The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority on Tuesday voted 6-0 to grant a total of $6 million to fund projects for two companies planning to bring almost 500 jobs to Northwest Indiana.
It was the first time in its six-year history that the RDA has acted under a mandate contained in its enabling legislation to back economic development projects involving private companies in the region.
"We wanted to see if this would help generate results, so 500 jobs in just 60 days, that's results," said RDA Executive Director Bill Hanna.
Modern Forge, of Blue Island, Ill., is getting $2 million from the RDA to move to Merrillville and Canadian National Railway is getting $4 million to move a locomotive repair facility from Markham, Ill., to Gary's Kirk Yard. Those incentives are in addition to millions of dollars in local tax abatements granted to the two companies as well almost $5 million in payroll tax credits granted by the state.
The Canadian National move was announced at the beginning of August and the Modern Forge move just three weeks later. Hanna said the Indiana Economic Development Corp. came to the RDA earlier this year within a two-month period with both requests.
Canadian National plans to invest $163 million in its project at Kirk Yard and Modern Forge $17 million in its relocation, according to letters from the Indiana Economic Development Corp. requesting the RDA's support.
Hanna said the RDA's $4 million for Canadian National will be granted to the city of Gary and the $2 million for Modern Forge to Merrillville. Those municipalities will then enter into contracts with each company for the actual spending of the money. He said the money is essentially "gap funding" that was necessary to lure the companies over the border from Illinois.
It looks like Canadian National will use its money for building a water filtration facility at Kirk Yard, Hanna said. Modern Forge will use its $2 million for property purchases, according to the Indiana Economic Development Corp.'s request letter to the RDA.
Since it was formed in 2005, most of the more than $200 million the RDA has committed to projects has gone for mass transit improvements and lakeshore development.
Ministers with the Northwest Indiana Federation of Interfaith Organizations showed up in force at Tuesday's meeting. The organization is pushing for the RDA to back a community benefits agreement that would reserve 30 percent of jobs on RDA funded projects for people from the region's most distressed communities.
Federation President Rev. Cheryl Rivera pointed out both Canadian National and Modern Forge will fill many of the jobs in Indiana with current employees. She said that illustrates why the community benefits agreement is needed.
Rev. Asher Harris of the Federation praised the work the RDA is doing, but said it may all go for naught without a community benefits agreement.
"We need one blanket jobs agreement for all our communities," Asher said. "It's time for the poorest of the poor to get their fair share."