$39 Billion Reasons to Accelerate the Restoration of NW Indiana

Spending approximately $8.4 billion to revitalize the depressed Lake Michigan shoreline of Northwest Indiana could spur nearly $39 billion in new economic activity, generate 39,000 jobs, and attract more than 60,000 new residents to the deindustrializing region in the next 40 years, according to an economic development plan recently introduced by the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority.

The plan, published in January 2007, makes the clearest and most credible case to date about the economic benefits of targeting public and private investment to restore America's Great Lakes.

Midwest leaders in December 2005 introduced a $20 billion plan to, among other things, cleanup toxic pollution, rehabilitate sensitive coastal areas, and modernize failing sewer systems in the mega-region. The plan was released as states like Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Indiana struggle to shed their Rust Belt image, retain and attract talented young workers, and compete in the 21st century economy. The wrenching economic transition continues today.

But the political leaders - across the nation and even in the Great Lakes themselves - have sticker shock and remain hesitant to pay for what is generally viewed as a big government environmental boondoggle. Now, thanks to the business leaders in northern Indiana, there's clear and compelling evidence that the investment would translate into serious, timely, and long-lasting economic as well as ecological returns.

Indeed, the financial benefits from restoring the Great Lakes shoreline of Northwest Indiana alone would basically pay for the entire cleanup tab.

According to the recent RDA report, which is based on the widely supported Marquette Greenway Plan, extending the public beach, enhancing parks, and developing new commercial opportunities in the City of Portage could leverage some $652 million in private investment, generate 6,000 new jobs, and attract a projected 117.6 million visitors to the region.

Building a major marina, complimented by a series of residential and commercial projects, in the City of Whiting could attract some $218 million in private reinvestment and more than 14 million visitors within 30 years.

Expanding parks, cleaning up brownfields, and bringing condos, restaurants, and recreational services to the City of East Chicago stimulate $413 million in private reinvestment and generate some 2,000 jobs.

The findings, according to the RDA report, are similiar for the cities of Gary and Hammond, as well as extensive land tracts owned by Mittal and US Steel. Indeed, the opportunities for reinvention, regeneration, and prosperity are endless for grey and gritty Northwest Indiana, just as they are in Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Buffalo, and dozens of other Great Lakes cities.

"This plan is an impetus for regional progress in the 21st century," the report states. "Project development constraints are time and money."

One last, curious thing: Congressman Pete Visclosky remains a driving force behind the idea of reclaiming and revitalizing the Lake Michigan shoreline in Northwest Indiana. But the Democrat has yet to officially add his name to the list of leaders supporting the Great Lakes Collabortion Implementation Act, which is the key federal legislation that could accelerate the realization of his vision. Where you at Pete?