05 – Thinking Regionally: Lake and Porter Counties Chorus

“The natural resources, and the positioning of the region up against Lake Michigan, that three-county area is just a natural economic powerhouse waiting to happen.”


This is Part 5 of a 5-part series, Chorus of Voices: Retelling Northwest Indiana History. Several of the original interviews were recorded in partnership with StoryCorps: www.storycorps.org

Part 1: Migration

Part 2: Neighborhood

Part 3: Flight Paths

Part 4: Impact

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Transcript for Thinking Regionally: Lake and Porter Counties Chorus

If Gary doesn’t thrive, the rest of the area doesn’t thrive. And I think that is critically important. We can’t have part of our population barely surviving. The City of Gary has all the infrastructure, you know, the steel mills—it has so much going for it, we can’t ignore it… It’s like somebody in your family who has cancer and you’re just going to ignore them, because it’s not going to affect you. Well it is going to affect you.

I lived in Porter County, I was working at US Steel. A lot of people from Valpo go to work at St. Mary’s in Hobart at the hospital and that. You have to be good neighbors and you should be good neighbors, because your livelihoods and everything are intermingling with each other. You’re part of Northwest Indiana.

People ascribe, or subscribe, to these myths about, you know, Porter County being a bastion of elitism, and that people just move over there so that they don’t have to live in diverse settings. People think of Lake County as a group of people who are freeloaders, and who are corrupt, and who don’t value good government. I mean, there are any number of stereotypes that you could lay out, most of which are not true. They’ve read one thing and decided that it applies to everyone in Porter County, or everyone in Lake County, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.

The people who have left, there’s a reason why they left, okay? They didn’t care for what was going on in the city, how it was starting to turn. I think it’s gonna be hard for the people that left to overcome that and say, “We can become good neighbors.”

If Porter County and Lake County could get along, what would that mean for the region, economically? That would be awesome, but, there’s so much animosity to be overcome, there are so many old wounds that need to be healed.

A few years ago, a lot of people got riled up about a city in Porter County—I don’t even remember who it was—helping out Gary in the middle of snowstorm, or something like that. You know, “Why send our tax dollars over to Gary to help them out in this snowstorm?” You know, “Tax dollars should stay here in Porter County.” Pretty good example of not being a good neighbor.

We’re all worried about our children getting good educations. Them having a better quality of life than we have. How do we care for our parents and our children at the same time? How do we maintain our property value? We worry about the same things.

If I live in Gary, I want to work in Gary. If I live in Gary, I want to buy in Gary. There’s a lot of history there. There’s architecture that you would not believe. If there was genuine economic opportunity, I’d move back. I’d move back into the home I grew up in.

The natural resources, and the positioning of the region up against Lake Michigan, that three-county area is just a natural economic powerhouse waiting to happen. So, there could be a lot more growth, and prosperity, and stability for everyone were there a more cooperative approach.

But I think our visionaries, with a lack of vision, are not seeing that. We are sort of held to that rivalry: it’s us and them. And maybe it makes for good conversation, but it don’t make for good community building.

I think there is some validity to, you know, Indianapolis not really paying much attention to Northwest Indiana, and only when they have to kind of thing. But I think the state has a responsibility to Northwest Indiana, and the state has a responsibility to Gary, and, and we all do. I mean, it’s part of us. Gary is part of our region. When Gary flourishes, so does Lake County, and so does Porter County, and so does Indiana.

We’re in a position now, instead of talking the talk, we’re walking the walk. We want Gary to be great, so we have to be part of it, to make it great.