Mayoral hopefuls focus on economy

South Bend candidates talk about jobs plans

By Kevin Allen, The South Bend Tribune

October 16, 2011

SOUTH BEND - When voters head to the polls Nov. 8 to cast their votes in the South Bend mayors race, they likely wont be deciding just who could best lead city government but who is most able to provide a lift for the local economy.

The issue of jobs looms large in this election, and all three candidates - Democrat Pete Buttigieg, Republican Wayne Curry and Libertarian Patrick Farrell - have emphasized that in their campaigns.

Buttigieg said South Bend has the assets, including location, infrastructure and universities, it needs to move forward economically.

We just need to be smart about how we use them, the former business consultant said, and I think that begins with pulling together all the different groups, agencies and entities that do economic development here.

There is a real need for a shared business plan for the community, he said, and I think I can set the table for everybody to agree on the outlines of that plan.

All three candidates said the next mayor needs to concentrate on actions that will help grow small businesses.

Curry said city officials need to focus on economic gardening - that is, supporting existing businesses - more than economic hunting efforts to draw businesses from outside the area.

Most of the jobs being created nationwide and in our own community are going to be created by businesses with fewer than 10 employees, he said.

Curry, a carpenter and construction contractor, added that South Bend needs to be more competitive with other areas of Michiana if its going to compete with cities outside the region as a place to do business.

If we compete with one another locally, and we look just as good as they do, it actually strengthens our entire region, he said.

By saying, Whats good for Mishawaka is good for South Bend, well, there might be something to that, he added, but I think its a copout for the people that have let South Bend get run down.

Farrell, who managed auto dealerships for 36 years and now co-owns a painting company, said, Small businesses are really the answer. Bendix or Studebaker arent coming back, so its just really, really important that we honor and take care of the small businesses.

Currys economic plans also include bringing in a top-notch economic director from another city, such as Chicago or Indianapolis, where that person has experienced challenges similar to those in South Bend. He also would create an economic development panel to advise officials on how the city could work better with local businesses.

City leaders have pointed toward Ignition Park as an engine for future job growth. The state-certified technology park is being developed in the former Studebaker corridor south of Sample Street.

This is a city that has a lot of great benefits for businesses that would want to locate here, Buttigieg said, but we need to bring those out and tear down any barriers. We need to make sure that were appealing to advanced manufacturers that are growing and that were doing well with the kinds of companies that export to other countries.

All of that requires infrastructure, he said, and Ignition Park is part of the infrastructure. So its certainly a meaningful asset, but its not a strategy, its a facility. We need a strategy.

Curry said he supports the city taking action to tear down the old Studebaker buildings and prepare the property for new development. Green grass sells better than old buildings, he said.

But, he added, city leaders still need to create a business climate and clean, safe neighborhoods that will lead tech companies to want to locate at Ignition Park instead of along Capital Avenue in Mishawaka or anywhere else.

Farrell said he believes the city has placed too much stock in Ignition Park. The park likely will develop slowly, he said, so city officials shouldnt have moved so quickly to clear so much property, including homes, on the site.