GOSHEN — Community leaders gathered Wednesday morning to hear Regina Emberton, president and CEO of South Bend-Elkhart Regional Partnership, present information about the Regional Development Authority's local economic development plan.
“Twenty thousand people are coming into Elkhart County every day to work,” Emberton said, emphasizing that communities here are interconnected. This means we need to look at the region’s economics as a whole, she said.
For practical purposes, RDA defines the region as Elkhart, Marshall and St. Joseph counties. “(But) we see our region as fluid,” she said. “We try to be really inclusive.”
In early 2016, the RDA asked 15 leaders across the region to create a plan for increasing the area’s per capita income. Five committees were formed to brainstorm ways to educate a world-class workforce, retain great talent, attract growing companies, help area entrepreneurs thrive and promote opportunities for local minorities.
The industry growth committee considered how to let regional businesses know about the many local product suppliers so that they use fewer sources from outside Michiana. They also addressed ways to improve connectivity to Chicago.
The entrepreneurship committee tackled the question, “How do we spread things like Goshen’s Pitch Night across the region?” Emberton added that Notre Dame University holds a pitch contest as well, which university officials are now opening up to the community.
RDA also formed a committee to address new workers in the region: “How do we pave the path — amenities, jobs, housing — for the talent that’s already coming here?” Emberton asked.
A natural focus of a regional economic development plan is finding ways to show residents the opportunities and assets all around them, Emberton suggested. “The region is only what it is because of the uniqueness of our communities,” she added.
Each town is like a house on a street, she said. Each home and family has a unique personality, but they work together to form a neighborhood culture. The goal, she explained, is to utilize each town and county’s assets for the economic good of the region.
For RDA, that has meant playing a practical role in initiatives like the Renaissance District in South Bend and being a “seed funder” for the South Shore double track expansion.
“How can we take a building that could have been demolished and turn it into a community asset?” Emberton asked.
The RDA has helped answer this question by contributing to renovation of the former Hotel Elkhart, now called “the 500 building. Embert also briefly mentioned a "smaller project" for the Goshen Theater.
“We can’t just be a region. We need to focus on cities and counties as well,” she said. And local mayors appointed RDA committee members, making it a "true public-private partnership," according to Emberton.