Innovation not act of genius but commitment to change

What do you know about Jasper County in northwest Indiana?

If you drive often on Interstate 65, you may know you travel more miles in Jasper than any other Indiana county. In addition, Jasper County has five interchanges on the route. There you’ll find the towns of Remington and DeMotte, as well as the city of Rensselaer.

The city of Jasper is not in Jasper County. Nor are Madison, Marion or Monroe in those counties. But I digress.

Recently, at the invitation of the Jasper County Economic Development Organization, Ivy Tech Northwest’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center conducted the third of seven regional meetings calling for nominations for its annual innovation awards. The session was informative, inspirational and energizing.

These days every chamber of commerce and economic development agency seems to be pushing entrepreneurship as the route to the revitalization of local economies. Some add innovation as a mystic element in the mix. But the Society of Innovators of NWI at the center has been leading the way for two decades.

How do they do it? With important support from NIPSCO and other community-minded businesses and individuals,the society is developing an archive of innovators from northwest Indiana in many fields. They have stories to tell from the past and living models of innovation.

Many in the field of economic development know Indiana business leaders who are too easily contented with their achievements, too satisfied with their current status in life. What does this do to the firm, its workers, and its community?

While contentment and satisfaction are positive factors in life, they also may be accompanied by stagnation, inefficiency and indolence. A company not progressing generally falls behind.

These firms cannot be embarrassed into recognizing opportunities. These owners cannot be called out for misusing or underutilizing assets by employees or organizations that depend on them for support. To get them engaged in the processes of change, development and innovation takes a different, positive inducement.

That’s what the center offers through living examples, recognizing individuals and organizations that have moved themselves, their companies and organizations, and northwest Indiana forward.

The annual nomination activity involves many local people in the search for those who deserve recognition. The process increases awareness throughout the community of the need for and benefits of innovative activity.

Often the term innovation scares people away when they think of discovering something completely new, original and previously unknown. Yet, most innovative acts involve combining elements or processes that are familiar. Innovation is not an act of genius, but an act of commitment to change.

Innovation involves risk taking and is often avoided for that reason. But failing to innovate, to adapt and to adopt new elements in business can be catastrophic.

For citizens in Lake, Porter, LaPorte, Starke, Pulaski, Jasper and Newton counties this significant Ivy Tech-Northwest Indiana initiative keeps the spotlight on those neighbors who are contributing to a progressive future.

Morton Marcus is an economist, formerly with the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Send comments to