VIDEO: A Discussion About Northwest Indiana recently spoke to our president, Kevin Brinegar, about the key issues facing the northwest Indiana business community. We appreciate the opportunity, and here is their synopsis of the 21-minute interview.

In this interview, Kevin Brinegar of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce discusses the Chamber's relationship with Northwest Indiana. He talks about how important the Region is to Indiana as a whole, given the proximity to Chicago and the variety of infrastructure in place for transportation and industry. He goes on to discuss some of the recent developments coming out of the Region, including the Illiana Expressway and how it will improve traffic flow in and out of the area, as well as the expansion of the Gary Airport, lakefront developments, and how the RDA is helping with improvements on a regional level. Next, he covers some of the positive opportunities coming out of Gary in the future, and how the revitalization efforts are helping the future of this strategically located city. Kevin then talks about the business climate in Indianapolis, and how visionary leaders across industries have helped foster a thriving area of economic growth. He attributes this growth to Indiana having one of the best, most stable climates for business growth, and how well the state has been ranked overall. He sees Indiana's economic future in the hands of the Chamber of Commerce, helping to grow the economy over long periods and directing long-term planning for the years ahead. He goes on to discuss how the Indiana Chamber of Commerce distributes information to the people of Indiana, through emails, newsletters, magazines, blogs, twitter, and more. Some plans the Chamber of Commerce have been implementing include the Indiana Vision 2025 plan and covering the cost of preschool for families to help prepare the next generation. He sees the Porter County Career and Tech Center as a model for engagement with employers as student are learning trades in school.

Throwback Thursday: 1944 Chamber Board Meeting in Gary

While digging through the archives, we found this packet from a Chamber board of directors meeting in Gary in 1944. A compiliation of some text:

Minutes of Board of Directors Meeting
September 9-10, 1944

The second regular meeting in 1944 of the Board of Directors of the Indiana State Chamber of Commerce was held in Gary, Indiana September 9-10. The Board members, their wives and the staff were guests of Mr. S.M. Jenks, General Superintendent of the Carnegie-Illinois Steel Corporation…

The meeting opened with a tour of the plant of the Carnegie-Illinois Steel Corporation on Saturday forenoon, September 9, with Mr. Jenks, Mr. J.L Perry, President of the Carnegie-Illinois Steel Corporation, and a number of his assistants conducting the tour. Following the completion of the tour, the Directors were guests of the Steel Corporation at a luncheon. This luncheon also was attended by the officers and members of the Board of Directors of the Gary Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Jenks presided at the luncheon and the program included remarks of welcome by Mr. W.E. Hadley, Manager of Operations, Chicago District, Carnegie-Illinois Steel Corporation; response by Mr. Dean Mitchell, President of the Indiana State Chamber of Commerce; and remarks by Mr. J.L. Perry, President of the Carnegie-Illinois Steel Corporation…

The dinner for Directors, their wives and guests on the evening of Saturday, September 9, was held at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago and was preceded by a cocktail party.

Many of the public policy issues addressed at the meeting included unemployment compensation, old age and survivors’ insurance taxes, public welfare problems, hospitalization and sickness insurance, federal and state taxation, state aid to local government, city financing and tax exemptions.

Gary Jet Center Earns Honor from Department of Defense

Gary Jet Center in Gary has once again been recognized by the U.S. Department of Defense for the company’s support and commitment to its employees who choose to serve their country. Well done!

Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), a Department of Defense agency, announced Gary Jet Center of Gary, Ind., has been selected to receive the 2012 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award. Fifteen employers will be honored with this year’s Freedom Award, the DoD’s highest recognition given to employers for exceptional support of Guard and Reserve employees. These recipients distinguished themselves among the 3,236 nominations submitted earlier this year by Guardsmen and Reservists, or family members acting on their behalf.
Freedom Award recipients go above and beyond what the law requires of Guard and Reserve employers. Gary Jet Center was nominated by a member of the Air National Guard. The Guardsman reported that Gary Jet Center employs several members of the Guard and Reserve, actively seeks military applicants for new positions, and is involved with the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program. Gary Jet Center donates jet fuel for aircrafts carrying injured soldiers home from Walter Reed Medical Center, and military aircrews that land at Gary International Airport are provided free ground transportation and pilot services. The nominator is one of nine employees on the staff of 47 who is either a veteran or is currently serving in the Guard or Reserve.
"On behalf of the Secretary of Defense, I thank the 2012 Freedom Award recipients for taking such exceptional care of the Guard and Reserve members they employ," said Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, Jessica L. Wright. "Our military could not meet today’s national security demands without the Guard and Reserve, who in turn could not provide such dedicated service without the cooperation of their employers at home. These Freedom Award recipients have distinguished themselves nationally for their remarkable efforts, and we greatly appreciate their unwavering support."
A selection board comprised of senior DoD officials, business leaders and prior awardees selected the 15 recipients. Since 1996, only 160 employers have received the Freedom Award. The 2012 honorees will be recognized at the 17th annual Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award Ceremony in Washington, D.C. on September 20th. 

