Much is happening in Gary, Indiana.
Founded in 1906 by US Steel, the city has been decimated by cuts in the amount that today’s active steel mills pay in local taxes, negatively impacting public schools, infrastructure, and the general functioning of the area socially and economically.
In May 2010 official unemployment in Gary was 10%, slightly above the national average of 9.7%. However, due to the way the official unemployment rate is calculated, the real unemployment rate is probably between 17% and 20%. There are 322,388 folks officially in the Gary labour force as of May 2010. 32,310 of those folks are unemployed. The city had 102,746 people living here in 2000. The labour force count is based on the metropolitan area, which has 404,000 people living in it in 2000, and is lower now.
Into this mix of unemployment and low wages, the Mayor of Gary is pushing
“ahead with plans to build a $300 million museum dedicated to its favorite son [Michael Jackson, born in Gary]. The entertainment complex is slated to include a hotel, housing, golf course, performing arts center and an elevated rail line to shuttle visitors, according to the Post-Tribune.”
Trying to leverage the fact that Michael Jackson was born here to create a fantasy land for visitors amidst the struggles and needs that face those of us who live here would be a joke if good money wasn’t being used for the project. Let us learn from Detroit and other cities where similar plans were implemented. You can’t keep a city like Gary alive without lots of good manufacturing jobs.
This project is taking place at a time when:
The golf course carnage in Northwest Indiana over the last eight years is substantial. At least six courses in the area have been shuttered since 2002, three more have declared bankruptcy and one private owner is seeking alternative funding sources to pay off a $3.3 million loan. Post-Tribune
Furthermore, Ameristar Casino recently laid off 50 people citing a slow economy and other issues. Clearly it is not an opportune time to be pouring money into a fantasy land situated in an economic desert.
There is tremendous need in Gary for money for public schools, infrastructure repairs such as roads with huge potholes, stopping foreclosures and rehabilitating homes for the people who live in them, help for families in economic and other stress, and a other social services at the Township and neighbourhood level that will help the families in Gary to build our lives on a positive foundation.
With the $100 million investment in the Gary airport, the issue of where Gary is going as a city has to be on many folks minds. Not only are people asking how the investment in the Gary airport will help those of us who live here, but how do we revitalise the area while protecting and enhancing the people living here now, not pushing us out of the city?
The population of Gary is primarily high school educated, and working in service industries rather than manufacturing.
How can we turn this around and bring good, higher paying, jobs to Gary, along with training programs and free access to education, to raise the overall education level of the Gary population to meet the demands of modern manufacturing work.
The worst thing that could happen would be for the people of Gary to be driven out of our city to make room for more affluent folks and developers.
Do we want Gary to be a gateway to casinos, with low-wage jobs? Do we want Gary to be the relatively stable manufacturing community that it was when local steel company employment was more than triple the current level. In 2000 19% of the Gary labour force worked in manufacturing.
I like living in Gary. I like the people of Gary. I don’t want to see this city reduced to a shell in order to turn the land over to developers. The people here need help to revitalise this city. The help must come in the form of unionised, long-term, living wage manufacturing jobs with reasonable benefits.
Let’s demand programs that develop manufacturing jobs, provide required training and a stipend for the students, and helps to make Gary a better place for those of us who live here instead of building entertainment zones for a future of service jobs and gentrification that will destroy a unique and wonderful city, transforming it in to a parody of what could have been achieved.