerns of the residents of the Ardmore neighborhood, who’ve spoken out about the airport station relocation. Though we’ve not seen a final route, we’re confident the consultants have taken great care in identifying a route that will minimize disruptions in the neighborhood. For those that will be disrupted, a very fair relocation process is in place to ensure those displaced residents are adequately compensated.

We are anxious for the city of South Bend to finalize the route selection from the consultant and move forward the process of relocating the necessary homeowners. We’re concerned that further delays will make it more difficult to align with the 2020 construction goal. We also are concerned that further delays could impact the city’s ability to tap into federal funds to assist with the project as we anticipate some significant federal dollars to be available for shovel-ready projects as the result of a new infrastructure bill from Congress in 2018.

If you have additional feedback for me, please send me an email at jrea@sbrchamber.com.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Much to Do in a Short Amount of Time

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, January 3, 2018 at 12:00:00 am
 Comments (0)

Today (January 3), the Indiana General Assembly will kick off its 2018 legislative session. This year is a short session, scheduled to wrap up in early March. That means legislators will get right to work in anticipation of the early ending. Short sessions also mean no fiscal issues will be considered; those will have to wait for 2019.

But what exactly will they work on? That’s anybody’s guess and will likely come into better focus in the coming weeks. In recent years, the legislative sessions have been marked by big, defining issues like last year’s road funding discussion, or previous sessions’ action on items such as property tax caps, or even years ago on Daylight Saving Time.

Generally, the work of the General Assembly has netted some positive results. Action in recent years has helped vault Indiana to the top of those business climate lists, ranking tops in the Midwest and one of the tops in the nation. What’s next to make Indiana an attractive place for businesses and people?

Workforce issues may garner the most attention this year. You can’t go anywhere without hearing employers lament about their challenges with finding and retaining top talent to meet their workforce needs. This is more of a national phenomenon, rather than a regional or state-specific problem. But is there a legislative fix? Likely not, but the General Assembly will certainly look closely at potential solutions that attempt to ease employer concerns.

Alcohol sales have grabbed many early headlines as the legislature once again takes up the debate about whether consumers should be allowed to buy alcohol on Sundays. The consumers seem to be demanding it, but are the members of the General Assembly hearing them? Probably not. Every year about this time it comes up, and every year about this time it goes away, to be considered again at an unnamed time and date well into the future.

For the business community, the issue with alcohol sales is more about the message it sends to people about Indiana than it is about alcohol. Forty-nine other states have allowed this, while Indiana seems stuck with Prohibition-era laws. At a time when businesses are trying to sell people on the merits of Indiana — the positive business climate, the great quality of life — something as simple as this sends a loud message that Indiana is not progressive and is behind the times.

The opioid epidemic is also likely to grab legislators’ attention. It has far-reaching impacts on communities. Like the workforce issue, there is not an easy or magic fix. But the General Assembly is certain to take a closer look at where Indiana law might be able to help combat the epidemic.

The major metro areas of Indiana have a Regional Development Tax Credit on their legislative agenda. This is the follow-up to the Regional Cities Program and could help provide a needed incentive to fill a gap on development projects that enhance the quality of place within communities. We believe this tool can be critical to efforts to develop and redevelop our urban areas.

The business community has a strong interest in local government modernization and will keep a close eye on that issue this session. Locally, the full implementation of property tax caps in 2019 will put additional pressure on the budgets of our school corporations and local government units. We support initiatives to improve efficiency and reduce operating costs in preparation for the budget crunch that will soon follow.

The session will move fast. Follow it closely at www.iga.in.gov and be sure to let your representatives know what you think about the issues being considered.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Cap on Property Taxes a Balancing Act

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, December 6, 2017 at 12:00:00 am
 Comments (1)

The Indiana General Assembly reacted to protests from voters over rising property tax bills and in 2008 placed property tax caps into law. The caps limit tax bills to 1 percent of the assessed value of homes, 2 percent for farms and rental properties and 3 percent for businesses.

In 2010, voters affirmed that action of the General Assembly by statewide referendum as 72 percent voted in favor of placing the caps into the Indiana Constitution.

