- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The (Munster) Times. March 24, 2016

Steel layoffs abroad warn of need to diversify Region’s economy.

U.S. Steel recently announced 770 layoffs within its company, and there may have been a collective local sigh of relief that Region workers weren’t among the trimmed workforce.

That would be the wrong response.

The layoffs were effective at mills in Texas and Alabama, not Northwest Indiana, according to the company.

However, the long-running declines in the steel industry should embolden the Region to continue diversifying its economy beyond the bygone days when steel was truly king in Northwest Indiana.

U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., and other congressional leaders should continue fighting unfair business practices from foreign steel companies - a root cause of American steel’s most recent woes. That fight is important and admirable.

And there is no doubt steel remains an important part of our Region economy, with scores of local residents still working for Region mills.

But our Region already has seen steep declines in the steel industry in recent decades, with a mere fraction of the jobs remaining compared to Northwest Indiana steel’s heyday.

The recently announced U.S. Steel layoffs - or revelations such as ArcelorMittal’s $15.7 billion in debt after losing $8 billion last year - are continued warning signs we need far more than steel in our economic backbone.

We need a full skeleton of diverse fields - something that provides structure when individual pieces of the local economy falter.

We’ve seen far too many examples of what happens to communities that put all of their eggs in one industrial basket. Look no further than the desperate blight of Gary or other parts of the Region’s urban core, where an economic storm has left abandoned buildings, crime and poverty in its wake.

But the Region also has plenty of examples of innovation upon which a sustainable, diverse economy can grow.

Tri-State Industries, a Hammond-based pipe company, reportedly spent a decade looking for an entity that could install robotic systems to automate part of its Hammond factory.

When what the company sought never surfaced, it found a way to create its own spin-off robotics company, Tri-State Automation, to fill the need.

Region initiative Ready NWI is making tireless efforts to enhance the quality of education and prepare students for practical careers. But we need to give those students reasons to live and work in Northwest Indiana after they achieve college degrees or vocational job training.

Steel is just a commodity. Factories that make use of steel to produce goods and services also would enhance our Region’s economic strength in meaningful ways.

Northwest Indiana can’t afford to relax. The layoffs elsewhere are a blaring siren, warning us of potential disaster in our own future.

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South Bend Tribune. March 23, 2016

Close the lid on canned hunts in Indiana.

It’s not too late for Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to veto a bill that has longtime hunting traditionalists and their supporters up in arms.

The bill would allow the hunting of deer and other exotic sheep and goat inside “hunting preserves,” which are large tracks of land enclosed by high fences. Hunters pay preserve owners thousands of dollars for the right to hunt farm-raised animals on the property.

Supporters say the business of hunting preserves is a growing industry that provides jobs and brings big money to the state. Traditionalists oppose the bill, saying it is unethical to hunt farm-raised animals that can’t escape and because there is a risk that animals raised for the preserves could spread deadly diseases, such as chronic wasting disease.

What traditionalists describe as “canned hunting” has been opposed by several environmental groups including the Hoosier Environmental Council, the Indiana Wildlife Federation, the Indiana Deer Hunters Association and the Humane Society of the United States.

We have long opposed fenced hunting preserves for a variety of reasons, including the fact that they raise the threat of spreading serious disease. There have been instances in Indiana and other states where deer and elk have escaped preserves when fences have broken. Those animals could then spread disease to wild herds. That could have serious consequences for a state whose wild hunting industry has an economic impact of an estimated $200 million to $300 million annually.

Canned hunting has been banned or restricted in 20 states in the country. There are believed to be at least seven preserves in Indiana that have been operating for years.

For years Indiana has fended off efforts to legalize regulated fenced-in hunting preserves. Now that Senate Bill 109 has been adopted by the General Assembly, it is up to the governor to decide its fate.

There is an unsporting aspect to shooting captive animals. In fact, it’s questionable such actions can even be called “hunting.”

These hunting preserves have the potential to cause more harm than good in Indiana. The governor should recognize that and veto this bill.

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. March 24, 2016

Clerk change shows value of competitive elections.

If you doubt the ability of our democratic process to deliver sound government, look to the Fort Wayne city clerk’s office for reassurance. From a controversy roiling its operations just five months ago, new leadership tapped by voters in November appears to have the office back on track and likely in better standing than ever.

City Clerk Lana Keesling, a Republican, took office Jan. 1 after defeating Democrat Angie Davis, a long-time deputy in the office. City Clerk Sandy Kennedy wasn’t seeking re-election, but she resigned in October after a former employee’s secret recording showed Davis and Kennedy involved in alleged election activities in the clerk’s office.

