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Reposted from NWI Times, Nov 3, 2014 Updated Feb 19, 2020

Northwest Indiana is different than the rest of the state, and I’m not just talking about the geography.

Unlike Indianapolis, Fort Wayne or Evansville, our political, racial, economic and cultural identity is rooted deeply in both the labor movement and the civil rights movement.

Collectively, if we want to know where Northwest Indiana is going, we must understand where we came from first. Given the numerous ethic and racial backgrounds, Lake County is by far the most diverse in the state. While this quality should give us strength, sadly we have allowed such small differences to divide us.

Sitting in the shadow of the often-negative Chicago media market, it is hard to relate to our state capital. It is important to note that Indiana is set up as a “top down” state; therefore, many local policies like the Little Calumet River Basin project had to flow through Indianapolis first.

As an intern for the Indiana House in 2010, I was able to get a glimpse of what really happens behind the scenes during the legislative process. One thing I quickly noticed was the Northwest Indiana delegation’s inability to work together as a cohesive unit.

My example from the 2010 session would be the Illiana Expressway bill, an opportunity to create high quality jobs while relieving the pressure on America’s busiest interstate.

In leadership, you can either see a world of abundance or a world of scarcity. Believers in the former see Chicago as one of the world’s largest economic engines and something we should connect and tap into in an effort to better our quality of life. For those of the latter, it’s more important to protect the few jobs, limited resources and small political fiefdoms that one controls today. Historically, many in the Northwest Indiana delegation have often taken the latter approach.

In this life, there are people who build things, people who destroy things and those who watch. At the end of the day, no matter what your profession is, we are all in the business of people. Finding common ground and creating partnerships across political, racial and religious boundaries is how we move forward as a society.

Leadership is about addition, not subtraction. There are only three numbers in the Statehouse that matter: 51, 26 and 1. A majority in the House, Senate and a governor’s signature are what’s needed for a bill to become a law.

In 2005, Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels and Democratic state Rep. Chet Dobis, now retired, created the Regional Development Authority. This European Union-like mechanism was designed to help Northwest Indiana develop phenomenal regional assets like the Gary/Chicago International Airport and explore economic opportunities with the South Shore rail expansion.

Unlike other parts of the state, we have received $10M annually for this decade-long experiment. After this bloody season of campaigning ends Tuesday, Northwest Indiana legislators will be tasked with their first opportunity to renew funding for the RDA. Will we all pull on the same end of the economic rope or continue the victim mentality, asking Indianapolis for a handout with no strings attached?

As a graduate of Leadership Northwest Indiana Class 29, I remain optimistic in my belief of One Region.