Michigan City’s story unfolds as one of emerging innovation, success

Michigan City’s story unfolds as one of emerging innovation, success
By: Stacey Kellogg Last Updated: September 16, 2019

What comes first? A fantastic story that influences success, or success that informs the fantastic story?

In the case of Michigan City, it’s both.

Like many mid-sized communities across the nation, this once sleepy lakefront community has evolved from a heavy industrial base to a city that is blooming in arts, attractions, entertainment, tech, and tourism. At the base of that are innovative benefits that are enticing new industry and entrepreneurs to put down roots and grow the city’s tax base. It’s all powered by a strategic marketing effort that isn’t necessarily creating Michigan City’s image. It’s reflecting all the wonderful things about it. And it’s working.

Create. Play. Repeat.

“We are a lifestyle brand in Michigan City. That’s what we are offering. We are a historic, small waterfront town in the backdrop of the world class city of Chicago,” said Mayor Ron Meer. “You can have it all here. You can have the big town if you want it, but you can enjoy the quality of life of our lakefront and dunes, our thriving downtown and arts district, with affordable neighborhoods and lower cost of living.”

Three years ago, Meer and the City Council began to fund a marketing strategy for Michigan City to reflect the city’s most notable assets with a goal of bringing continued growth. The investment appears to be paying off.

"People have been saying for years that we need to market Michigan City. We are finally doing so in a big way,” Meer said. “When you are a place where people want to be, and you tell that story well, it brings new jobs and investment, new residents and visitors. We are seeing new firms and companies move into Michigan City for that reason. Everyone out there feels it. We have the market’s attention.”

Need a visual? This is your Michigan City.

The city has partnered with WeCreate Media, a powerful creative group charged with capturing the best of Michigan City’s story across multiple media – visually, and in words – and then using digital marketing expertise to ensure the story ends up in front of the right eyes and ears. It’s about more than a social post, or a catchy GIF. It’s about strategy.

Experts across the region have taken notice as well, setting up Michigan City’s image campaigns as a model for the Region as a whole to market Northwest Indiana.

“Michigan City’s renaissance is at the forefront of success,” said Leah Konrady, President and CEO of the not-for-profit One Region, which strives to attract talent, grow populations, and increase household income. “Being a native to the Michigan City area, I’m thrilled to see how Michigan City’s leadership has been able to put the city on the map through its investments and events,” she said. “With assets such as the beach, retail, the arts, the Promise Scholarship program, and the South Shore train, Michigan City is becoming the place to recreate, live, and work.”

The innovative Michigan City Promise Scholarship program offers a $5,000 per year college scholarship (funded by the City and renewable for four years) for qualifying Michigan City High School seniors who will be attending regionally accredited college, university, post-secondary educational programs, or vocational school in Indiana.

The program, Meer said, has had an important and positive impact on Michigan City’s image.

“This program has attracted existing residents to stay, and new residents to come to our community and put down roots,” he said. “The Promise Scholarship has been a driving factor in attracting investment to Michigan City and in raising property values by virtue of the new equity brought to home values.”

Richard Murphy, City Controller for the City of Michigan City, said that as a father, the program resonates with him personally.

“It really has me thinking about that this means to the next generation of kids born in Michigan City. They can grow up here, get an education here, but not have to leave when it comes time to get a job in their field,” he said. “They can stay with access to the Chicago job market. Our population can grow. Our tax base can grow. New families can put roots in. Our community becomes stronger.”

You can find the compelling story of the Promise Scholarship program here:

When Gov. Holcomb signed the South Shore Doubletrack bill into law in 2017, Michigan City was thinking ahead to what a second main-line track from there to Gary could mean.

“What the Double Track project is to Michigan City is throwing a lasso over the third largest economy in the U.S - the Chicago Metro area - and pulling that job market within commuter access of Michigan City. It creates a giant market of opportunity for Michigan City residents where there isn’t one now,” Murphy said. “Think about this. The double track creates the potential for a Michigan City resident to commute to Chicago with Wi-Fi on the train and earn 40% more salary, and then come back to Michigan City to enjoy our high quality of life and affordability.”

Michigan City helped tell the Double Track story here.

“These projects will be game-changers for the region and the state,” said Bill Hanna, President and CEO of the Regional Development Authority, in a June update announcement from the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District. “By increasing our connectivity to Chicago, the third-largest metro area in the country, commuter rail will drive job creation and economic development in Northwest Indiana.”

The project in Michigan City also will increase safety by separating the track from the roadway.

With the recent federal development that changed the national lakeshore to Indiana Dunes National Park, Michigan City now has the opportunity tell a new story.

“This is Michigan City’s front porch, and with the decommissioning of the NIPSCO power plant over the next decade, Michigan City will once again be connected with this rare and diverse ecological preserve. Michigan City is essentially the frontier to the nation’s 61st National Park,” Meer said.

Local organizations have advocated fiercely for the preservation of the dunes, and others have recognized how the healthy balance of preservation and tourism can benefit everyone involved.

As Michigan City has significantly progressed with downtown revitalization, people like what’s happening. So much so that they’re flocking to the area and dumping millions into the economy.

According to a report by Ceretc., Inc., a marketing analysis group, 212,600 people visited downtown Michigan City and the lakefront August 2-4 this year during the Great Lakes Grand Prix races and the Taste of Michigan City, generating $13.6 million for the county’s economy. That tops last year’s attendance of 190,000 and $12.4 million.

On that Saturday alone, 50,000 visitors headed to the Taste of Michigan City and the boat parade, and another 50,000 to the lakefront for the races and other activity. That Sunday, park attendance grew to 90,000. Nearly a third of the visitors were attending for the first time, and many took advantage of at least two other activities while in the area, including the beach, Blue Chip Casino, and Washington Park Zoo.

The report shows that out-of-town visitors spent $9.1 million on direct expenditures such as food, beverages, shopping, and transportation. Local residents even contributed $518,100 in direct spending.

Jobs directly related to the Grand Prix provided more than $3 million in wages to La Porte County workers, and non-local visitor spending generated $3.6 million in tax revenues, with $705,800 going to local government.

“Great things are happening in Michigan City. It’s exciting to see the activity downtown, the enthusiasm of the citizens, and great plans for the future,” said Heather Ennis, President and CEO of the Northwest Indiana Forum. “We appreciate all the Mayor, Redevelopment Commission, planners and the Economic Development Corporation of Michigan City have done to continue the positive growth of the city. Keep the momentum going, MC. It’s a great story to see and tell.”

To date, the Create Play Repeat campaign has garnered more than 20,000 followers across all platforms, including more than 2 million views on the video above in the last six months alone. More than 35,000 interactions (liking, loving, sharing the content) have occurred in the last six months, showing momentum with the campaign’s interest. Discover more of Michigan City’s inspirational story on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube, or at https://mymichigancity.com/.