Indiana bearing down on efforts to lure Illinois businesses

2013-08-24T07:00:00Z 2013-08-26T15:05:05Z Indiana bearing down on efforts to lure Illinois businessesJoseph S. Pete, (219) 933-3316

Indiana's campaign to intercept businesses that are fed up with Illinois's high taxes and massive pension woes has found its way into Soldier Field.

This season, Bears fans who leaf through the team's 2013-14 yearbook will see an ad that touts Indiana as a state that works.

The ad appears next to a photo of free safety Chris Conte, who is depicted as having Godzilla-like proportions against a backdrop of skyscrapers along the Chicago River. "Tired of always picking up the tab?" it asks, while directing football fans to a website that outlines why Indiana is an attractive place to do business.

Bears season ticket holders and all those on the waiting list get the complementary yearbooks with the ad that is part of an ongoing blitz targeted at luring Illinois companies across the state line. Northwest Indiana economic development officials have been pursuing that campaign for the last seven years, stressing the low taxes and friendly business climate just across the state border.

In 2011, the Indiana Economic Development Corp., the state's Department of Commerce, launched its "Illinoyed" campaign after the Illinois General Assembly approved a 66 percent personal income tax hike and raised the corporate income tax rate by nearly 50 percent.

Since then, at least 31 Illinois-based businesses have moved all or part of their operations to the Hoosier state, said Indiana Economic Development Corp. spokeswoman Katelyn Hancock. Collectively, those companies have announced they would invest $362.9 million and bring 2,700 new jobs to Indiana.

Lunchmeat giant Land O'Frost will move its corporate headquarters from Lansing over to Munster after completing work on a new $6.4 million building next year. Modern Forge is relocating a manufacturing plant from Blue Island to Merrillville, where it plans to add up to 240 jobs.

In its latest bid to attract companies, the IEDC has launched a new State That Works marketing campaign that bills Indiana as a center of innovation and a good place to do business. The state agency is spending about $87,000 a month on ads targeting business leaders in high-tax states such as Illinois, New York and California.

An ad in the Bears yearbook fits well with the overall campaign because the keepsake item is given to season ticket holders and is placed in suites, reaching the primary target audience of business executives, Hancock said. The ad cost $14,000.

The goal of all the ongoing efforts is to convey that Indiana has many businesses advantages, such as lower individual income taxes, sales taxes and unemployment insurance taxes, said Don Koliboski, director of economic development at the Northwest Indiana Forum. Indiana, for instance, has a 7.5 percent corporate income tax rate that it plans to lower to 6.5 percent by 2015, while Illinois has a 9.5 percent corporate income tax.

Northwest Indiana is particularly in a good position to capitalize off of the state's lower cost of doing business, since it's such a short drive from Chicago, said Karen Lauerman, the director of marketing and communications for the Northwest Indiana Forum.

Leaders of the Portage-based regional economic development corp. also have been able to take advantage of that proximity by going into the city and meeting with national site selection consultants, major brokers and industrial developers. Chicago is a major hub for the professionals who help businesses find places to locate new factories, warehouses and offices.

Northwest Indiana Forum officials have reached out to those professionals and touted the region's competitive business advantages at various trade shows and at site selection conferences, Lauerman said.

The efforts have been paying off, especially as Illinois's fiscal problems mount, Koliboski said.

Inquiries from Illinois businesses have shot up this year, largely because of the state's $100 billion unfunded pension liability, he said.

"The phone has been ringing off the hook over the last two months, after the Illinois legislature closed without addressing the pension costs," he said. "Business owners are getting fed up with that inaction."

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