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JEFF's TAKE: Opportunities are Right Before Us

Posted by: Jeff Rea, President and CEO
South Bend Region Economic Development on Wednesday, June 24, 2020 at 11:00:00 am

The global pandemic has negatively impacted every business, industry and community, some hit much harder than others. Some businesses will not survive, while others have made it and will continue to evolve as they try to adapt to a new normal.

At the Chamber we’ve advocated for resources to help you and your businesses navigate these difficult times. We’ve helped connect many of you to those resources, and we’ve worked closely with many of you on your safe reopening plans. We have also stayed in close contact with our healthcare providers and local, state and federal elected officials to make sure the voice of business was heard.

The threat of the pandemic remains, and we continue to engage in those conversations related to the safe reopening and the limiting of the spread. Many of you have shared your thoughts and feedback; we really appreciate that. If you haven’t and you want to share, please feel free to reach out any time at jrea@sbrchamber.com. As we move closer to Stage 5 of the State of Indiana’s Back on Track Plan, many businesses are reopening, and many companies are ramping production back up. Recovery could be slow, with experts predicting an extended period before we reach pre-pandemic employment and GDP numbers. Our community is in the same boat as many others; some will emerge faster, others could lag. We plan to be on the frontend of it, as we seek to build on our pre-pandemic successes.

I’m encouraged by the amount of interest in doing projects in our community. We have had more companies looking at opportunities in the region over the past eight weeks than we did in the six months prior to the pandemic. Interest is one thing, deciding to invest in our community is another. As I mentioned above, every community is seeking those same companies.

As you see from other articles in this newsletter, Indiana has a distinct advantage over other States. Once again, CEOs around the country have recognized Indiana as one of the top business climates in the country, and tops in the Midwest. We have worked hard over the past decade to make sure Indiana’s success is also the South Bend Region’s success. As such, we have seen some wonderful new projects that have resulted in significant new capital investment and new jobs for our residents.

But we are still growing slower than many of the other major metro areas in Indiana and those communities we benchmark against. The single biggest limiting factor has been the lack of land available for development or the lack of a building that met company criteria.

As I have opined before, too much risk or uncertainty means our region gets ruled out early and quickly. Now, more than ever, we must identify those development opportunities, and eliminate as much of the uncertainty or risk as possible. This isn’t a foreign concept. Historically, all significant development in our region as required visionary leaders willing to put the pieces in place to be ready for development, while at the same time protecting the interests of the businesses and households located withing those development areas.

This is not an easy job, and I would like to think as a community we’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons along the way. Certainly, the planned/organized efforts have netted much better results than those where the community has just had to react to a proposed development. Good planning on the frontend nets better results on the backend. Now, more than ever, its critical we put those pieces in place and we take the bold action necessary to facilitate the job and population growth we desire.

It took our region more than a decade to recover from the 2008 recession. In the case of the global pandemic, GDP dropped twice as much as it did in 2008. We must make sure it doesn’t’ take us another decade to recover. Now is the time to take the business-friendly actions necessary as a community to make sure that doesn’t happen. The Chamber plans to be at the front of that discussion and will seek to drive economic growth that benefits the entire community.

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