The Crusader Newspaper Group
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Gary is in need of economic renaissance – but not at any cost

By Vernon A. Williams, Gary Crusader

The people who live in Gary, Indiana aren’t desperate. Never have been. Never will be.

Those from other places often delight in reminding residents and natives of the one-time booming metropolis that its glory days are lost in the distant past – that the ‘here and now’ reality of the city on the shores of Lake Michigan paints a dismal picture. That reclaiming greatness is an idle, sad dream.

The devil is a liar.

It is a shame that major chains that establish locations in some of the most obscure, remote areas of the U.S. ignore the needs of Gary citizens. Once the “City of the Century,” Gary became the quintessential outcome of white flight and corporate abandonment.

There’s no Wal-Mart (and they probably have a store in the Sahara Desert). In terms of national brands – Gary has no hotel, chain restaurant (other than fast food), electronics, clothing, office supply, health food or technology retailer. In addition, the city claims the dubious distinction of the largest undeveloped lakefront (11 miles) in the country.

So with all that, how could anyone possibly oppose plans for a private investment of approximately $65 million across from the Gary airport; a proposal that will result in the creation of some 200 jobs? Planners are calling the project the potential “workforce anchor” for the financially-strapped city – employing people of a wide range of skills and education.

Developers insist that the success of the prospective investment will spur additional business growth and subsequently jobs in the vicinity.

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson estimated that the facility could pay about $1 million every year in property taxes. That’s not a prospect that the mayor receives on a regular basis. But alas, there is a downside to this seemingly “too good to be true” proposition.

Defying the odds, this business doesn’t fulfill any of the commerce and industry deficiencies alluded to earlier in this column. Not one. Instead, it will establish Gary as a site for an immigration processing and detention facility; owned and operated by the GEO Group Inc., which manages similar facilities throughout the U.S.

The Gary center would house about 800, including 192 high-security detainees with felony convictions. Predictably, the plan isn’t met with open arms from many locals.

Members of the Northwest Indiana Federation, Black Lives Matter NWI, clergy, and dozens of residents protest the plan vociferously. They liken the undocumented immigrant detention center to “slave camps” – an image grossly unbefitting of a 90 percent Black city with its own history of Jim Crow, mass incarceration and systemic racism.

Additionally, the Gary Jet Center, an aircraft charter and maintenance facility at the airport, is concerned that the detention center threatens to thwart airport expansion. And the company proposing the detention center has a history of complaints that include sexual harassment, wrongful deaths and improper treatment of inmates.

Crete and Joliet in Illinois as well as nearby Hobart, IN rejected such plans. Detention center builders seem to target cities with high unemployment and challenged economies. Gary fit the bill. But what they fail to take into consideration are the intangibles – that you have to know people from Gary to realize. Relegation to second-class citizenship is not an option.

A friend from Gary living in Atlanta recently posted on Facebook that she was newly single after a breakup with her longtime beau. An attractive woman, she received a deluge of inquiries, many of which were unflattering or suggestive, within days. She quickly responded with the post: “I said I’m available – not desperate.”

Likewise, Gary may have a plethora of needs, and not nearly as many attractive offers to fulfill them, but at the end of the day – the city remains a place of pride and belonging and worth and promise. Similar to my friend’s admonition, Gary may be available – but it still has dignity…and standards…and principles as firm as the steel from which its character was built.

The essence of Gary’s resolve is captured in Second Corinthians, Fourth Chapter (NIV) which reads: 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

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