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GOSHEN -- Efforts to reach across county lines and state borders in Northern Indiana have struggled to succeed but Nathan Feltman, economic development specialist, cautioned local communities and elected officials to realize they cannot prosper alone, especially during this economic storm.
Feltman was the featured speaker Monday during the Community Business Leaders luncheon at Goshen College. From 2005 to 2008, he was a member of Gov. Mitch Daniels' cabinet, serving as the Secretary of Commerce and as the chief executive officer of the Indiana Economic Development Corp.
He is now a partner at Baker & Daniels LLP in Indianapolis.
The scope of the economic recession is amazing, Feltman told the gathering of college personnel, business professionals and community leaders, noting as he arrived on campus he was told the Dow was headed below 7,000. Although the entire country has been touched by the hard times, Elkhart County and its dominating recreational vehicle industry form an epicenter of the troubles.
"Clearly this is unprecedented territory even for an industry that has been through ups and downs," Feltman said. "RV companies are totally suffering one of the worst downturns we can remember."
Speaking after his address, Feltman explained if the counties of Northern Indiana and Southwest Michigan join together, they will have a better chance of attracting new businesses and creating more jobs.
In today's economy, companies wanting to relocate or build a new plant tend to look at a region rather than individual cities and counties, Feltman said. No longer are local municipalities competing with each other but the entire region is going up against other parts of the United States and the world.
Therefore, Feltman said, the communities in this region have to come together and develop strategies to cooperate and market themselves as a region in order to attract new investments.
Other areas of the state have joined in partnerships but this region has been slow to collaborate. Feltman surmised that the staunch individualism comes from elected officials still looking at economic development as a win/lose situation where if a company decides to locate in a neighboring city, they see their community as losing.
Northern Indiana has the assets to bring businesses and opportunities, Feltman said, but it must work as a region to market itself.
Even so, practicing regionalism will not bring immediate success because of the economic climate. Economists are uncertain how deep or how long this recession will be but Feltman is not expecting a turnaround anytime soon.
"It's going to be a challenging year," he said, explaining he foresees the Indiana unemployment rate remaining high and Hoosier companies continuing to struggle.