Honoring Our Founding Fathers
National and Regional Founders Critical to Growth and Progress
As we celebrate our nation’s independence this week, I can’t help but think of the Founding Fathers of our country. What were they really like as individuals? Why did they go to such great lengths to secure our independence? Did they have any idea they would risk their lives to secure freedoms for future generations? Surely, we would not soon forget the likes of George, Tom, John, John, Jim, Alex and of course, good ol’ Ben.
How many of the seven can you name from memory of your studies of US history? While each served a particular and unique role leading to the American Revolution, I had forgotten that not all seven signed the Declaration of Independence. Indeed, after two centuries of American history, we are yet indebted to them for their courage and vision.
While this is a very different time in history, it is quite remarkable that this collection of individuals created a system of governing that withstood the test of time. Our country has endured the extremes of economic distress, natural disasters, world wars and civil discord. Equally, we are the beneficiaries of decades of remarkable peace, tranquility and security as the beacon of freedom and human rights in an often troubled world. Thanks to the wisdom of those Founders, while never perfect, we remain a country subject to the rule of law claiming, “liberty and justice for all.”
Each year, we set aside the Fourth of July to celebrate the work of the Founding Fathers and the freedoms secured through the Declaration of Independence and our country’s Constitution. These documents are worth a refresher read to drive home why the struggle to preserve freedom means so much to so many both here and abroad.
The Founders boldly claimed, “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…”
This brief yet powerful declaration set in motion a course in history advancing the lives of millions of future Americans. I challenge you to the refresher read. You'll find the links below. It's well worth the time.
Not to extract too much from this comparison, I proceed in liberty to honor the founders of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership. These men and women gathered during a stormy time of economic distress in the majority of counties of Northeast Indiana. Without an ounce of overstatement, we were a collection of counties connected through geography and a waning regional economy, but little else.
While we have enjoyed a powerful economic legacy in manufacturing fueled by entrepreneurs and an agrarian work ethic, we lost our way battling with our neighbors over offenses rooted in highly competitive Hoosier values, high school basketball and failed economic deals over arbitrary political borders. Over several decades our economic death spiral became known as the “stealth decline.” We became oblivious to the annual loss of a percentage point or more against the national average for personal per capita income. Every year we were leaking wealth and prosperity through a sieve of loosely knit cities and counties.
The founders of the Regional Partnership committed to implement a model for regionalism already maturing in other regions across the United States to leverage limited resources through collaboration across community borders to achieve a greater good not otherwise possible.
Their “declaration” of regionalism occurred in 2006 when they committed to raise the resources necessary to build a regional collaborative devoted to marketing the aggregate economic assets of our region. In effect, the founders declared, “We will not be bound by our history. We must create a new future for Northeast Indiana by working together to achieve greater prosperity for all residents.”
And, so it was. The resources were committed and the collaborative was formed as the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership. In the early years, the stakeholders, economic development professionals, elected officials and business leaders were wary of the tenuous relationships, admitting the region was “fragile.” The process was not without challenges in building the trust necessary to work together to grow the region’s economy.
In the beginning, momentum was painfully difficult to achieve. The Regional Partnership received a healthy dose of reality when national site selector Bob Ady made his own declaration to our investors, “I will never show your buildings and sites to my clients.” With this one statement, Vision 2020 was conceived to set our sights on building a region that was a serious contender in a global marketplace.
Today, we are “all in” to fulfill our mission to build, market and sell Northeast Indiana to increase business investment.
Now I look back on our first decade and recount only a few of the many milestones we have achieved together as a powerful and unique collaborative region birthed through our founders' vision and determination.
- Laid the foundation in a not-for-profit entity and supporting bylaws to secure regional governance.
- Published over 150 economic development project leads vetted and aligned to our target industries.
- Raised national brand identity through numerous national media articles covering topics from advanced manufacturing, target industries and quality of place assets.
- Launched the Talent Initiative through a $20 million Lilly Endowment grant on the heels of the great recession.
- Created Vision 2020 and supporting strategies for talent, business climate, infrastructure, entrepreneurship and quality of place.
- Economic development professionals staked out the culture for economic growth in the LEDO Council’s Code of Ethics and accountability procedure.
- Achieved $30 million of state funding for the Lafayette Center Road upgrade.
- Formed the Mayors and Commissioners Caucus of Northeast Indiana to unify and strengthen regional public policy priorities.
- Formed the Northeast Indiana Regional Development Authority in response to Indiana’s Regional Cities Initiative.
- Won a $42 million grant for our Road to One Million plan which was leveraged into $255 million of quality place projects.
This is what happens with the right mix of leadership, tenacity and collaboration.
These accomplishments and the accomplishments to come are thanks to the collective courage, persistence and vision of our founders and the support of board members, economic developers, investors, mayors, commissioners and business and community leaders from all sectors.
Indeed, both the Founding Fathers and the founders of the Regional Partnership have set the course for historic accomplishments in our lives. As we mark another year of independence for our country, we celebrate another year of collaboration and partnership in our region and we thank the men and women responsible for this progress.