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 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.

It can’t be Done. That’s Why You’re Doing It.

Posted by: SouthBendRegion Economic Development on Tuesday, July 23, 2019 at 12:00:00 am

An increase in business of more than 20 percent? That’s what leaders across the region accomplished in 12 months last year. And it’s likely that the results will lead to $100 million in economic impact to our region every year going forward.

At a press conference held February 28, 2019 outside the offices of the South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership, a stunning announcement was made. “… by working together, we’ve witnessed a 20.3 percent increase in less than one year at South Bend International Airport,” said Chris Murphy, Chairman and CEO of 1st Source Bank. “This means that we’ve effectively lowered the cost of doing business for the entire region and earned the attention of national airlines who will look seriously at providing even more services, larger aircraft and new direct connections to economic hubs across the country.”

In fact, American Airlines now offers direct flights out of SBN to national hubs in Dallas and Charlotte. It’s good for business and a great example of how working together impacts everyone who lives in the 47 cities and towns across our region.

U.S. airports averaged 6% growth in fiscal 2018. That’s great. But it pales compared to the 20% you and your colleagues pulled off. You proved that when we work together, big things happen. And, we’re just getting started.

What’s at stake? When we make our region more efficient and more productive, we share a larger chunk of the global economic pie. $100 million in direct impact annually is just the beginning.

Is $100 million a year just a lofty goal? Not at all. It’s precisely how a handful of similar-sized regions across the country have been impacted by initiatives like ours.

Focusing on a goal that makes us more competitive as a region, works. But it only works when we’re all rowing in the same direction.

The idea is to propel our regional economy into the future.

That’s why we call our initiative ‘Project Propel.’ And ironically, it’s less about our airport than it is about creating the strongest business climate possible in our region.

As John DeSalle, President of Hoosier Racing Tire, Inc., points out, “Our engineers work long hours already. They travel a lot. And the last thing I want to do is put them through all the extra hours and stress of driving to and from a Chicago airport. It’s tiring and it’s not a smart use of their time. We’re all more productive when we’re working. But we’re not working if we’re driving.”

DeSalle underscores the productivity benefit to using our own local airport as opposed to airports in Chicago. He understands that ticket prices are misleading. 9 out of 10 times, the total cost of flying out of Chicago for business, exceeds the cost of flying out of our own local airport. Ticket prices only tell a small part of the productivity story.

At, there’s a simple online business travel calculator that’s helping local companies get a handle on the real cost of flying out of Chicago. It’s proving that those lower ticket prices at O’Hare and Midway, are actually costing us more than we think. And now, a lot of regional business leaders are adopting travel policies that reflect the whole cost of travel. Their doing this for their operations, and the net result is an improved business climate across the board.

Today, we’ve begun year two of the Project Propel Initiative. We’re asking more businesses to invest in our own regional economy. We’re asking for your help growing and diversifying so we can remain a competitive force in the world for generations to come.

Visit today. See who’s joined the initiative. There’s a great FAQ on the site in addition to our online calculator. And download one of our single page business travel policy templates. Customize the policy however you want. And let us know you’re supporting our own economy instead of Chicago’s by getting behind Project Propel.

Thank you!

Intern's Take: My Internship Journey

Posted by: Caroline Blue, Saint Mary's College 2019 on Wednesday, April 17, 2019 at 2:00:00 pm

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, 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,, or the EARN program, contact Kate Lee at


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!

JEFF's TAKE: 2019 Economic Outlook

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President & CEO
SouthBendRegion Economic Development on Wednesday, January 16, 2019 at 12:00:00 am

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.

Jeff Rea
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Position on South Shore Station Location

Posted by: Jeff Rea, President and CEO
South Bend Regional Chamber on Friday, August 24, 2018 at 12:00:00 am

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.