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 some forty seven 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 donut 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, mid-sized 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 the 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 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 behind. The business community stands ready to help lead this effort and will continue to champion the efforts to work collectively as a region.