The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority Board on Tuesday approved working with the state to land a new employer for the region that could create more than 250 new jobs.
“I can say from what I understand this could be the largest economic development project we have ever been involved with in terms of both total investment and the number of jobs,” RDA CEO Bill Hanna said at Tuesday's meeting of his agency's board at the Purdue Technology Center in Merrillville.
The company now being enticed to move to Northwest Indiana already has a facility in the state and is looking to put its newest operation in Porter County, Hanna said. But it is also considering other states in the Midwest.
The largest economic development deal the RDA has been involved in so far with its "deal-closing" fund was the one that brought expanded Canadian Railway operations to Gary's Kirk Yard. At the time the deal was struck, the railroad said a total of $165 million would be invested at Kirk Yard and 251 jobs would be created.
Though the number of jobs created at Kirk Yard was later cut back, Hanna said it was the initial numbers in the Canadian National deal he was referring to on Tuesday. The RDA put $4 million from its deal-closing fund into that project.
On Tuesday, the RDA board in a 6-0 vote authorized negotiating with the Indiana Economic Development Corp., the state's commerce agency, to come up with how much money the authority would grant the project from its $6 million “deal-closing” fund.
Hanna said the RDA has been briefed on the company but cannot publicly reveal its name until negotiations on his agency's role in the deal are completed. He said that could take place by the RDA's next meeting in June.
“It's in the stage where we are getting down to brass tacks,” he said.
The RDA on Tuesday also approved $525,000 in challenge grants to four projects, including $200,000 to help demolish the derelict Sheraton Hotel in Gary.
“This $200,000 is critical to this project,” Hanna said of the Sheraton grant. “It gives the match required to get the demolition done.”
The $200,000 RDA grant will be matched by $1 million in federal funds for the demolition.
Another challenge grant of the same size will go to Valparaiso to construct a sewer lift station along U.S. 30 at Horse Prairie to relieve longtime problems there and open the area for economic development, Hanna said.
The locality will spend another $90,000 on the project.
A third challenge grant of $50,000 will go the production of a documentary about lakeshore development and the balance being struck between industry and protecting the environment, Hanna said.
That RDA spending will be matched by $200,000 in state and federal funds.
The fourth grant approved was for a shuttle bus system to connect the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore with the South Shore commuter railroad.
The RDA's $75,000 will go toward the purchase of a bus that uses alternative fuel. About $200,000 in federal funds will be spent on the project. In all, four buses will be bought.
Also on Tuesday, governor's appointee Donald Fesko, CEO of The Community Hospital, was elected RDA chairman.
Appointed to the board just last month by Gov. Mike Pence, Fesko became the first RDA chairman to be elected to the position by the board itself.
Previously, under the RDA's enabling legislation, the governor's appointee was automatically the board's chairman. But that provision of the legislation sun-setted and now the board elects its own chairman.
The RDA also recognized outgoing Chairman Leigh Morris and two other members stepping down. Those two members were Lou Martinez, who has been on the RDA since its founding, and Pete Novak, the Hammond appointee.
Morris said he had been honored to serve as RDA chairman and had some advice for the board.
“I always want you to remember this RDA was created to be transformative for Northwest Indiana,” he said on receiving a commendation for his work.
Martinez, the Lake county appointee, has been replaced by Crown Point resident and union leader Randy Palmateer. Novak has been replaced by Tom Dabertin, who was previously Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr.'s chief of staff.