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La Porte County first in Indiana to be designated 'broadband ready' in 2022

INDIANAPOLIS — Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and the Indiana Broadband Office announced Wednesday that La Porte County is now designated as an official Broadband Ready Community, the first in the state this year.

The Broadband Ready Communities Program was created as a tool to encourage broadband development throughout Indiana.

The Broadband Ready certification sends a signal to the telecommunication industry that a community has taken steps to reduce barriers to broadband infrastructure investment.

“Congratulations to the La Porte County Board of Commissioners on this significant milestone and for taking the steps to prioritize broadband investment,” Crouch said.

“This past year proved great success for the Broadband Ready Community Program and we anticipate another great year in 2022.”

The certification was approved by the Indiana Broadband Office following the commissioners’ adoption of a Broadband Ready Community ordinance on Dec. 1.

At the time, the board said it anticipated the move would simplify investment into fiber optics and stimulate $130 million in private sector investment to connect residents to high-speed internet.

The ordinance states the county is “laser-focused on finding solutions and strategies for those struggling for access to high-speed broadband services.”

“We are thankful for the vision and commitment that the state of Indiana and Lt. Governor Crouch has demonstrated by creating this designation,” said Sheila Matias, president of the Board of Commissioners.

She said the designation was designed to address the county’s “patchwork quilt of broadband infrastructure, which is insufficient in less populated areas.

“This designation sends a clear message about La Porte County’s focus on addressing this complex issue which affects quality of life and our growth potential.”

She also lauded the efforts of the task force.

“Our volunteers on the La Porte County Rural Broadband Task Force are all pulling in the same direction and have contributed countless hours to move our community’s broadband analysis forward.”

According to Earnie Holtrey, project manager at the Indiana Broadband Office, La Porte County is the first Broadband Ready Community certified in 2022.

“Congratulations to La Porte County for starting the year off strong and for setting your community and our state up for further broadband access,” Holtrey said.

Kevin McGuire, IT director for the Michigan City Area Schools and Task Force member, said, “If we are going to be prepared to educate our communities’ children and conduct telehealth appointments, continue to expand remote work, support a rapidly growing Internet of things (IOT) infrastructure, while encouraging innovation and entrepreneurial pursuits, we must have the bandwidth.

“The pandemic has shown how critically vital this bandwidth is to our future; remote learning and access to the classroom and to teachers instructing remotely has shown that being able to connect at high broadband speed should not be a privilege or a luxury but a necessity for all families.”

Via 2020 legislation, the Broadband Ready Community Program was transitioned from the Indiana Economic Development Corporation to the Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA). IBO began the day-to-day management of the Broadband Ready Community Program on July 1, 2020.

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Angie Nelson-Deuitch, Don Przybylinski to lead Michigan City Common Council in 2022

MICHIGAN CITY — In the first meeting of the new year, the Michigan City Common Council appointed new officers for 2022.

Councilwoman Angie Nelson-Deuitch won the president’s seat by a unanimous vote; and Councilman Don Przybylinski took the vice president position by a 9-0 vote as well.

Nelson-Deuitch then appointed Councilman Sean Fitzpatrick to serve as parliamentarian.

The group handled a few housekeeping matters, such as addressing the fact they have nine appointments to make to the Michigan City Commission on the Social Status of African-American Males and one to the city’s Youth Leadership Commission.

And they also need to assign Council members to various city and county boards and commissions – business Nelson-Deuitch said will be revisited at the Jan. 18 meeting.

Councilwoman Tracie Tillman’s proposed ordinance calling for all new appointees to the MCCSSAAM to reside within the Michigan City limits sparked some debate about the motivation for such a law.

Councilman Michael Mack said he believes the motivation is political, and aimed at excluding valuable members from the commission based on their addresses and not their qualifications.

Fitzpatrick equated the logic behind requiring people who serve on city commissions to live within city limits to requiring council members to live within city limits.

Mayor Duane Parry advised the Council to consider whether they wish to change the rule, as doing so would exclude otherwise qualified applicants who live in Pottawattomie Park, Trail Creek, Long Beach and other places within La Porte County from participating.

According to Tillman, three of the 15 current members of the MCCSSAAM reside outside city limits.

In regular business, after passing an ordinance in 2021 requiring Council approval before any entity may apply for matching grants that would call for the city to pay a match, the Michigan City Police Department requested authorization to apply for the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute’s 2022 Comprehensive Highway Injury Reduction Program.

If awarded, the MCPD would receive a $17,800 grant, with a city match of $3,900. The Council voted unanimously via resolution to allow the MCPD to apply for the funds.

The annual Community Crossing Matching Grant program from the Indiana Department of Transportation also came before the Council as a resolution, but was tabled until the Jan. 18 meeting.

Nelson-Deuitch, who sponsored both matching grant resolutions, said the city is eligible to receive up to $1 million through the Community Crossing program, and that the award would fund various street paving projects.

In other business, the Council’s Labor Relations Committee and the Indiana FOP Labor Council have been negotiating a new contract between the city and the police union since April, but have yet to come to an agreement for the 2022-24 contract.

So, Council members Don Przybylinski, Paul Przybylinski and Bryant Dabney introduced an ordinance on first reading that calls for the city to continue paying officers at their 2021 salaries pending the resolution of a new contract.

