Symbiosis: Interaction between two different entities in close physical association typically to the advantage of both. I submit that is what's missing--or at least minimized--in the relationship between Northwest Indiana and the Greater Chicagoland Area. And Northwest Indiana is paying a price for it.
There have been countless conversations and innumerable studies about how NWI should relate to--and benefit from--its proximity to Chicago. Clearly we are "connected," with our highway and commuter rail systems. We share the same time zone (while most of the rest of Indiana is on Eastern Time) and the same broadcast news stations. Competition isn’t defined by state lines. There's an abundance of interstate commerce that crosses the state line, but not a lot of strategic thinking about how to make it more robust.
One of the most comprehensive studies was done by the world-class Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). It looked at a 21-county region that included seven counties each in NW Indiana, SE Illinois and SE Wisconsin. It focused on three objectives:
- Assessing regional competitiveness and performance against other similar regions around the world.
- Refining our opportunity based on our collective assets
- Developing a rationale for new economic development approaches that will drive the economic vitality of the region and make it more competitive
The study validated that the 21-county area constituted an economic region with all the advantages that connoted, but that we weren’t operating as one and, therefore, were not gaining the economic development benefit such recognition would facilitate. The Alliance for Regional Progress was formed following completion of the OECD study, and they've partnered very effectively with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and several governmental, economic development and educational groups to enhance regional positioning in workforce development, transportation and logistics, and capitalizing on our water resources and "green growth" opportunities.
As positive as these developments are, I think NW Indiana is failing to capitalize on its opportunities for gaining symbiosis from its proximity. What's missing? We're still encumbered with the thought that if we compete, we can't collaborate. Stealing jobs from the Chicagoland area is more beneficial that working together to bring more jobs to the overall region. Former Indiana Secretary of Commerce Victor Smith said at regional conference last year said, “And if we want to say that this is a megaregion with Chicago at the center of, which it is. Let's be honest, of course it is. If it's a hub and spoke then things have to flow through the hub and can't stop at the hub, which is a lot of times what happens.”
I call on our economic development leaders in NW Indiana to put that concept in the trash heap and get on with creating a strategy that makes it crystal clear that NW Indiana is an integral part of the Greater Chicagoland area and beyond--and that it has competitive advantages within that region that make it essential that any prospective investor will want to focus on us!
More symbiosis, please!