The two largest chambers of commerce in Lake County are banding together to become the "lead responder" for retaining and attracting companies to Hammond, East Chicago, Merrillville and Crown Point.
The Lakeshore and Crossroads chambers announced Thursday night they have formed the Lake County IN Economic Alliance. It will be the primary contact for economic development, working with local economic developers in the four communities.
"It's not new what we are doing," said Lakeshore Chamber Executive Director Dave Ryan. "But it is new that the two of us are doing it together."
The new nonprofit economic development group will be led by veteran region banker Joel Gorelick, who recently retired as president of Munster-based Peoples Bank. Gorelick said the formation of the Lake County IN Economic Development Alliance is another step in the area's move toward greater regional cooperation.
"The measure of success is who will we get involved; will we garner the respect of the municipalities and the leaders there?" Gorelick asked.
The organization's first project will be to survey business owners and managers about their future plans as well as what problems they may be encountering now, said Crossroads Chamber President Sue Reed.
East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland said he was briefed on the new organization earlier this week and sees it as one more step toward regional cooperation.
"With more eyes on economic development, we will be able to put together a regional plan that can help us compete against adjoining states," he said.
Crown Point Mayor David Uran said he looks forward to the new organization working with his community and the others to spur growth.
"Sometimes you have to take your blinders off and not just look at your own city," Uran said. "Any growth in the region is always good for everyone."
Northwest Indiana Forum CEO Mark Maassel and NIPSCO Economic Development Director Don Babcock joined the two chamber heads Thursday afternoon to brief The Times Editorial Board members on the new organization. The formation of the new group was publicly announced Thursday night at the annual meeting of the Northwest Indiana Forum.
Each chamber is putting up $10,000 to get the organization formed and under way, with NIPSCO announcing at the Forum meeting that it will kick in $20,000 more. Altogether, the two chambers represent a combined 1,200 businesses.
The Lake County IN Economic Alliance definitely wants to expand its reach and will be working to that end, Reed said.
"We invite all Lake County chambers and communities to join us," she said.
Municipalities will be a key to the group's success because by law they have final say over many of the incentives needed to retain and attract companies, Babcock said.
Gorelick, Ryan and Reed emphasized the new group is not there to "take over" local economic development organizations. But they do want to be the first to talk to companies looking to expand here or move to the region.
"None of the local communities will have to give up any of their decision-making authority," Maassel said.
Maassel confirmed the Lake County IN Economic Development Alliance will be the lead contact in its four communities when it comes to companies looking to expand or locate there. His organization, composed of the region's leading businesses, will continue to take the lead in other parts of the county.