Developing a regional identity is key to economic growth. That was the underlying theme of a discussion about the Indiana Economic Development Corporation’s Regional Cities Initiative, led by IEDC President Eric Doden Wednesday at the Blue Chip Casino.

Doden led a discussion that included several leaders of the Michigan City and La Porte communities, including representatives from the Unity Foundation, NIPSCO, Economic Development Corporation Michigan City (EDCMC) and the Greater La Porte Economic Development Corporation (GLEDC).

“Regionalism – that’s how you win,” Doden said. “That’s how the best cities in America over the last 20 years have won.”

“The success in Valpo should be celebrated. The success in Portage should be celebrated and the success here should be celebrated by the whole region,” he continued. “La Porte County needs to be united with itself, with Porter and Lake counties and all nine counties that are encompassed in the area.”

The Regional Cities Initiative identified 11 cities that have recently experienced positive economic transformation. The study selected cities from three different population restrictions: 1 million-plus (Austin, Raleigh, Denver, Nashville), 200,000 to 1 million (Durham, Fayetteville, Boise, Waterloo, Cedar Falls) and 200,000 or less (Manhattan, Kansas; Brookings, S.C.). A full report on the study will be released in late October.

“We looked at 12 categories where the city needed to be at or above the national average,” Doden said.

And although many of those cities led the nation in some categories, the mentality of never being satisfied was present in all, Doden said.

“We should never be satisfied with where we are at,” he said. “We should always want more.”

The idea of regions in Indiana having to compete with each other for economic growth is a myth, Doden said, noting that the true competition comes from the southern and western portions of the United States, where population growth has been a constant.

“That will continue to be a challenge here in the Midwest,” he said. But looking at the 11 cities selected, visiting there and getting advice is encouraged. “Just talk to them and they will tell you what their secret sauce is,” Doden said. 

It’s the “quality of place” that attracts talent, and the Northwest Indiana region has been a bit behind in that category.

Doden said that the study found the city of Austin, Texas as one responsible for quality of place regionalism all on its own.

“The city was focused on having something new or redeveloped all the time,” he said. “They considered themselves the curators of quality of place.”

The brand needs to be developing “a core” in Northwest Indiana. If all eight major regions in the state of Indiana do this, Doden said “we will have 8 winners here in Indiana alone.” 

“Developing a core, an identity as a region is important,” Doden said. “If you build the right core, you can attract some of the financial jobs out of Chicago. Why Naperville? Why not here?” he asked.

Finally, Doden put an emphasis on being bold and executing on plans. He praised the Lake Michigan Gateway Implementation Strategy, calling the design presented by Hitchcock Design Group last month “awesome.” “I almost fell out of my chair when I saw it, it was so good,” he said. 

“I see a lot of good ideas that do not have a follow through,” he said. “A good team has both.”