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Declining steel numbers are stark reminder of need for new economic path

The numbers show a staggering decline, especially for longtime region residents who remember when steel was king in Northwest Indiana.

The steel business always will be an important part of our region’s historical fabric — and remains a major source of employment for our workers. The luster of this past industrial monarch has faded significantly, though, in the past 14 years. It’s a reminder of the importance of seizing on other economic opportunities to lead our region forward.

Times business reporter Joseph Pete’s Sunday article laid out the cold-steel truth, as illustrated in an annual report by ArcelorMittal. Northwest Indiana’s primary metals manufacturing — chiefly the local steel industry — has hemorrhaged 8,700 jobs since 2000.

That represents a 33 percent plunge in the jobs that once defined our region.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is Northwest Indiana clawed itself out of the Great Recession that defined the earlier part of the decade, and we have an opportunity to chart a new economic course for the future.

These numbers help illustrate the importance of partnerships among government planning groups, private sector employers and region higher education institutions and vocational programs.

Some agencies, such as the Center of Workforce Innovations, offer crucial job training specific to our region’s needs. Local colleges, incuding Ivy Tech and Purdue University Calumet, are working with industries to match education with the jobs that are needed locally. These partnerships include NIPSCO partnering with Ivy Tech and ArcelorMittal’s Steelworker for the Future program.

Building upon these existing efforts is key. Seizing on growth opportunities in the healthcare industry also remains important.

We have been waiting for years to see a teaching hospital and much needed region trauma center come to fruition, potentially partnering with Indiana University Northwest in Gary. Such a facility would add jobs and luster to healthcare and quality of life features to attract future residents. But we can’t get there without legislative support downstate.

In many ways, our needs cry out for state government to see Northwest Indiana as more than just a hotbed of government waste requiring reform. State economic leaders also need to see our region for its great untapped economic potential.

The state’s Indiana Economic Development Corp. frequently touts the new jobs it brings to the state and has formed many partnerships with corporations in this endeavor. Few of these initiatives bear fruit for the Calumet Region, however, despite our universities and potential transportation assets.

Congressman Pete Visclosky has the right idea in pushing a South Shore Line rail extension to increase the access of region workers to Chicago jobs.

But that’s only one piece of the solution. Northwest Indiana’s economic future hinges on growing industry and job opportunities inside our own borders.

Source – nwitimes

(www.nctv.net)

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