Kudos to Trio of Hoosier Companies for Military Support

Three Indiana organizations are among 133 semifinalists for the prestigious Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award. The award is the highest honor given by the government to employers for providing exceptional support to their Guard and Reserve employees. There were more than 3,200 nominees nationally.

The Indiana employers named semifinalists are Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indiana, Inc., Princeton; U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, Indianapolis; and Gary Jet Center, Gary. Freedom Award nominations come directly from Guard and Reserve members, or family members acting on their behalf. The Freedom Award provides service members with an opportunity to recognize employers for going above and beyond what is required by law. 

Employers chosen as semifinalists support their Guard and Reserve employees through a variety of formal and informal initiatives, including developing internal military support networks, providing full benefits to employees fulfilling their military obligations, caring for the families of deployed employees, and granting additional leave to Guard and Reserve employees preparing to leave for or return from deployments.
ESGR will announce the 2012 Freedom Award finalists next month after a review board comprised of military and civilian leaders selects the 30 most supportive employers from among the 133 semifinalists. The 15 award recipients will be announced early this summer and honored in Washington, D.C. at the 17th annual Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award Ceremony on September 20, 2012.  

All Ashore?

Indiana and gaming have a now 20-year-old relationship that continues to evolve. The question (long ago) was not whether there should be gaming but what form it would take. Among the latest issues is the potential transition away from riverboats in at least several instances.

The Evansville Courier-Press reports that the Casino Aztar, among other casinos, may be seeking dryer quarters as state legislators tackle the issue of gaming boats in Indiana. The paper reports:

With Indiana officials considering allowing land-based casinos, officials with Evansville’s Casino Aztar are looking at moving their business ashore.

Tom Dingman, an “attorney-in-fact” managing Aztar, said he and others have begun working on a master plan that considers moving the casino off its Ohio River riverboat and placing it inside a building. Doing so would eliminate many costs associated with running and maintaining a boat and allow Aztar to be closer to nearby restaurants, hotels and other attractions, he said.

Perhaps, most important, it would make the casino a stronger competitor against Kentucky horse tracks should they ever be allowed to have slot machines.

“It’s well known that customers have a perception of boats as second-class when they are compared to land-based casinos,” Dingman said.

Dingman said the plans don’t contain a great amount of detail. He was unsure where Casino Aztar would be if it were moved to land.

Aztar is one of 10 casinos in Indiana that state law requires to be on the water. Recently, two of them — Majestic Star I and II in Gary — have sought permission to move ashore.

Crunch Time: Action from House Floor

Mercifully, we’re nearing the end (hopefully).

Members of the House are currently taking turns on the floor voicing their opinions on the budget bill, which is expected to be voted on (relatively) soon.

Regarding the contents of this budget, Rep. Craig Fry (D-Mishawaka) says he’s embarrassed by it.  Rep. Vernon Smith (D-Gary) stated that Democrats were getting only “a teaspoon while Republicans walk away with a truckload.”  Still, not all Republicans were pleased.  Representative Mike Murphy (R-Indianapolis) voiced his concern that the budget didn’t do enough to help homegrown Hoosier companies, many of which he feared would be forced out of business.

Leading up to and including today, much of the wrangling centered on K-12 education – be it funding (districts vs. students), charter schools, the scholarship tax credit program or virtual schools. 

Indeed, Rep. Smith spent most of his floor time on this subject and denounced the education policies contained in the budget.  Like the vast majority of Democrats, Smith had wanted the K-12 dollars to continue to be awarded on a school district basis, while Republicans were adamant the money follow the students.  The problem with Smith’s argument: Large urban districts like Indianapolis and Gary continue to see declining enrollment.  To Rep. Smith, however, Gary is being “treated like a stepchild.”

Smith and many other D’s also still haven’t warmed to the idea of charter schools and see them – as well as the tax credits to allow for school choice – as a threat to traditional public schools. 

Meanwhile, Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis) pointed out that both the Gary and Indianapolis Public School (IPS) districts receive more funding per student than any other district in the state.  In fact, IPS gets nearly $2,300 more per student than the state average.

