MICHIGAN CITY – “Economic prosperity for all” is the focus of the new strategic action plan unveiled by the Economic Development Corporation Michigan City on Friday.
But to understand how that can be achieved, one must first take a look back at the past six years, said Clarence Hulse, executive director at EDCMC.
“We’ve built a lot of community partnerships over the last five years, and so we know who the people are now and how to tap into what they’re doing in their arenas,” he said. “We try to be a connecting force for the community to get the right people in the room. We try to get people together who are doing great things and find ways to enhance what they’re doing to make our community better.”
Hulse joined EDCMC in 2013 and was tasked with making sure the strategic plan that had been developed for 2013-18 was carried out. During that time, he said, he focused heavily on connecting public, private and nonprofit entities that had been operating with good intentions, but doing so independently and inefficiently.
As a result of those partnerships, he said, more than $1 billion in investments – $400 million in private funds and $600 million in public – were funneled into Michigan City over the course of those six years; and the social, educational and workforce programs available to residents are much improved.
But the city still has work to do, he said, like bringing the local levels of unemployment and wages in line with national and state averages.
According to data collected in 2014 and reported in 2016, 53 percent of Michigan City residents cannot afford basic needs. The corresponding numbers were 37 percent for La Porte County, 39 percent for Indiana and 40 percent nationwide.
“The combination of relatively low educational attainment, returning citizen population, and a growing immigrant community represent latent opportunity and hampered innovation,” the new strategic plan states, “if not harnessed as assets that can drive workforce productivity, launch small businesses and help stabilize the population base.
“These communities have incredible talent, creativity and business savvy. However, they need tools, capacity building, and opportunity to transform their moxie into revenue, profitability and, ultimately, wealth.”
Hulse said he’d like to see updated numbers to determine how they may have changed in the past five years; but the 2014 data is what he used to help determine EDCMC’s focus on economic equity for the next five.
“How do we make sure there’s economic inclusion?” he asked. “How do we make sure everybody’s getting a piece of the pie?”
The goals, he said, are to increase startup activity; curb population outmigration; strengthen traditional industries while diversifying the overall sectoral mix; and increase access to jobs, entrepreneurship and opportunities for all residents.
So, looking ahead, the EDCMC’s plan for 2019-23 will focus heavily on four core areas:
• Workforce Development: EDCMC has fostered strong relationships with Michigan City Area Schools, Ivy Tech, Purdue University Northwest and other schools throughout the region to ensure Michigan City residents of all ages are receiving the training they need to land high-skill, high-wage jobs, Hulse said. It also was instrumental in developing the Michigan City Promise Scholarship as a means of encouraging students to return to Michigan City upon college graduation.
• Placemaking: From improving streets and sidewalks to revitalizing parks and building a plaza, Michigan City must focus on public amenities to retain and attract young professionals and their families, he said. Improving public transportation and increasing affordable housing opportunities are other points of emphasis under the plan’s placemaking goals.
• Aggressively Tell the Story: The city must find a way to market itself to both residents and visitors by telling a story that simultaneously honors its past and sparks hope for the future, Hulse said. The story he has in mind is filled with positivity regarding economic opportunity, business growth and quality of life.
• Economic Modernization: Retaining and expanding current businesses, and recruiting new ones are both important endeavors, Hulse said. And he hopes to see the city shift some of its focus from manufacturing and tourism to “emerging opportunities in sectors such as robotics and software development.” He said he’s committed to helping the city attract and develop “gazelles” – businesses that start small with 10-15 employees, but grow at a rate of about 20 percent per year for several years.
“We want to make sure we have one of the most viable and trainable workforces, so we work closely with our educational sector…,” Hulse said. “And we want to make sure we reach all our local residents and provide opportunities for them to participate in our local economy in whatever ways they want to do that.
"Whether it’s tourism, marketing, manufacturing, health care – we want to keep those doors open so that people can be successful in their own community; whether it’s finding a job or creating a job, because residents can be business owners, too.”
As the new strategic plan states, “The diversity of Michigan City, from immigrant populations to communities which have been there for generations, the mix of wealthy part-time residents and the returning citizen population, point to the reality that everyone must be served by this agenda.”
To read the EDCMC’s strategic action plan for 2019-23, visit edcmc.com.