Jessup: Building La Porte County Will Take Planning, Timing, and Responsibility

By: Jim Jessup Last Updated: December 12, 2016

jim-jessupAt a recent meeting of about 60 stakeholders in La Porte County, the door was opened to embark on the road to a new vision and plan for the future of our area. The La Porte County Better Government Study Group facilitated the gathering that brought together the planning firm of planningNext, funders, community and government leaders, and businesses to assess the need and the readiness for La Porte County to move forward with a full county-wide strategic planning effort. The last project like this was completed in 1992. Called Take Charge, it was a citizen-driven project that included hundreds of residents, and resulted in some major changes in how La Porte County operated and provided many positive results that decision-makers used for the past 25 years. Now it’s time to review our past, assess our current conditions, and move forward with bold ideas and measurable projects to prepare us for the future. It’s needed, we’re ready, so let’s do it now.

Just sitting back wishing, complaining, and reacting is not a viable plan for our future. It will take real leadership, commitment from all sectors, funding, risk-taking, and innovative action. The timing is right.

La Porte County sits on the tipping point of big opportunities. Both Michigan City and La Porte are in the midst of exciting changes. Westville has some new, young leaders in their government and Chamber who are poised to make positive differences. The South Shore double tracking to Michigan City could be a game changer. The Regional Development Authorities to our west and east are bringing ideas and funding to their regions. The stalled logistics development near Kingsbury could “break big” at any time. Tourism in the county and region is a growing positive contributor to our development. Our parks, greenspace, festivals, cultural events, and healthy activities provide us a valuable quality of life. These, and more bold initiatives, could be the driving forces in our vision and plan for the future.

On the other side we have many challenges to overcome. The new One Region Quality of Life Report offers much to “chew on”. La Porte County is lagging behind our neighbors in many ways. A long-running stagnant population growth rate with no changes in sight is alarming enough. Combine that with a high poverty rate, too many children living in poverty, low household income, an aging population, low rankings of healthy living factors, housing deficiencies, and other worrisome statistics. But for me underlying these challenges is an attitude of “resistance to change”, “good enough is good enough”, and the NIMBY syndrome. A compelling vision for the future, real, achievable solutions, and focused actions that will be a part of the county plan will help us overcome these, and other, challenges. One word at the meeting summarized everything----Ready.

So what will it take and who is responsible for moving the process forward? A true and meaningful plan must be comprehensive and inclusive. In other words it must include all segments of the county—cities, towns, rural communities, business, government, non-profits, agriculture, all ages, organizations, all regions, all demographics, the more inclusive the better. And who will lead and fund the process? The answer is the same---the more the better. But for me it should be led and funded primarily by the business and government sectors. Both can greatly benefit from the plan. A robust, vibrant, growing economy will obviously help our business community. It also brings optimism, investment, new young families and people, and entrepreneurism with it. For government I believe planning is a primary responsibility. It assists with budgeting, decision-making, communication, grant requests, and image. A funding model might be 45-45-10 (government, business, other). Everyone shares the responsibility, the leadership, the celebrations of success, and a better community.

And now the “stars are aligned” for La Porte County to create its new vision and future. It’s our time and we are ready.

Jim Jessup
Hanna, IN 46340   

Jim is a member of the Better Government Study Group, a life-long resident of La Porte County, and a volunteer in many regional organizations.