Later on, fiscal stalwart Rep. Jeff Espich (R-Uniondale) implored legislators to do the right thing and vote "yes" on the budget.  “We’ve all had our say; we’ve all had to compromise.  I think we’ve done the best we can do.  Anyone can find a reason to vote ‘no,’ but you can also find a reason to vote ‘yes’ … one reason being not having to raise taxes.”

Stay tuned for more …

Township Blues: Post-Trib Takes a Look Back

The Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana took a trip down memory lane this week, looking at the alleged corruption of former Calumet Township Trustee Dozier Allen Jr. Allen drew ire for having many family members and friends on the township payroll, and enjoyed suspicious salary add-ons during his tenure. Throughout the Indiana Chamber’s ongoing stance in favor of township reform, our spokesmen have referenced all too many instances of corruption and nepotism in township government in Indiana. This case is a prime example of that. The Post-Tribune remembers:

The Indiana Township Association reported Calumet Township, made up of Gary, Griffith and the Lake Ridge area, has 134,519 people, while neighboring North Township, including Hammond and East Chicago, serves 157,942 people.

North Township Trustee Greg Cvitkovich doesn’t have as many demands for help as the Calumet Township Trustee, but records show Cvitkovich operates with 53 employees and a $4.5 million budget.

Allen spends almost that much in salaries on his way to a total budget around $14 million.

Records show the Calumet Township Trustee’s office, which provides poor relief to the indigent and homeless, has a payroll bulging with Allen’s friends and family members, as well as heavyweight politicians and their family members.

Allen’s sons, daughter-in-law, cousin and wife have been on his payroll in the last two years.

That’s something Allen readily acknowledges and defends.

"Nepotism may be bothersome to some, but I think relatives have a right to survive like anyone else," he said. "If they’re willing to work a day’s work for a day’s pay, then I don’t see any reason they shouldn’t be treated like any other employees."

UPDATE: Dozier T. Allen and two of his top deputies were found guilty of two counts each of fraud Wednesday for pocketing a combined $140,000 in state grant money during the final years of Allen’s 32-year tenure as Calumet Township Trustee. 

Economy Swats Away Gary Hoops Team’s Season

Dear Economy, this is Indiana — do NOT mess with our basketball.

You know times are tough when a sports team has to cancel its season because of the economy. The Gary Steelheads of the International Basketball League won’t be playing this year due to the impact of the region’s — and the nation’s — financial trials. The team plays in the 8,000-seat Gary Genesis Center, where average attendance was about 1,500 last season. The Times of Northwest Indiana has the story:

That’s fair to say," said attorney Jewell Harris Jr., the Steelheads’ chief operations officer. "We don’t want to field a minor league team in this economic climate. It’s just not feasible.

"People are concerned about paying their bills every month and not buying a season-ticket package or a sponsorship of the team. And with the way minor league basketball is structured, it’s not difficult for us to sit out a season and come back. We wouldn’t lose anything by doing that."

The eight-year-old Gary franchise, plagued by financial woes since its inception, originally competed in the CBA and then the ill-fated USBL before signing on with the IBL last season.

Hopefully the Steelheads can rebound after this year to provide on-court entertainment for the good people of northwest Indiana.

Hat tip to Inside INdiana Business.

Surf the Great Lakes (Caucus) on the Web

Are you interested in Great Lakes legislative issues? (It’s OK, don’t be shy, we all have our niches. I, for instance, am a sucker for "Dukes of Hazzard" paraphernalia.)

If so, you might note that the Great Lakes Legislative Caucus recently established an online presence. The caucus is a nonpartisan affair, including legislators from eight states (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin) and two Canadian provinces (Ontario and Quebec).

According to the site, the caucus has three primary goals:

1. Facilitate the regional exchange of ideas and information on key Great Lakes issues 
2. Strengthen the role of state and provincial legislators in the policymaking process
3. Promote the restoration and protection of the Great Lakes

In this year’s state legislature, the passage of SB 45 made Indiana the first state to adopt the Great Lakes Compact and implemenation language. The Indiana Chamber has been a supporter of the Great Lakes Compact that will restrict the diversion of waters from the basin. Prior to the session, the Chamber, in cooperation with environmental interest groups, hosted the Indianapolis public meeting on the compact. In testimony, the Chamber noted that nearly 20% of the world’s fresh water is contained in the Great Lakes and that we must do what we can to preserve and protect this valuable resource that is critical to many Indiana businesses, industries and residents.

The other seven states and two Canadian provinces on the Great Lakes must adopt the compact before it goes to Congress for ratification.

Take a look at the Great Lakes Caucus news often for the latest developments. We know Wisconsin’s own Tom Wopat (aka Luke Duke) will be checking it out.