On Monday March 10, I drove the 40 miles from Fort Wayne to Winona Lake, Indiana on a rare sunny day in this otherwise grim and snowy winter to meet with Dr. William Katip, President of Grace College & Seminary. Recently Grace College had made a commitment, along with other public and private entities in and around Warsaw, to support the pending Tier One Environmental Impact Study required to move forward with the development of a passenger rail corridor from Chicago, IL to Columbus, OH through Gary, Valparaiso, Plymouth, Warsaw, and Fort Wayne. I wanted to find out more about the reasons for Grace College’s participation in this long-term, high-stakes regional economic development initiative.

Dr. Joe Thallemer, Mayor, Warsaw, Indiana

Each of these Indiana communities had committed to finding a share of the necessary local funding. Heading up the Warsaw community’s “pledge drive” was Warsaw’s Mayor Joe Thallemer, a local optometrist in his first term as Mayor. When Mayor Joe called on February 26 to let us know he had not only completed his own community’s fundraising goal, but had contacted the other city partners in central and northwest Indiana to secure their pledges, he was so enthusiastic that I told him, “Mayor, you are the number one evangelist for passenger rail.”

But in reality, the idea of passenger rail in this north – central Indiana community of almost 14,000 had been taking root for some years. In 2011, OrthoWorx, Inc. –a not-for-profit organization representing and promoting the cluster of orthopedics industries located in and around Warsaw, had commissioned its own economic impact study to estimate the impact of a high speed rail connection to Chicago and O’Hare Airport. This study, carried out by engineering consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff, had estimated significant benefits to the orthopedics industry including 20-year travel time savings of $32 – $45 million, with additional productivity benefits amounting to $39 – $46 million. Other regional rail development studies estimated overall employment impacts of 649 – 790 full time jobs, and a total economic impact on the community of $133-161 million over 20 years. Certainly for OrthoWorx, which states its primary mission as supporting and sustaining Warsaw as the “Orthopedics Capital of the World,” these benefits were worth the community’s support and investment. Unquantified but still a key feature of the Parsons Brinckerhoff report were the benefits of utilizing a regional rail connection to underpin the recruitment and retention of key professional talent. Warsaw’s competitiveness as an industry cluster is impressive– $11 billion of total annual sales, representing 1/3 of the world’s orthopedics sales volume; 13,000 direct and indirect jobs–but no one is more aware than OrthoWorx that in this “flat world” of global high tech manufacturing, such dominance cannot be taken for granted.

Dr. William Katip, President, Grace College & Seminary, Winona Lake, Indiana

As I talked to Dr. Bill Katip in the small conference room adjacent to his office in McClain Hall, named after the Seminary’s first President, Alva McClain, I learned that Grace College had also aligned itself with the future of the orthopedics industry. Not only does the College offer, in conjunction with Trine University, a degree in biomedical engineering management, but Dr. Katip’s predecessor, Dr. Ronald Manahan, had also recruited significant contributions from the local orthopedics companies to build the impressive Manahan Orthopedics Capital Center, one of the newest, best equipped sports and entertainment facilities among all Indiana colleges.

The Manahan Orthopaedics Capital Center, Grace College & Seminary

I had brought with me a powerpoint presentation on the predevelopment phase of the Chicago – Columbus rail corridor, and Dr Katip took the time to review the “big picture” with me. He was particularly impressed with our research showing nearly 900,000 students in 141 institutions of higher education, located within 25 miles of a railhead along the corridor.

There are 141 institutions of higher education located in the Columbus – Chicago corridor, with over 896,000 students

The connection between the college and its roots deep in the Anabaptist and Calvinist branches of the Protestant reformation, is manifested in a geographic link between Grace’s students and the faith communities in Ohio and Pennsylvania from which they come. Geographic diversity is not unique to Grace College– for example, only 30% of Valparaiso University students come from Indiana–but the college’s grounding in the Grace Brethren churches exerts a strong gravitational attraction eastward. This, as Dr Katip explained to me as we wrapped up our meeting, is one of the reasons he is excited about the potential for the Chicago -Fort Wayne – Columbus high speed rail line.

This evangelical identity of Grace College, according to its own website description, was enhanced by the location of the seminary and college in Winona Lake, a resort community that had become a center for Progressive Era social and political activity and, by the 1920s, a well-known location for evangelical Bible Conferences.

“A Deep Experience of Community” — from Grace College’s website, the history of the College and the Grace Brethren tradition

A further reason for Grace College’s commitment to the passenger rail corridor, said Dr Katip, was the direct involvement of Warsaw’s Mayor Thallemer in promoting community investment in the future of passenger rail. In addition to his strong advocacy for the rail corridor project in his own community, Mayor Thallemer has worked with his fellow Mayors in Fort Wayne, New Haven, Plymouth, Valparaiso and Gary to solidify community commitments westward from Warsaw all the way to the Illinois border. Dr Katip cited both the college’s and the Grace Brethren churches’ strong tradition of community participation as a factor in the College’s decision to help advance the rail corridor project.