The predicted result was homeowners, landlords and businesses would save significant money. Several years later, that has held true and Indiana has vaulted to the front of most business rankings, boasting the best business climate in the Midwest and one of the tops in the country. This is in large part because of the “certainty” that exists in the Indiana tax system.

At the same time, the action has left many state and local government units scrambling. Initial predictions were that there would be more than $500 million in annual savings to the taxpayers statewide, meaning fewer dollars available to governments for the delivery of essential services.

Many lawmakers felt local governments would consider consolidation options, including reducing the number of school or library districts and consolidating emergency dispatch services. Across Indiana, communities have been slow to follow that thinking with just few consolidations occurring.

In St. Joseph and Lake counties, an additional 10 years were granted for full property tax cap implementation to help the counties better deal with outstanding debt obligations. Still, 2017 estimates by the Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF) had $78 million in total savings to the taxpayers.

The City of South Bend, St. Joseph County, the City of Mishawaka, and the South Bend Community School Corporation were hit hardest. Other school corporations, libraries and public transportation agencies also saw major cuts in revenue. Those units are also bracing for more losses when full implementation comes in 2020.

I’m one who has benefited. My property taxes are now lower. But am I better off? The jury is still out on that one.

In St. Joseph County, no consolidations have occurred, and there doesn’t seem to be much appetite for that. Instead the level of services has or will be affected.

It seems daily in the news that taxpayers are wondering about police protection, leaf collection, street paving, soon snow plowing, park services, public transportation, 911 services, the number of students in a classroom, the number of schools in a system or school transportation. I could go on.

The cap of property taxes has a direct correlation to the delivery of each of those services. The same public, of which an overwhelming majority voted for tax caps, has been slow to embrace changes in service levels. It will only get more difficult in the coming years.

While our elected leaders are reducing service levels to meet current budget demands, they must also carefully balance the need to make our communities attractive for new people and businesses. Something must give.

We can’t tax or cut our way to prosperity. We have to find the right balance and must be quicker to embrace change. After all we demanded it in 2008 and affirmed it in 2010.

Also published in the South Bend Tribune

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Support South Bend Schools' Focus 2018

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
South Bend Regional Chamber on Wednesday, November 22, 2017 at 12:00:00 am
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Last week, the South Bend Community School Corporation released its Focus 2018 plan that includes new grade configurations, new bell times for all levels and the closing and repurposing of several schools. I’m hoping the community rallies around this plan and supports the efforts leaders are making to improve the school system.

Businesses do things like this all the time. To stay competitive, it’s a requirement, not an option. Businesses must carefully analyze customer wants and needs and pivot to meet those needs or risk going out of business. Though it’s unlikely the school corporation would go out of business, it does need to make critical changes to better position itself among increasing competition.

The business community has a strong interest in what’s happening within the school corporation. In addition to preparing students for success in life, the corporation is also preparing students for success in their careers. Today’s students are tomorrow’s workers.

Companies today are tuned into workers and either finding, attracting or developing top talent for their organizations. Companies realize how important a strong educational foundation is for a student and how that foundation will help influence success in the workforce.

The business community has partnered with the schools on Project Lead the Way and Manufacturing Day, and supported schools through financial contributions and volunteer commitments for things like classroom programming, extracurricular activities and building and facility improvements.

Good work by the corporation is critical to our region’s economic development efforts. Good schools are key to efforts to attract new people and new businesses to our region. It often is the top factor when people are considering a community.

We’ve long been concerned about the South Bend School Corporation and its performance. We know meaningful changes must be made within the system and that those changes will result in hard decisions to remain competitive with other school districts.

The business community recognizes that the educational landscape requires change now. We believe the Focus 2018 plan is bold and fiscally responsible. We believe it will improve student achievement, maximize instructional effectiveness, maintain racial diversity and address changing community demographics.

There will be opposition. We’ve already heard from some parents and students with concerns. It is impossible to develop a plan that 100 percent of the people will support. The school board must carefully weigh the pros and cons.

We believe waiting is not an option and will only cause the corporation and the students in it to fall further behind. We want South Bend to be a leader and we are convinced that changes like these will position the corporation for future success.

All feedback is submitted anonymously with the option to include your name. To submit feedback online, please click here.

