Tuesday, December 8, 2009

‘Creating Regional Unity’

‘Creating Regional Unity’: "

Quality of Life Council explores “One Region: One Vision”

Jim Flannery talks about the “Soul of the Community” at the Quality of Life Council's quarterly meeting Friday at the Lost Marsh Golf Clubhouse in Hammond. The program centered on “Creating Regional Unity.” (Photograph by Natalie Battaglia/The Times.)

Jim Flannery talks about the “Soul of the Community” at the Quality of Life Council's quarterly meeting Friday at the Lost Marsh Golf Clubhouse in Hammond. The program centered on “Creating Regional Unity.” (Photograph by Natalie Battaglia/The Times.)

In 1989, a plan was designed to turn the slag heap called Barstow Mountain at the corner of Calumet Avenue and 129th Street into a golf course complete with clubhouse.

On Friday, that Frank Lloyd Wright-style clubhouse at Lost Marsh Golf Course became a metaphor for the renaissance possible in the Calumet Region during the Northwest Indiana Quality of Life Council quarterly meeting there. The event, “Creating Regional Unity,” drew 120 people whom council executive director Jim Flannery called “120 ambassadors for Northwest Indiana.”

“This clubhouse is an acknowledgment of the creativity and vision of the people whose vision this was, and to their efforts to sustain sustainability, to improve the quality of life and to develop leadership,” said Dennis Rittenmeyer, president of Calumet College of St. Joseph and chairman of the council’s board of directors.

During a keynote speech, Times Publisher Bill Masterson Jr. said “One Region-One Vision,” is an effort he started more than two years ago “to unite Northwest Indiana in ways that will lead to mutually beneficial and sustainable economic, human and community development for the common good of all.”

A native of South Dakota, Masterson said when he moved to the area in 2006 to become publisher of The Times, he could see Northwest Indiana as “a wonderful area,” but became frustrated with the lack of unity.


“Soul of the Community,” a new Gallup study funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, explores the link between economic growth and residents’ loyalty to and passion towards where they live. The qualities that make people love where they live include social offerings (such as entertainment venues and places to meet), openness (how welcoming a place is) and community aesthetics (such as physical beauty and green spaces).

Results of the second year of the three-year study in Indiana’s seven northwest counties were revealed at Friday’s quarterly NWI Quality of Life Council meeting.

Among those results were:

66 percent of area residents are not “attached” to their communities, which is higher than the national average

Social offerings and openness were seen as areas needing improvement. There was a significant drop in ratings of nightlife and perceptions of the area as a good place to make friends in 2009, as well as the community’s perceived openness for families with young children.

The worst economic crisis in decades is not a key factor in attracting and retaining residents

One in four of those surveyed mentioned crime, violence and gangs as problems in their communities

38 percent of college students in the area want to leave the area when they get their degrees, and

66 percent of those surveyed said they are treated with some respect in their communities.

What he saw was the impact “balkanization has on life in the region,” he said.

The Times‘ effort began with a meeting of 170 leaders from education, banking, government and business leaders where he, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky and Bishop Dale Melczek of the Gary Diocese made their case for “bringing us together,” Masterson said. From that gathering came a steering committee and the establishment of the “One Region: One Vision” organization.

This organization works with other regional groups such as the Quality of Life Council and the Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission. Six issues have been identified as having prime importance.

These include education from pre-school through 12th grade; renewal/revitalization of the urban corridor; regional transportation service; quality health care throughout the area; less, but more efficient government and jobs created through diversification of the region’s economy to embrace new technologies, to join the global economy and to protect existing business and industry.

Another speech by O’Merrial Butchee, director of Ivy Tech’s Gerald I. Lamkin Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center in Gary, outlined the “Dare to Dream” project funded through a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The seven-county initiative by Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana Northwest and its partners seeks “to cultivate, enhance and inspire leadership to become aware of the regional challenges and opportunities under the ‘One Region/One Vision’ project,” Butchee said.

The counties represented in the project include Lake, Porter, LaPorte, Starke, Jasper, Pulaski and Newton.

“The focus of ‘Dare to Dream’ is that we can collaborate for the betterment of the area,” Butchee said. In addition to process, attitude is important in collaboration to better the area, she said. “Egos must stay home. We all work better together.”

Teamwork is the third essential ingredient.

“We all made the cake,” she said.