Regional Networks

The 141 colleges and universities situated in the 300-mile-long Columbus to Chicago may be separated geographically but they are often linked by various networks–academic, professional, and sports networks are examples. I quizzed Dr Katip about these various connections especially those whose geography encompasses the northern stretch of Indiana from Illinois to Ohio. As a graduate of both Purdue University and Michigan State University, where he earned his B.S. and PhD degrees, respectively, Dr. Katip was very much aware of the importance of academic networks like the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (C.I.C), the academic counterpart of the Big Ten athletic conference, which embraces all the Big Ten universities, including Maryland, Rutgers, and founding member University of Chicago.

The Online Computer Library Center is located in Dublin, Ohio

Grace College’s library, as one example, is linked to libraries throughout the world by its membership in the Online Computer Library Center, Inc. — “a nonprofit, membership, computer library service and research organization dedicated to the public purposes of furthering access to the world’s information and reducing information costs.” The OCLC, headquartered in Dublin Ohio near the eastern terminus of the proposed rail corridor, provides not only research, management, and professional development support, but also works to increase the availability of library resources to individual library patrons and to reduce the rate-of-rise of library per-unit costs — all for the fundamental public purpose of furthering ease of access to and use of the ever-expanding body of worldwide scientific, literary and educational knowledge and information.

The Crossroads League (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, Division II) represents a highly competitive cluster of colleges centered on Indiana, in a crescent curving northward from Indianapolis (Marian University) through Huntington (Huntington University) and Fort Wayne (University of Saint Francis) to the Michiana borderlands (Goshen College –in Goshen, Indiana–and Bethel College in Mishawaka), and even into Michigan (Spring Arbor University) and Ohio (Mount Vernon Nazarene University). I noted later that five of the ten colleges and universities in the Crossroads League (Bethel College; Goshen College; Grace College; University of Saint Francis; and Huntington University) would be located within 25 miles of a railhead on the Chicago – Fort Wayne – Columbus corridor, and another (Spring Arbor University) is currently located within a few miles of an existing Amtrak station on the Detroit to Chicago corridor in Jackson, Michigan. Mount Vernon College, in Mount Vernon, Ohio, is located about an hour’s drive northeast of Columbus– but is also only 25 miles from Newark, Ohio– the next proposed station east of Columbus on a future Columbus to Pittsburgh extension of the Chicago – Columbus corridor. It is easy to imagine teams and their supporters from northwest and north central Indiana and from central Ohio traveling conveniently and comfortably by high speed rail to an all-conference tournament located in Fort Wayne –or in the new OCC arena at the Grace College campus in Winona Lake (below).

Basketball at the Manahan Orthopaedics Capital Center

Other networking opportunities are unique to the relationship Grace has cultivated with the orthopaedics industry clustered in Warsaw. OrthoWorx, Inc. was created in 2009 to represent and foster the industry group that collectively employs, directly or indirectly, over 13,000 people and contributes over $3 billion annually to the economy of Indiana. On March 20, 2014, OrthoWorx announced the creation of a university / industry advisory board intended to connect the technology and talent needs of the orthopaedic industry with the resources and capabilities represented by Indiana institutions of higher education. The Advisory Board includes not only Grace College, one of OrthoWorx’s early partners, but also Indiana University; the University of Notre Dame; Ivy Tech Community College; Manchester University (located a few miles southeast of Warsaw); and Trine University in Angola, Indiana. Discussions proceed on the possible inclusion of Ball State (Muncie); IPFW (Fort Wayne); and Purdue University in West Lafayette.

A study released in 2013, commissioned by the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership (CICP) and conducted by the Battelle Technology Partnership Practice, found that Indiana does not produce enough high-skilled job opportunities for the number of students who graduate from four-year colleges. As a result, the study concluded that the lack of job opportunities for these graduates “leads to their migration, and ultimately to the state’s low adult educational attainment ranking relative to the nation, despite a strong higher education pipeline.”

According to Sheryl Conley, President and CEO of OrthoWorx, Inc., stronger connections between the orthopedic medical device industry and Indiana’s higher education institutions can help close that gap. “Many companies would like a stronger recruiting presence at Indiana schools and many Indiana schools desire to create more experiential learning experiences for students, as well as to place more graduates in our industry,” Conley said. “What has been lacking is an appreciation on both sides of the strengths and capabilities of each other. We think that should change and we are grateful to those universities who have committed their time and resources to joining us in this important collaboration.”