Voters were fortunate to have a qualified candidate ready and willing to take on the task. The clerk’s position is apolitical one, but efficient administration of the office demands skills and qualities not everyone possesses. Keesling’s first-time bid for public office came at a perfect time, when the former business owner and finance manager was looking for a public service opportunity that matched her skills.

“I’ve got a new set of eyes,” Keesling told The Journal Gazette’s editorial board last fall. “I’ve got new ideas. You get complacent.”

Complacency turned out to be the least of the challenges in the clerk’s office, but an outsider’s view was invaluable. Keesling could cast a critical eye at operations overseen by Kennedy for 32 years. She could ask, for example, about software used by City Council and by parking enforcement. She could ask about seemingly excessive budgets for stamps or why there was no money budgeted for cellphones.

The GOP-controlled City Council, observing the turmoil last fall, withheld half of the clerk’s office budget when it approved 2016 funding, but voted this week to restore $453,116 to cover operations through the end of the year. Keesling’s work in the first months of this year, along with the contributions interim clerk Michelle Chambers made after Kennedy resigned, should give taxpayers confidence that the office is back on track.

Keesling told council this week that nearly $1 million in outstanding citations is on the office books.

“This has to be cleaned up, and we have to do a better job of keeping current and getting this amount of money collected,” she said.

Would council - and the public - know that if not for the change in administration? Maybe, but maybe not.

It’s easy to grow discouraged about government when officials forget their first obligation is to serve the public, but regular elections hold an important role in casting light on those public servants.

When the political process allows for fair and competitive elections, voters inevitably see a complement of well-qualified candidates. That scenario worked in textbook fashion last year, and it’s worth remembering in another election year.

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The Elkhart Truth. March 23, 2016

Bristol council shouldn’t cold shoulder developers without trying to negotiate.

At first glance, the story was a head-scratcher: The town of Bristol walked away from a $177 million project for an Italian pasta maker to build its North American headquarters here and create up to 300 jobs.

Wow, life must be good in Bristol for the Town Council to reject out of hand a project that a county economic development official called “rare air.”

Town Council members listed a number of concerns about the project, some of which were reasonable and others less so:

. The jobs created with the project wouldn’t meet minimum income requirements for the town to extend economic incentives. This is valid to a point. We don’t want our cities encouraging more low-wage jobs in our community. But $15 to $17 an hour isn’t a bad wage, all things considered.

Bristol Town Council rejects $177 million development that could create up to 300 jobs March 19, 2016

. Town Council members were concerned the project would overwhelm the town’s wastewater treatment plant. However, the plant currently is operating at only 45 percent capacity. Without knowing specific estimates of how much wastewater the company expects to generate, we find it hard to believe one facility would double the amount of wastewater currently produced in Bristol. In addition, the company tentatively offered to install a wastewater pretreatment system on site to handle some of that load.

. The council was concerned about being asked to discuss and approve the project with only two day’s notice. However, nobody was seeking a final answer. The county officials involved with the process only wanted the go-ahead to continue discussions that would keep Bristol in the running for the project. Final approval was still months away, with plenty of negotiation between the parties still to take place.

. Council members were concerned about the company’s ability to attract workers, given a relatively tight labor market in Elkhart County. However, that’s completely up to the company to worry about and not at all the council’s concern. It’s unlikely a company would spend $177 million building and outfitting a plant without first assuring it could find workers. Labor is like anything in a free market: As supply goes down and demand goes up, so does the cost - in this case, wages.

. The council didn’t like the company’s name remaining anonymous.That’s just the nature of economic development. Exceedingly few companies identify themselves publicly in the early stages of a development project.

Bristol didn’t see fit to even try negotiating with the company and that’s what’s most puzzling.

The company may have been asking the town for a lot - maybe even too much - but the answer shouldn’t have been no so early in the negotiations. Agriculture and food processing businesses are one of the types of employers the Economic Development Corp. of Elkhart County most wants to woo.

We need more companies like this one. For all the chatter about diversifying our economy, here’s an opportunity to do it. This project isn’t even loosely related to the RV industry we depend on so much.

We’re glad Elkhart Mayor Tim Neese jumped on Bristol’s rejection as a chance to woo the company to his city - and we hope he is successful.

Our local economic development officials should still be able to negotiate a successful agreement to bring the company to Elkhart County.

Hopefully, Bristol’s cold shoulder doesn’t kill that chance.

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