Rust Belt Revival: The New Mayor of Gary Talks Economic DevelopmentApr 2nd, 2012 | By Mike Sitkowski
On December 31, 2011, Karen Freeman-Wilson was inaugurated as the first female Mayor of Gary, Indiana and the first African-American female mayor in the state of Indiana. She is the immediate past CEO of The National Association of Drug Court Professionals and Executive Director of The National Drug Court Institute based in Washington, D.C. From 2000 to 2001, she served as the Attorney General for the state of Indiana. A native of Gary, Freeman-Wilson is a graduate of the Harvard Law School.
Given the trends in the last few decades—rising unemployment, dwindling population, and deteriorating economic conditions—what is your approach to restoring the city of Gary? How do you prioritize the myriad issues facing the city in your first year in office?
Our approach is to develop our transportation assets which includes our airport, 3 Class 1 rail lines, 4 interstate highways, and a waterway. This lends itself to the development of an intermodal yard and the development of other jobs in the logistics arena.
Additionally, we are looking to transform our gaming industry from water to land as a real estate development opportunity. During the first year, our priorities will be to address our budget deficits, identified problems, and job creation in targeted areas.
Gary was once a thriving industrial city as a major producer in the steel industry. What is your economic vision for the future of Gary? How do you bring businesses to Gary, and what type of industries are you hoping to attract?
We believe that we can attract more trucking terminals for major trucking companies to Gary as well as jobs in green urbanism such as renewable energy, urban farming/gardens, recycling and brown field remediation.
Other Rust Belt cities have experienced similar issues as industrial manufacturing has declined in the United States. Are there takeaways from other approaches to the decline of Rust Belt cities, like Detroit, Cleveland, or Chicago?
Two major lessons learned are the importance of partnering with colleges/universities, think tanks and other similar organizations and the importance of making the difficult decision to shrink the city by closing off certain sections and obviating the need to deliver services.
Much has been made of recent developments involving the Gary Chicago International Airport. Do you have a vision for a partnership between Gary and Chicago? What unrealized benefits does Gary have in its proximity to the third-largest city in the United States?
There is a great opportunity to benefit from our location in proximity to Chicago. That adds value to our airport relative to business charter and domestic cargo service.
Additionally we can capitalize on Chicago’s enhanced technology systems like COMPSTAT in the criminal justice arena, emergency management and other technology.
The Indiana State Legislature passed property tax caps that are poised to dramatically lower Gary’s property tax revenue in 2012. What measures can the city of Gary take to deal with the reduction in revenue? How do you see this impacting the city budget going forward?
The city of Gary faces a deficit that approaches 10-12 million dollars as a result of tax caps. We have embarked on an aggressive campaign to raise our assessed evaluation through the growth of existing business and development of new business. This is the motivation for development of the industries discussed above.
What impact do you think the Gary and Region Investment Project (GRIP) will have on the city of Gary? How will the public-private collaboration developed by the program benefit Gary in both the short- and long-term?
GRIP has assisted by identifying regional priorities and thereby predicting those areas where we will more likely receive assistance and collaboration.