Find the people, resources, news & events that interest you.
Looking to the new year ahead, we recently talked to area leaders about what the future holds for South Bend.
Many of their observations were formed last fall when they visited Albany, N.Y., as part of a delegation sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce of St. Joseph County.
During the trip, the group noted some common traits between Albany and South Bend. Both cities are pursuing research and technology-based economic development, and are home to major universities with nanoelectronics research centers.
But the group noticed significant differences, too. IBM was a significant source of jobs and economic development in Albany before it became a major center of nanoelectronics research. Moreover, IBM was crucial in establishing Albany’s high-tech reputation, which has helped attract new businesses like chipmaker AMD’s spinoff, Global Foundries. And, as capitol of the Empire State, Albany’s economy also is driven in large part by state government jobs and projects.
So, in the context of these interesting similarities and differences between Albany and South Bend, area leaders offered the following informed views on what might lie ahead for South Bend.
Mark Dobson, outgoing president and CEO of the St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce, emphasizes that South Bend needs to build on the gains it already has made in building a strong foundation for high-tech research, development and growth.
“We must make sure there is good communication and collaboration so people understand South Bend’s support for high-tech initiatives like Ignition Park, Innovation Park and the Midwest Institute for Nanoelectronics Discovery, and so they can positively contribute to them, too,” says Dobson.
Rich Carlton, executive vice president of the GramTel data services company, agrees.
“Innovation Park and Ignition Park and other economic development projects are huge first steps,” Carlton says. “Beyond that, we should continue to promote the area as a magnet for high-tech businesses. City and county governments, along with businesses, should collaborate to attract high-tech businesses to the area.”
Greg Downes, Chairman and CEO of South Bend’s Gibson Insurance Group, says “South Bend should not limit its economic development focus on just one area, like nanotechnology. Rather, we should keep our options open regarding where the Research and Development coming out of Notre Dame may lead us.
“In addition, we also need to stress our innovative heritage,” says Downes. “We’ve been called part of the Rust Belt, but technological breakthroughs are part of our DNA. We need to remember and push that idea.”
Unity of vision
Downes says he was impressed with the unity of vision in the Albany region.
“Regardless of who we talked to, from the executive director of airport to university people to private industry to Chamber leaders, they were all singing from the same choir book,” he says. “That is important to the way you are perceived by the outside world.”
To continue its high-tech momentum, Dobson says legislators must understand the importance of South Bend’s technology initiatives, and realize what an infrastructure investment could mean for this area and the state
At the local level, Dobson also hopes that elected officials comprehend the importance of presenting a unified front.
“We need to continue to gear up for economic development at all levels, whether it be the high-tech initiative or traditional economic development. We have to make sure our community does all it can to be well prepared for any type of development that could come to us.”
Focus on educational infrastructure
Dobson says improving South Bend’s educational infrastructure also will need to be a top priority. On the Albany visit, participants toured Tech Valley High School, part of the New Tech High School movement, and also visited Hudson Valley Community College to see how it supported high-tech initiatives.
Robert Dunn, managing director of the Midwest Institute for Nanoelectronics Discovery, based at the University of Notre Dame, called the Tech Valley visit “fascinating,” but also observed that the community college had altered many of its courses to be in line with the high-tech work that is going on in the area.
“Moreover, they are building a satellite campus right next to the new AMD plant,” he says.
No matter what, though, Carlton says South Bend leaders should continue to be bold.
“In our community, we sometimes come up with all the reasons why something can’t work as opposed to looking at reasons why something can,” Carlton says. “You look at high-tech areas of the country that are booming, Austin, Boise, Albany, they dream big.”