August 23, 2012

Eight Federal Agencies Align Work in Northwest Indiana

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There is a feeling of revitalization in Northwest Indiana and it is the result of partnerships working together for the good of the region.  HUD is proud to be part of one of the key partnerships — federal agencies collaborating to create synergistic, creative solutions to regional issues.

Early in his administration, President Obama directed federal agencies to work together more closely and build on one another’s investments and policies for greater results than any single agency could on its own, which has led to the Partnership for Sustainable CommunitiesTIGER grants and collaborative efforts within the White House.  And HUD is enthusiastically putting this approach to work effectively tackling the challenges in Northwest Indiana.

This chapter in Federal Partnerships started when I convened the initial Northwest Indiana (NWI) Alignment meeting on January 31, 2012 to a standing room only crowd consisting of regional administrators and staff from no fewer than eight federal departments: HUD, U.S. Dept. of Labor (DOL), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS), U.S. Dept. of Commerce (DOC), U.S. Dept. of Justice (DOJ), U.S Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and U.S. Dept. of Transportation (DOT).  This partnership also included Gary’s new Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, members of her cabinet, Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA), Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, and members of the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC).

Although Northwest Indiana’s urban core cities, including Gary have experienced decades of disinvestment, in recent years momentum has been building across state lines and municipalities within the region for coordinated reinvestment and planning.  The meeting at HUD was to align government agencies and join our community and region partners in a combined effort to support this national model for regional economic revitalization.

Our first meeting focused on leveraging the power of multiple federal agencies along with community and region partners in a synergistic place-based revitalization strategy for Northwest Indiana to identify available resources and innovative strategies to support the development of sustainable solutions for Gary and Northwest Indiana.

Confidence has been boosted in this region thanks to enlightened local leadership and key investments made by the RDA, a national model for regional economic revitalization, according to MPC.   The RDA has directed funding to restore both natural and built assets, including a park on the shores of Lake Michigan, and the Gary/Chicago International Airport.  Meanwhile NIRPC has adopted a forward-thinking, complementary regional planning strategy through its 2040 Plan, which prioritizes urban reinvestment.  And through the Gary and Region Investment Project, or GRIP, MPC is helping to attract national attention and resources to this underserved area.  As foundations, policy makers, and federal agencies have learned about Northwest Indiana’s progress and promise, they also see the potential for catalytic urban core projects identified by the RDA, in partnership with municipalities and local stakeholders.

When I saw the substantial ground work done by these agencies coupled with new and dedicated leadership in Gary, I knew the timing was right for the region’s federal agencies to get involved.  Our first meeting was very exciting; I could actually feel the energy in the room as we discussed our coordinated efforts.  This group is knocking down walls and silos, demonstrating President Obama’s strategic approach to the use of federal agencies.

Assets shared by  East Chicago, Hammond and Whiting, Ind., with Gary are enviable: miles of Lake Michigan Shoreline; unparalleled transportation access to four major highways; six railroad lines; the Gary/Chicago International Airport; and universities providing workforce training and research make Northern Indiana a critical component of greater metropolitan Chicago.

The momentum generated since that first meeting in January continues to build. Meetings with Federal Agencies have followed at both the regional and national levels as participants build a strong foundation based on information sharing and increased awareness of the challenges facing the region originally identified at the initial January meeting.

One of the first areas of focus was with EPA; as very productive discussions took place concerning grants to deal with Brownfields — real property where development is complicated by the presence of pollutants. Of note in this area are two grant applications that are the first regional requests for a grant from NWI – a regional partnership approach we hope to replicate in other areas.

The Gary/Chicago International Airport provides convenient access to the region’s business and recreational attractions. Its prime location and facilities position it to be a major economic generator for the region. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funding has been made available and improvements are in progress to extend its primary runway to help gain a stronger market position.

These are just two of the many areas that collaborations have begun addressing.  But, let me be clear on one point: we all understand the problems that developed over many years are not going to disappear overnight.  As we work and build together, the small successes will turn into larger successes.  This is just the beginning of federal, community, private and state collaboration — the right people and the right vision are in place in this coordinated regional effort to make a sustainable difference in Northwest Indiana and along the way show the promise of federal and community partnerships.

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