Also published in the South Bend Tribune

Thursday, November 9, 2017

County Looking for Ways to Attract & Grow Business

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
South Bend Regional Chamber on Thursday, November 9, 2017 at 12:00:00 am
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My daughter and I were talking homework last week. She’s tackling high school chemistry, which brought back memories of the periodic table and chemical formulas. I liked the subject — you can say it was in my genes. I have a family full of pharmacists who all mastered it much better than me.

I chose a different path, and though you won’t see me mixing chemicals or working in a lab, I do spend a lot of time trying to figure out the right formula for economic development success. In the lab, we at least know that when we put two parts hydrogen with one part oxygen, we have water. Add too much or too little of either of those elements, and you end up with something different. In economic development, it’s a little less precise and could be different for every region.

Economic development professionals realize you need to attract new businesses to an area, grow the businesses already here, and create an environment conducive to people starting businesses. But they also know that you need things like good infrastructure, quality schools, a skilled workforce, and other quality of place amenities. Finding the right formula of those elements for a region is key.

A recent Tribune article included unfair shots at the county for its economic development efforts in the New Carlisle industrial area. The article quoted critics of the county effort to attract “big fish” into that area. The writers referenced “outside experts” with a limited view of the overall county economic development efforts to further criticize the effort.

I do think if all efforts were focused on “smokestack chasing,” then the criticism could be warranted. But like in the laboratory, the county realizes that those “big fish” are only one element of an overall strategy that requires many different elements to attract new people, companies and new capital investment.

In the New Carlisle industrial area, the county is advancing plans to ready key parcels for development. When I/N Tek and I/N Kote developed in that area more than 25 years ago, leaders at the time envisioned that development could be a catalyst for other opportunities. That area has been slow to develop, because many of those things the county is now tackling were never undertaken.

The uncertainty that exists in that area related to the control of the land, zoning and other site characteristics slowed development and were major factors in decisions like those of Toyota to seek an opportunity elsewhere. The more uncertainty that exists related to the development of a site, the less likely that site is to secure a new development.

In the past two years, 78 percent of all companies looking at the overall area sought an existing building or a shovel-ready site. This area has neither, which moves it out of consideration quickly for new development opportunities.

This part of the county is well-suited for those large manufacturing operations. Other areas of the county are better suited for warehousing and logistics, office, tech, start-ups, healthcare or housing. And efforts exist to attract those types of development as well. Leaders in the county and the municipalities contained therein realize they can’t have all their eggs in one basket.

Each community in our region is an important element to our formula for success. Each complements the overall effort, with each providing its own strengths related to attracting different kinds of development. Individually, none succeed. Collectively, if we figure out the right formula, we at least have a fighting chance as we compete with other parts of the country and world.

Also published in the South Bend Tribune

Thursday, October 26, 2017

South Bend Needs to Think Big or Get Left Behind

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO Comments (0)

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.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Ttrip to DC Worth the Effort

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
South Bend Regional Chamber on Monday, October 16, 2017 at 12:00:00 am
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Last week I visited Capitol Hill. I try to go out to Washington, D.C., at least annually to connect with our legislators and their staffs and visit about issues important to businesses in our region. This year, I was joined by about 100 other business leaders from throughout Indiana.

Major policy issues like tax reform, trade, health care and infrastructure topped our agenda. We arrived during the launch of the tax reform discussion and on the heels of the latest breakdown of health care reform talks. Though health care is stalled, we’re hopeful tax reform moves forward yet this year and that in early 2018 Congress does something with infrastructure.

We haven’t run into anyone that loves the current tax code and system. I think there is general consensus from both sides of the aisle that improvements are necessary. Early drafts have inspired some strong feelings about who might benefit most from changes. The devil will be in the details, and the months ahead will inspire passionate debate about where those best fixes are located. In the end, we are hopeful meaningful reform moves forward.

Infrastructure is high on our priority list. On the day we visited, U.S. Sens. Joe Donnelly and Todd Young, along with U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, were sharing with President Donald Trump the importance of Indiana projects that include the South Shore Railroad upgrades that would lead to economic growth in northwest and northcentral Indiana. The South Shore double track project and the airport relocation project remain top priorities of the local business community. Federal help will be needed to accomplish the goal of a 90-minute South Shore commute from South Bend to Chicago, and vice versa, by 2020.

