Pete's South Bend Tribune Viewpoint

He offers a plan for South Bend's economic growth


April 21, 2011

On May 3, residents of the city of South Bend will choose our next mayor. Our city faces its share of challenges, but we have a chance with this election to create a fresh start. We need leadership to combine our tradition of hard work with new and innovative ideas that can move our community forward.

A key reason I decided to run for mayor is that I want to put my experience and training in economics to work for our city. My experience advising business leaders on billion-dollar decisions in the private sector, my work in economics at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and my time as a civilian economic adviser in war zones, give me a unique preparation to get results in our local economy. I believe this experience contributed to the support I have received from organizations ranging from labor unions to the Chamber of Commerce.

But experience is not enough. Each candidate must present a comprehensive plan for economic growth. Full details on my plan are available on my website, and I want to take this opportunity to share an outline of my six-part plan for our local economy.

First, we must enable existing employers to grow and create more jobs. While South Bend's days as a "company town" for a major automaker are over, many employers in advanced manufacturing and logistics are growing. I've visited dozens of local companies that would hire more people into good-paying jobs, if we as a city could make it easier to do so. We need to increase the responsiveness of city government, define a competitiveness strategy for advanced manufacturing that includes export-led growth, streamline permitting for responsible businesses, and create a city-led forum that connects vocational and K-12 educational decision-makers to employers that need new skills in our work force in order to grow.

Second, we must foster the creation of new businesses in our community. Small businesses create nearly two-thirds of all new jobs, and the surest sign that a company will be located here is for it to have started here in the first place. My strategy calls for us to make use of our greatest strengths, including the intellectual property created at our five colleges and universities, to spur new business creation.

Third, we need mayoral leadership to compete for job-creating investments nationally and globally. It is time for South Bend to connect to the global economy in a way that makes us better off -- to develop a relationship to the global economy that has more to offer working families than victimhood. We can create good-paying job opportunities here by using our geographic advantage and university-based relationships, developing and advertising South Bend's fiber-optic wealth, and promoting our city's logistical strengths.

Fourth, we must offer a simple and user-friendly economic development infrastructure. We now have more than a dozen entities concerned with economic development, and while full of good people and good intentions, they are not as well coordinated as they need to be. My administration will play a direct role in organizing the best possible division of labor so that the economic agencies in our area, as well as the city government itself, are as user-friendly as possible for responsible investors prepared to create jobs in the area.

Fifth, we will confront poverty so that our community provides economic opportunities for all residents. This requires a comprehensive approach that includes short-term tactical improvements on entryway corridors, longer-range efforts like a "Bank on South Bend" program to provide access to financial services to low-income residents, and a citywide initiative to address vacant and abandoned housing.

Last but certainly not least, we need to promote and invest in the quality of life that our city offers to residents. In order to compete for talented individuals and companies that create jobs, we must make the most of our river, promote arts and culture in our community, foster better work force development, and identify every possible way the city administration can be a helpful partner to the school system. If our community does not have a desirable quality of life and adequate infrastructure, business leaders will not invest here regardless of tax incentives.

Almost 50 years after the closure of Studebaker, we need a new economic direction that will carry our city into the future. As I visit homes and businesses around the city, I have felt the sense of economic urgency here, and developed a renewed admiration for the resilience of working families and employers in our community.

This election is about renewing South Bend's economy and making our city an even better place to call home. I am convinced that South Bend has what it takes to succeed in a new economic reality -- if we make the right strategic choices.

Pete Buttigieg is a Democratic candidate for mayor of South Bend.