By Lu Ann Franklin
Investment by all layers of government, economic development agencies and private industry is what's needed to secure the future of the U.S., Indiana and Northwest Indiana, said U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky at Monday's Gary Chamber of Commerce annual meeting.
Those investments have already made a difference in Gary and other parts of Northwest Indiana, said Visclosky, D-Ind., who was keynote speaker.
"Go by the Gary Airport. People are working on extending the runway, improving the airport," he said. "Marquette Park is a jewel and it is sparkling today because of investment by the RDA (Regional Development Authority) and, I dare say, federal and state tax dollars."
Visclosky also pointed to Whiting is another example of what can be done with investment by government and entrepreneurs, especially around the shores of Lake Michigan.
"The mayor (Joseph Stahura) told me recently that there will be $100 million in investment off (away from) the lake," he said. "There will be new businesses in Whiting. Most, if not all, will be entrepreneurs. Young people are moving into Whiting."
Large industries such as BP and ArcelorMittal are also making investments in technology and in facilities at regional university campuses including Purdue University Calumet, Visclosky said.
The federal government has initiated some policies that will help the steel industry that still fuels much of Northwest Indiana's economy, the congressman said.
"Now federal regulations require that all steel armor for military ships and subs must be poured and finished in the U.S.A.," Visclosky said to applause from the chamber attendees.
"That's not going to radically change the economy in this area tomorrow, but it's a start," he said.
Investment in the nation's infrastructure and education of its youth are vital but lacking, Visclosky said.
A report by the American Society of Civil Engineers indicates that America's infrastructure is deteriorating at a rapid pace, he said. "The report says there is a $3.6 trillion shortfall of investment in physical infrastructure."
Although government officials believe they can obtain $2 trillion, that still leaves a $1.6 trillion gap in needed investment, Visclosky said. "That's not going to get the job done."
Providing good paying jobs for upcoming generations requires investment in education, too, he said, adding that he disagrees with calls for an increase in visas for those with technological, science and math expertise.
"Hire students from our colleges," Visclosky said.
In addition, the inability of the U.S. Congress to pass a budget leading to sequestration "is a bipartisan failure in the House of Representatives," he said. "Back in December of last year, I would have said no one in their right mind would fail to pass a budget. I was wrong."