The trade discussion is a little like tax reform. Most would agree some improvements to the current system are necessary. With Americans able to consume only about 5 percent of what we produce, trade is vital to the success of our businesses.

During our visit we also discussed immigration, business regulations, national security and the deficit.

Some wonder whether such a trip is worth the time and energy. Congress has low approval ratings and people are increasingly frustrated by the partisan bickering that can dominate the news. Will they listen? Will they be able to come together to work on any meaningful legislation? Does my opinion matter?

I’m convinced it does and it’s worth the trip. I plan to go each time I have the opportunity. I’m still in awe of the history and love to see the places I’ve heard so much about since my early days of history class. Each time I’m there, I learn new things about the men and women who have worked hard to advance the interests of our country.

Our local contingent of Rep. Walorski, Sen. Donnelly and Sen. Young have each been generous with their time and all seemed happy to see and hear from friends back home.

All three have talented teams around them too. I’m amazed by the knowledge of both our legislators and their staffs on very complex issues. I don’t know how they keep it all straight.

Also Published in the South Bend Tribune

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Mill at Ironworks Plaza a Key Step Downtown Mishawaka

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
South Bend Regional Chamber on Thursday, September 28, 2017 at 12:00:00 am
 Comments (0)

I had the chance last week to attend the groundbreaking at Mill at Ironworks Plaza in downtown Mishawaka. The project is located just south of Beutter Park. Flaherty & Collins, an Indianapolis firm, is developing a 400,000-square-foot mixed-use building that will have commercial space on the first floor, 232 apartments and a parking garage.

Construction will commence in October and should be complete in two years. It is expected to employ about 400 people during construction.

The project will span two vacant city blocks that once housed the former Ball Band/Uniroyal factory. That 2 million-square-foot industrial complex that had employed close to 10,000 people was cleared in the late 1990s to make way for redevelopment opportunities on the site.

The groundbreaking on the Mill at Ironworks Plaza represents the largest development project in downtown Mishawaka since Liberty Mutual relocated a call center there in the early 1980s. This project represents a $45 million investment in downtown.

Mishawaka began planning for the redevelopment of the area shortly after Uniroyal filed bankruptcy in 1991. At the time, an urban, mixed-use, pedestrian friendly and architecturally significant redevelopment project was envisioned. In late 1997, the site was acquired and for the past 20 years the city has been working on executing on that plan.

After the demolition, the city moved forward with the development of Beutter and Kamm Island parks, as well as enhancements to Battell Park, Central Park and Lincoln Park, which are near the site.

In conjunction with those improvements, the Mishawaka Riverwalk was developed to connect each of those amenities. In recent years that 3-mile pedestrian loop has attracted thousands of visitors seeking a great place to run, walk, bike or just gather. Public art and other amenities have been added to enhance the experience along the riverfront.

Other development projects have taken shape on the fringes of the site. Mishawaka renovated the former Main Jr. High into apartments. The former Carnegie Library is currently being renovated for a restaurant use. The Townes at Kamm Island were developed and are currently being expanded. The River Rock Apartments opened earlier this year adjacent to the Riverwalk Condos that were developed in recent years.

Hospice built a new facility in the neighborhood. The former bank building at Main and Mishawaka Avenue was redeveloped into a co-working space called 101Co3. The former Tivoli block was redeveloped. The Mishawaka Food Pantry has done major renovations on the former Studebaker building on Lincoln Way, and several new users have located in the revitalized 100 Center. Many other projects are also being considered in or near downtown.

“Quality of place” are the buzzwords many communities are talking about these days as they recognize the need to build great spaces to help attract people. The Mishawaka project is a great case study for other communities to follow.

Projects like this take a lot of time, planning, patience and resources. The mayor and many city departments, the Redevelopment Commission, the City Council, the Park Board, the Mishawaka Business Association, the neighbors and countless others have all played critical roles.

From the acquisition, demolition, environmental cleanup through the development of the public spaces and the attraction of a developer, Mishawaka has executed on a long, well thought out, comprehensive plan for the redevelopment of a site. That plan has included some significant public investment that in the end has attracted some significant private investment. Watch for the biggest of those private investments to commence shortly.

Also published in the South Bend Tribune.

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

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
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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
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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
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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
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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

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