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Earlier this month, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg announced plans to take a closer look at what it would take to get the South Shore passenger rail service to Downtown South Bend. A lot of questions remain about things like cost, route, station, number of riders, economic impact and more. We think this is a good step. Downtown has been considered many times over the years, but I’m not sure anyone has had all the information they need to make an informed decision. It could carry a very high price tag. This latest study could either advance the project or rule it out. Time will tell.
In the meantime, we remain believers that the west side of the South Bend International Airport should remain a priority and our hope is that the project can move forward. The airport is an important regional asset, and for decades people from throughout the region have utilized it to access the South Shore. Both the South Shore and the airport want that to continue. We believe an improved location at the airport will make it a more desirable asset and ultimately will make the trip to the Windy City much quicker. We also believe it can be accomplished much quicker and at a cost substantially less than the downtown option. Our hope is that leaders from the City of South Bend, St. Joseph County, the airport and the South Shore help advance this project.
In addition to the passenger rail opportunity at the airport, rail freight opportunities are also available there that could help drive additional economic growth. When we plugged it into our economy model, we believe it could generate more than $470 million of economic impact.
It is important to note, we don’t believe it will mean significantly more trains on the line; just one to two freight trains per day accessing land west of the airport. There seems to be a lot of interest in that opportunity, but still some things to work out like how it gets there. We’re confident that the airport and each of the other partners are working hard to minimize any potential impacts on residents and neighborhoods, while at the same time, accommodating the passenger and freight needs.
We think a 90-minute trip to Chicago can be a key economic driver, and we’ll continue to watch the issue on your behalf. We appreciate the feedback you have shared. Overwhelmingly, our business leaders identified the airport site at a preferred location. Hopefully some good answers on downtown and especially what that will cost and how the train can get there can be answered soon so final plans can move forward. Have additional thoughts? Please let me know. Your feedback is important. Thank you.
We're thrilled with the progress the South Bend-Elkhart Regional Partnership has been making. The South Bend Regional Chamber was one of the founders of the Partnership and has been one of its biggest investors and greatest champions since its inception. You can see more of what the Partnership is up to here.
The Partnership has done things like lead regional marketing efforts; spearhead the Regional Cities application, award and disbursements of funds; and lead the development of our first-ever regional economic development strategy. The Partnership is led by one of the area’s most dynamic leaders, Regina Emberton, and a talented staff working to advance economic development efforts in the region.
Business leaders in St. Joseph County recognized some time ago that there was great benefit in working together as a region. After all, customers, employees, suppliers and visitors all come from a broad geographic footprint and are not confined to the political boundary that a business calls home. Our mission is to advance regional prosperity.
While things like marketing, planning, regional strategy, data collection and analysis, and workforce development cover a broader geography, business leaders in St. Joseph County also have seen a need to have someone lead local economic development efforts in the county and, as such, have marshalled the resources from the private and public sectors for the Chamber to lead those activities.
In successful regions across the country, there are strong regional efforts and strong local efforts, working closely together. We’re working to emulate those regions.
In St. Joseph County, the Chamber is meeting with real estate developers, prospects and site selectors that have zeroed in on a St. Joseph County site. We’re responding to leads, and we’re making sure that those potential developments, no matter what industry they are in, have the information they need to choose St. Joseph County. We have counterparts in every county of Indiana making similar efforts.
We believe we play an important coordinating role with our other local economic development partners. The city of South Bend, the city of Mishawaka and St. Joseph County also have people working on various parts of a development project. A coordinated effort ensures we aren’t duplicating efforts or wasting valuable resources.
A really important part of what we do is tell the story of what’s happening here. This newsletter, for example, is an important tool where developers or prospects can go to a single source and get a great feel for the projects and initiatives driving economic growth in our area. Some of those projects we’re directly involved in, some we are not, but all are an important part of our community’s story that we want to make sure gets shared with the outside world.
From our beginning more than 100 years ago, we’ve been seeking to drive economic growth in our region. The competition has never been more fierce. The business community is leading the way, and we’re excited to work with our city, county, regional, state, university and utility partners.
The Indiana General Assembly is in the midst of its 2018 session. It’s a short session, so this is a critical week for bills to pass one house if they hope for approval before the early March adjournment. Your Chamber is keeping close tabs on the House and Senate dockets, and where appropriate is weighing in on key pieces of legislation that we believe could impact you, your business, or our regional economic development efforts.
We believe our advocacy efforts are one of the most critical roles we can play on behalf of the business community. In fact, if you go back to our origins more than 100 years ago, that’s exactly why we were formed, to advocate on behalf of the business community. Today, we’re active on the local, state and federal levels on issues that influence economic growth.
At the Statehouse, we’re keeping a close eye on TIF (Tax Increment Financing) and Tax Abatement, two important tools that our communities have used to help secure key private investments. TIF also played a critical role in the required local match on our Regional Cities projects. Speaking of Regional Cities, we’re also advocating for a Regional Development Tax Credit, an important tool that could be placed in the toolbox of communities should future grant allocations like the Regional Cities grants not be available. We’ve joined with our peers from the other major metro areas in the state to help lead that charge.
We’re also keeping a close eye on the workforce development proposals. In the end, we believe that is what this session will be remembered for (plus Sunday Alcohol Sales), and we want to make sure whatever is proposed and passed meets your needs as an employer, we know for many of you your workforce is your top concern. Though we recognize there is no “easy” fix to the workforce issues our companies face, we do believe there are a number of fixes that will better stock your pipeline long term.
Want to hear more about what’s happening at the Statehouse? Make plans to join us on Friday, February 16 at noon at The History Museum in South Bend for our next Third House Meeting. At our January Third House Meeting, all NINE of our local legislators joined us for the update. A big thanks to Senators Bohacek, Mishler, Niezgodski, Zakas and Representatives Bauer, DeVon, Dvorak, Taylor and Wesco for caring about those issues important to the business community!
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