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By Phil D’Amico, director of business growth, The Chamber of Commerce of St. Joseph County
Steve Luecke has served the City of South Bend as mayor for 13 years. He holds the distinction of being the longest-tenured mayor of South Bend in the history of the city. Mayor Luecke has overseen many great projects and initiatives that have advanced this city forward in his years in office.
|South Bend Mayor Stephen J. Luecke|
Q: The one thing I always seem to notice about you, Mayor, is that you do genuinely appear to like and enjoy your job as mayor.
A: (Smiles) I do enjoy my job. Certainly, there are some days that are more challenging than others, but I love having the privilege to represent our city and its residents as their mayor.
Q: There have been some great projects completed in the city recently. You must be happy with the opportunities some of these things create within the city?
A: Absolutely. You look at Eddy Street Commons, the Kroc project, the development in and around Innovation Park, the future potential of Ignition Park, the future in and around Coveleski Stadium, the downtown development and the new TRANSPO site. All of these projects are great for the city and really position us for great success in the very near future. All of these projects either have started or will start real soon. Each in its own right will help transform this city.
Q: Your partnership with the Chamber on growing existing businesses from within the city is somewhat unique. How did you venture into such a program?
A: We actually saw a similar model in Louisville, Ky., when we visited there with several business leaders from our community. Really what we saw was an initiative to help connect business, government and education all together to work toward growing existing businesses. It was a proactive approach to help reduce barriers and hindrances that businesses have, preventing them from growing.
Q: I have heard numbers like: 80 percent of a community’s business growth comes from the existing businesses already located in the community. Have you heard those numbers, and is that what you have found through the Business Growth Initiative?
A: Yes, since we started this initiative, I think those are very accurate numbers. It certainly played out that way during this recent tough economy we faced the last two years. Actually we look back at that time period now and realize that we did a pretty good job of getting in front of our businesses to see what we could do proactively to help them through a very rough period in our economy.
Q: How does it make you feel when you have received national recognition, on two different occasions, for having successful business retention programs in place that you have implemented?
A: Honestly Phil, it is more confirmation than anything else. It really confirms that one of the priorities moving forward was to capture growth opportunities within our existing businesses. It reaffirms that we are focusing on the right things in paying close attention in taking care of our businesses on the ground here in South Bend.
Q: We hear so much about hunting versus gardening. It still is important to hunt, but to use the term gardening … that helps immediate growth, does it not?
A: I would love to have more home runs; actually even doubles and triples are good when you are hunting for business, but while you are doing that process, we need to realize, that process can take time and a lot of research. While we are doing that, if we are growing our local businesses, then there will be a long, sustaining growth model for our community. In other words, we have local growth, supported by new growth from outside the area.
Q: So as it relates to this Business Growth Initiative, what are some of your next steps in this process?
A: I think there are opportunities for us to visit those businesses that have corporate offices residing outside the area to enhance those relationships on a local level. I also think some of the roundtable discussions we have had with many of our key business leaders really help the lines of communication between government and business, and of course personal business visits have been essential, and very key in the growth process.
Q: There are a lot of great business stories in South Bend; how do we get the word out?
A: Yes, that is a great point. I really enjoy visiting our local businesses and seeing many of the great things we are doing for business and commerce here, nationally and even globally. Many times our community does not talk about those great South Bend business success stories. Telling or sharing our story of South Bend is always fun to do, and everyone plays a role in that.
Q: Sounds like you love what you do.
A: It is great to represent this city as its mayor. Also, as it relates to this topic of local business. I truly value the time I get to spend with our business leaders. There is so much positive and good that comes from candid discussions on our business climate and focus on business in the future.
Q: Do I work you too hard?
A: (Chuckles.) No, but I think we need to work you harder!
Phil: I hear that all the time.