Higher Education, Jobs, and Passenger Rail

Dr Katip’s enthusiasm for passenger rail is matched by that of Dr. William Lowe, Chancellor of Indiana University Northwest, located in Gary. In a February 7, 2014 editorial for NW Indiana Times.com supporting the extension of the South Shore commuter line from Hammond to Dyer, Dr. Lowe called the rail expansion project “a generational imperative on which we must act now.” Higher education, said Dr. Lowe, must prepare its graduates for professional opportunities–many of which, in our part of the country, are physically located in Chicago. Dr. Lowe notes that the 16,000 employers within one mile of the South Shore line’s Millennium Station are nearly the same as those within the five northwest Indiana counties. Yet, those Chicago businesses employ twice as many, and pay more than double Northwest Indiana salaries.

Better transportation connections through the region are not just about Grace College and other institutions of higher education connecting to their student base in more populous states like Ohio. Rail travel also offers a better way to connect with the job market. Offering undergraduate degrees in education, business, behavioral sciences, math / science, nursing, and engineering, and graduate degrees in business administration, clinical mental health counseling, and education, Grace College also stands by the “Grace Placement Promise”: Students who meet certain criteria and who do not find employment or gain acceptance to graduate school within 6 months of graduation may be eligible to earn an additional year of undergraduate education tuition-free.

Michigan’s Example: the Knowledge-Based Economy

To the north, the University Research Corridor (URC) is an alliance between Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, and Wayne State University to transform, strengthen and diversify the state’s economy. The URC partners formed this alliance to improve the understanding of the vital role these three universities have played, and will play, in revitalizing the state’s economy. (Here in Indiana, we note that East Lansing, Ann Arbor, and Detroit are all linked to Chicago via existing Amtrak routes). Further, in February 2014, Columbus Business Firstreported that the Ohio State University is teaming up with the Edison Welding Institute and the University of Michigan to open a $148 million high-tech manufacturing research institute near Detroit. The consortium claims the project will create 10,000 jobs over the next five years in the metal stamping, metalworking, machining and casting industries, and will “encompass the entire transportation supply chain,” presumably including both automotive and rail technologies. The new institute is one of a series of announcements as part of the federal government’s National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), consisting of regional hubs that will accelerate development and adoption of cutting-edge manufacturing technologies for making new, globally competitive products.

The existing passenger rail network in Michigan

The State of Michigan’s commitment to passenger rail improvements that serve this research corridor remains significant, as the Michigan Department of Transportation wraps up by November 2014 a multi-year, $3.2 million Environmental Impact Study focusing on upgrading and improving speeds on the existing Detroit – Ann Arbor – Jackson – Kalamazoo – Chicago line.

Networks and Faith

As I told Dr Katip during our tour of the campus and lunch afterward, the proposed Chicago – Columbus passenger rail corridor contains elements of a “faith-based” mission — much like that of Grace College. In their own ways, both enterprises seem firmly rooted in the experience of community, in a belief in progress, and in the deep power of personal connections across the barriers of time and space. At a time in the nation’s history when ideology often claims to substitute for faith, and diatribe seems to substitute for dialog, the joining of various public and private institutions, and the collaboration of varied types and levels of government across the dividing lines of states and counties, is indeed inspirational.

It means something important, I suggested to Dr. Katip, and it is deeply gratifying to the other rail corridor partners, that Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana was the first of the 141 institutions of higher education to come forward in support of the Chicago – Columbus passenger rail corridor. This same commitment is reflected by the entire civic and institutional community in and around Warsaw. Joining Grace College in responding to Mayor Thallemer’s call on behalf of the rail corridor are the Town of Winona Lake; Kosciusko County; OrthoWorx, Inc.; the Warsaw / Kosciusko County Chamber of Commerce; the Kosciusko Economic Development Corporation; and the Kosciusko County Community Foundation — in addition, of course, to the City of Warsaw itself.

The consortium of Indiana cities and towns plans to solidify local and state commitments to the next pre-development phase of the Columbus – Chicago passenger rail corridor by mid-2014 — at the same time that their local government counterparts in Ohio are similarly engaged. Dr. Katip has offered to speak to his administrative counterparts in other college and university offices, and opportunities for the corridor partnership follow up on that offer are fast approaching.

–Richard C. Davis, MPA, MCRP

For more information on the proposed Chicago – Columbus passenger rail corridor, link to the Executive Summary of the Northern Indiana / Ohio Passenger Rail Corridor Feasibility Study and Business Plan produced by the Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association, Inc. at: http://niprarail.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Executive-Summary-for-Press-Release_62813_Final.pdf

Transportation / Management Consultant to Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association (NIPRA, Inc., Fort Wayne, Indiana, Fred Lanahan, President) http://niprarail.org