Over the last several years, Michigan City has gone to great lengths to attract new business. Specifically, restaurants, places to shop and other tourist-oriented businesses have been popping up like a sophisticated game of Whack-A-Mole.
All along, though, we've struggled to address the elephant in the room: How do we get people to live here?
Michigan City's population has been trending the wrong way for a while now. Perhaps even more alarming is the trend of Michigan City kids attending other schools within the county, which obviously has a detrimental effect to the Michigan City Area Schools.
Truth is, a reversal of a population trend will take time and a series of calculated steps. A lot has to go right and, perhaps, you even need to get a bit lucky.
But the resolution passed unanimously by the Michigan City Common Council this past week is certainly a small step in the right direction. In passing this resolution, the council vowed to support Mayor Ron Meer's proposal to come up with a scholarship program for Michigan City students.
The details on this project are few and far between right now. But, during Tuesday's meeting, the program currently being utilized by the City of Hammond was used as a possible model for the program here in MC.
The Hammond program promises up to $10,500 per year for tuition-related expenses (not including books). There are some caveats, such as community service and some eligibility requirements. But, that amount of money per year is obviously significant.
The number we're hearing lobbed around here in MC is in the $5,000 neighborhood, but again, details are scarce at this early stage of the process. The actual number might be higher, might be lower.
The terrain between now and reaching an actual finalized plan will be difficult to navigate. The most significant hurdle, of course, is money. Details such as who is eligible, what the money can cover and what the student may have to do in return for the money are relatively easy to chisel out. The funding, though, not so much.
The train of thought here is that the funding source will be some sort of mix of private sector with riverboat funds. I would strongly advocate for a much higher percentage of private sector funds, personally.
Look, there is no doubt that Michigan City often dips into that riverboat well. Those funds are used to for a number of different things and the dollars touch almost every part of Michigan City in some way. But, the future of those funds has never been in more doubt. The state has talked about changing (in a bad way for MC) the admission tax at Blue Chip that puts money directly into the city's coffers.
Even if that tax remains unchanged (unlikely) the addition of a new Pokagon casino in South Bend over the next few years will have some kind of detrimental effect on the amount of money the city receives from Blue Chip.
Make no mistake, though, this scholarship idea is a potential game-changer. According to the mayor's administration, there are less than 40 communities in the country who currently have such a program. It will give MC a definite leg up in attracting new industry — whose leaders would look upon this program in a favorable way — and, especially, new residents. My generation and the current generation will accrue a mountain of student loan debt, and if there is a way to ease that burden on our own children, of course we would try to take advantage.
Here's to hoping this idea comes to fruition. Lately, city officials have a hit a lot of home runs in terms of redevelopment and the rebirth of Michigan City. This could be another feather in everyone's cap.
Contact Managing Editor Adam Parkhouse at email@example.com or 1-219-214-4170.