This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The convening

I went the to Dare to Dream convening on Friday. I got there late because of other commitments, but still was able to grab some free lunch. I also got a goodie bag, which consisted of a tote bag, some free pop corn, a tiny package of dried blueberries, and a pencil. Did you know that there are nine blueberry growers in Jasper County? They are Eenigenburg (2), Evers, Fritts, Luedtke, VanderMolen(2), Van Kley, and Zylstra, all to our north. I almost forgot the clown nose--there was a clown nose in the goodie bag. I do not know why.

The Dare to Dream program is administered by Ivy Tech and is funded by a $400,000 grant from John S and James L Knight Foundation. The convening (isn't that a funny word to use?) held at SJC was one of several that are being held in the seven counties of Northwest Indiana. It began with some speeches, including a keynote speech by Larry Kosanovich (owner of the local McDonald's restaurants) that I missed. I gathered from talking to others and from what the later speakers said that his big concern was getting Rensselaer utilities, especially a sewer line, out to the interstate interchange on SR 114.

I did get there in time to hear presentations from five community leaders. Then it was time to do group sessions. The topics were health and aging, agriculture, education, economic development, media, and transportation. I wandered around a bit and finally joined the transportation group. The task was to list strengths and then decide on the most important strength. In the transportation group the strongest strength was thought to be the access to Interstate 65. I-65 gives us easy access to metropolitan areas north and south and is the primary reason that the area has distribution facilities (Donaldsons and the auto parts center being finished in Remington) as well as several trucking companies. People also mentioned the rail linkages or the Jasper County Airport (which seems to be quite serious about expansion--I need to investigate that), but the group wisely recognized that the Interstate was the key transportation strength.

If I had been in charge, I think I would have included a recreation category, and I think I would have had the groups focus on the most serious weakness or perhaps the thing that would be the highest priority to change. The organizers may have thought of that and decided they wanted to be more positive, and focussing on strengths would be more positive. Some weaknesses did come up in the discussion. One lady thought the lack of bike trails was a serious problem. I initially dismissed that, but then she explained that a lot of kids ride to school in the Demotte area, and they sometimes ride on the highway. The problems in the northern part of the county may be quite different from those in the central and southern parts of the county.

If you think about it, Jasper county is not a unified county. The Demotte area looks north to Lake and Porter counties. Lots of the people who live up there commute north to work. People in Remington look south, and have a highway 24 focus. Remington and Wolcott are twin communities, and a new center for them is forming at the Interstate 65 interchange on highway 24. What do the people in Remington have in common with the people in Demotte?

The program ended with a summary of each groups discussion. I have to wonder if anything will ever come from all of this. What follow through will there be? Will anyone sort through the ideas and prioritize any of it? Who has a budget that will implement any of this?
One other thing that I think was missing from the meeting--a realization that the Internet and other communication technologies have reduced the disadvantage of living in small towns as opposed to big cities. We can get the news as fast as those living in big cities, and we can conduct financial transactions just as well. Increasingly meetings are being held on-line. There is a technological revolution that will, over time, change where people live just as the transportation revolutions of the past--the canals, the railroads, the airports, and road, highways and Interstates--have done. However, the organizers are from the urban north and perhaps do not see the effect of that on-going revolution.

A random fact from the meeting: The Kankakee Valley School Corporation is the county's largest employer, and the Jasper County Hospital is the second largest. When the auto parts distribution center near Remington is fully operational, it is expected to replace the Jasper County Hospital in the number two spot.

Feel free to comment. If you attended, I would like to hear your impressions of the meeting.

Update: I was told by someone who helped organize this event that the clown noses were part of a program to encourage people to read, and if I had read the material in the bag, I would have known that.

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