Why I Became a Planner Blog Series – Bob Grewe, AICP
By Nate Nickel
I graduated from the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs in December 1985. Successfully completing my coursework required all of my focus, leaving little time to consider career opportunities following graduation.
In January 1986, I started looking for work near my hometown of Jasper, Indiana. A friend at the county health department told me to check out the Indiana 15 Regional Planning Commission. She said, “they seem to take on the assignments that local government doesn’t want to mess with.” It ends up they were hiring a project manager. I got an interview and the planning director asked if I was the guy that did the snake program at Patoka Reservoir Nature Center (his family had visited the center the previous summer while I was working there). It ends up that was me and I owe my start in the planning profession to making a good impression while doing a snake show.
I enjoyed the work as project manager and administering CDBG funded community development projects. It’s nice to see your efforts result in new roads, water towers, industrial parks, etc.
A year and a half later, my boss claimed that the regional planning commission’s days were numbered. He told me that President Reagan would dismantle the Economic Development Administration and other federal programs that we relied on for funding. He recommended to our board that I serve as director to close out the agency. Ends up the regional planning commission is still in business today and doing very well. However, this situation helped to put me in a leadership position in the planning profession, at the ripe old age of 24.
I remained at the regional planning commission for 6 years. Things got to be a routine and I left planning to be a part of a new company that was bringing a revolutionary product to Southwest Indiana, the cellular telephone. Interesting assignment, but the business was cutthroat and I missed planning.
A regional planning colleague from Madison, Indiana called to see if I would be interested in what might be a short-lived planning assignment. I wanted to get back to planning and there were few other opportunities in the Jasper area. I moved to Madison, Indiana and spent two years attempting to develop reuse plans for the U.S. Army’s former 55,000 acre Jefferson Proving Ground. The Army tested tanks, cannons, mortars and other ordnance there. It was estimated that over 30 million rounds were fired and many did not explode. Hence, I learned the term “UXO”, which referred to ‘unexploded ordnance’. Needless to say, redevelopment opportunities were not possible given the numerous safety and environmental constraints. Our last redevelopment concept included the Jack Kevorkian Nature Trail. The nation was closing bases at a record pace during this period and a cottage planning industry started emerging to help repurpose these former military facilities. I stayed at Madison for another 2 years, serving as economic development director.
In my mid-thirties, I began to take stock of my career. Friends were buying boats and motorcycles; I decided to attend graduate school and pursue an MPA. I headed back to Bloomington, this time with my wife Karen and three year old son Zachary. I had a great time there and, having considerable work experience under my belt by this time, made grad school more relevant.
I figured upon leaving grad school that I’d find a nice career position with a federal agency or the like. Instead, I heard of another Indiana military base redevelopment project near Charlestown, Indiana: the former Indiana Army Ammunition Plant. Somehow, I knew I had to be involved with this project. Having unique planning experiences from my previous assignment in Madison, I wanted another chance. I convinced Clark County to bring me on board as a consultant, which led to a full time assignment as the director of their redevelopment commission. With lots of heavy lifting and special federal legislation, we convinced the Army to transfer the base to the community for economic development. Today this property is known as the River Ridge Commerce Center, one of the premiere industrial parks in the Midwest. As it goes in the public sector, following an election season, I was uncertain about my future in this role and began looking for another planning assignment.
Next stop was to the City of Urbana, Illinois where I leveraged my earlier grant administration skills. I managed the City’s CDBG and HOME funding from HUD. I learned a great deal about housing, homelessness and social services. Mostly, I learned that “the struggle is real” for many good people.
Five years later, I was back in Jasper and heading up Dubois County’s new economic development organization. It’s hard to be a prophet in your hometown. After five years here, I took a similar assignment in Henry County, Indiana. I drove to Henry County early every Monday morning and returned to Jasper every Friday evening. Certainly a challenge to work away from home a week at a time, but “you don’t know what you can do until you have to do it.” With a son in high school who was doing exceptionally well academically, I didn’t want to put him in a different school (it paid off; he received a full ride academic scholarship at the University of Pittsburgh).
Things were going well in Henry County when I got a call from a consulting firm in Evansville, Indiana. They needed an experienced planner to help with a large regional planning assignment. Taking the job allowed me go home to my family every night. Nice! I am thoroughly enjoying consulting work with the Lochmueller Group.
I still enjoy the challenge of helping position communities to anticipate and shape their future. I also have found myself very comfortable with, and enjoy the company of, others that are engaged in the planning profession. Lots to be said for that!
As Hyman Roth tells Michael Corleone in the movie The Godfather II, “This Is The Business We’ve Chosen!”
*** Thank you very much to Bob for sharing his story and submitting the material that was used in this blog post.