Don Przybylinski said the FOP informed the LRC on Dec. 27 that the FOP’s negotiating team opted not to take the proposed contract to the full FOP membership, as it had decided to reject what the city had offered.

The proposed ordinance carrying over 2021 salary rates was held over for second reading at the Jan. 18 meeting.

And after a failed attempt to amend his proposed ordinance calling for the city’s Motor Vehicle Highway funds to be prohibited for use within tax increment financing districts, Paul Przybylinski asked to table the matter to allow him to schedule a workshop. The issue will be revisited on second reading Jan. 18.


Ivy Tech expanding its programs to help grow and train Northwest Indiana workforce

La PORTE — Ivy Tech Community College is continuing to find ways to help grow La Porte County’s workforce.

“Ivy Tech plays a big role in what we can do in the community,” Ivy Tech Valparaiso Campus Chancellor Aco Sikoski said at Monday’s La Porte Rotary Club meeting.

Sikoski and Benjamin Marrero, chair of the School of Information Technology, spoke about some of the initiatives Ivy Tech has started to remedy the area’s shortage of skilled workers.

Sikoski said the goal for college attainment for Indiana, set by the Lumina Foundation, is 60 percent by 2025. College attainment in Indiana is currently at about 43-45 percent, and in La Porte County, just 29 percent.

“We have quite a bit of work to do,” Sikoski said. “College attainment means students and individuals who need to have post-secondary credentials including short term certification. Any kind of post-secondary credentials, they are counted toward that number.”

Ivy Tech will start a new semester on Jan. 19 with more than 80 percent of classes being in-person in some way.

Sikoski said they will have a variety of offerings including in-person, blended and online courses.

“The student population that we serve, definitely they are more and more inclined for in-person classes. They are much more successful when they’re coming,” he said.

Last year Ivy Tech began new programs that included the industrial technology program at the Michigan City Campus.

“Some of you have probably already been in this building. It used to be an old hospital. There was one space we had for student services,” Sikoski said.

They opened up that space and created a flexible manufacturing lab. With this space, they are now offering Industrial Technology and Mechanical Maintenance programs.

“It’s over 2,000 square feet of open space. We bring all the trainers in there so we can start offering these classes,” Sikoski said.

Ivy Tech is also partnering with La Porte High School to offer an electrical concentration in Industrial Technology.

“It’s very exciting because the high school is very, very supportive of this initiative ... as well as the local government,” Sikoski said.

A new lab built at the Valparaiso campus is a simulation nursing lab.

“Truly it is an ICU unit. On the back of each lab there is a one-way window where we have lab tech through the computers ... the mannequins are setting up the levels of sickness. They can raise the blood pressure or heart rate and the students, they are dealing with the situation,” Sikoski said.

More than $1 million was invested into the new lab.

“But truly we need it for our students to be skilled, educated and trained,” Sikoski said.

Marrero explained that the School of Information Technology is comprised of eight different programs: computer science, cyber security, cloud technology, data analytics, informatics, information technology support, network infrastructure and software development. Courses are offered in Michigan City.

“If anything, this pandemic taught us that we need technology, especially in the education and academic fields. There’s no business right now that I can think of that you’re not using some kind of computer or some form of technology,” he said.

Cyber Security is one of the more popular programs.

“It’s one of the jobs that are in really big demand right now,” Marrero said.

Ivy Tech’s Cyber Security program, he said, is one of the better ones in the state.

“Our students get into competitions. We have a cyber security team. Students get together, they practice, they get into competitions throughout the year,” Marrero said.

Last year, the team entered the U.S. Cyber Challenge and finished second place in the nation. The team then traveled to Washington, D.C., for an advanced competition later in the year.

They have also been named a Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Security by the National Security Agency.

“It’s a very well recognized program,” Marrero said.

As with industrial technology and nursing, he said they also had the opportunity to convert a lab room into a cyber security operations center. A program called Cyberbit provides simulations of network attacks.

“They get real-world, real-life training. They can learn how to mitigate those attacks, how to prevent them, what to look for,” Marrero said.

In the La Porte area, Marrero said he would like to do more.

“We haven’t really had a presence as far as the School of IT and I think there’s a major need in this area for IT. We have a great product to provide students. Everything we do is hands-on training,” Marrero said.

In La Porte, Ivy Tech has a site on Whirlpool Drive where it offers electrical and CDL training. The CDL program is at capacity.

“It’s crazy when we are looking at how many companies that are looking for CDL drivers,” said Sikoski, acknowledging the shortage of truck drivers.

Last year Ivy Tech developed a partnership with KLLM Transport Services in Portage, which includes free tuition and expenses for graduates who agree to work for KLLM upon completion.

“Every week, 8-12 new students are registered,” Sikoski said.

Another initiative, Ivy+, bundles the price of textbooks with tuition.

“All the cost for the textbooks is bundled up together with the tuition. Sixty percent of our students, on average, did not have the textbooks right from the beginning for a variety of reasons.”

And students taking 12 or more college credits pay the same price.

“If students are not able to complete 15 credits between fall and spring to get 30 credits, they can come in during the summer term and take up to two courses for free,” Sikoski said.