Faith group wants Gary airport jobs for NWI residents

2013-09-04T12:20:00Z 2013-09-04T16:30:27Z Faith group wants Gary airport jobs for NWI residentsBy Keith Benman, (219) 933-3326
September 04, 2013 12:20 pm  • 

A key member of the committee working on privatizing management and development at Gary/Chicago International Airport will meet next week with a faith-based group that seeks to ensure Northwest Indiana residents are employed there.

Bo Kemp, an adviser to Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, agreed to the meeting after the Northwest Indiana Federation of Organizations/Jobs Coalition showed up to push for a jobs pact at a presentation on the airport put on by the Gary Chamber of Commerce.

"The issue you are talking about is absolutely the most critical issue," Kemp told about half a dozen federation members. "... If you can't translate this into jobs, then we haven't accomplished what we want to accomplish."

Wednesday's update was held at Indiana University Northwest's Bruce Bergland Auditorium. It came a week after the airport authority received 10 proposals from private companies for either managing the airport or developing its real estate or both.

Federation president Dwight Gardner told Kemp the city councils of both East Chicago and Gary have already passed resolutions backing a community benefits agreement that would lead to employment for Northwest Indiana residents at the airport.

Gardner pointed out that two years of negotiations with the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, a key funder of the airport expansion, has so far failed to yield such an agreement.

"Our experience is if it's not addressed when the first shovel of dirt is turned, then it will never be addressed in this project," Gardner said.

The employment of Northwest Indiana and Gary residents is particularly important now that city taxpayers in the Airport Development Zone will be encumbered with paying back a $35 million loan for the airport, Gardner said.

Kemp also used the session to put into focus what the joint city/airport committee working on the privatization expects from bidders.

He said the committee does not expect a big upfront windfall payment from the winning bidder or bidders, as was the case in the Indiana Toll Road lease. Instead, the city and airport hope to share in profits generated by investors in the future, as new ventures move into the airport and surrounding area.

The committee wants investors to outline plans that will bring a minimum of $100 million in investment to the area over the next 20 years to 40 years.

"We are not going to slow down," Kemp said. "For those who feel we are moving too fast, well, too bad."


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