By Paul Phair, Vice President
On the surface, when you compare South Bend to the likes of Chicago, Nashville, Atlanta, Charlotte, etc. in a battle royale for site selection supremacy, we’re not worthy. How are we supposed to compete? We don’t have a prayer.
A deep dive into the heart of the community to truly explore the benefits and talents that our community has to offer. South Bend is a ‘Rust Belt’ community, and we have faced the typical challenges that come along with that inauspicious title. We are not ignorant of the challenges that we face as a community, but we are optimistic because of the collective talent of our citizenry that we have chosen to leverage.
Some people like to claim that we suffer from ‘Brain Drain’. In 2012, South Bend hired a Mayor that is on the short end of his 30’s and has a resume that would make any major corporation drool. We have a world class institution of higher education in Notre Dame and four other universities/colleges that ain’t too shabby themselves. All combined, our community boasts a total college student population of 25,000. We even have a few tech start-ups (thanks to a focus on commercialization of research at the schools mentioned above) that have had the audacity to steal young talent from the eastern goliaths mentioned in my opening paragraph. So, if we have had an issue with ‘Brain Drain’ in the past, it is quickly being reversed, and opportunities for young people to make an immediate and dramatic impact on South Bend is a reality.
There are others who claim that our community has not had a friendly business environment. There are a lot of items you can choose to explore while analyzing this issue, but I am going to focus on industrial operations. Although it is true that South Bend has suffered due to the closing of several large manufacturers (Studebaker, Oliver Plow, Singer Sewing, etc.), most of these companies closed in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. Since that era we have maintained and grown a strong base of manufacturing companies and added an even stronger logistics industry to our market. Our location at the south end of Lake Michigan and the intersection of three major interstates (I-80; I-90, US 31) makes us an ideal location for over-the-road logistics, particularly to the eastern half of the United States. We have competed for and won several competitions for location of these distribution facilities. A major factor in those decisions has been the cost of doing business. There is no doubt that South Bend will be competitive on rents as well as labor, utility, and transportation costs. Finally, we have a strong industrial work force that is able and ready. Our tech and financial sectors may still be growing, but we can compete with anyone on industrial side.
Alas, there are still those who complain about the Midwestern weather. There is no doubt that this winter has been a challenge. We have had a lot of snow. This makes certain that the Great Lakes level will remain high and our access to fresh, clean, inexpensive water resources will be the envy of at least two-thirds of the country. In spite of the cold weather work and schools are still operating, people are visiting with friends and family, and pick-up hockey games are being played on rinks and ponds around town. Winter weather is a reality of where we live, but it is just another challenge that we face head-on and overcome.
These are just a few of the common misperceptions that we face from the outside world. We do not expect the ‘tune to change’ overnight, but I hope that you will join us to DIG DEEPER and discover the true potential of South Bend as a great home for development and business.