VALPARAISO | Porter County is moving forward with an economic development department that will help attract new businesses, encourage expansion of existing firms and improve job opportunities for residents.
The department, and its executive director, were recommended in a report by a “jobs cabinet,” a group of volunteer business and community leaders headed by Bill Hanna, president and CEO of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority.
Hanna said the department would not grow county government, but rather help to eliminate redundancy of services and lack of communication between departments by creating a centralized office. The department and executive director would be funded through the county economic development income tax, he said.
Hanna presented details of the jobs cabinet report Tuesday to the Porter County Board of Commissioners, who had requested the study. It incorporates feedback from more than 120 business and civic leaders in the county, Hanna said.
The report focuses on four major areas: health care, industrial, information technology and tourism. It identifies several opportunities for development, including infrastructure, land planning and acquisition, the Porter County airport and transportation.
The goal is to build partnerships between local government and private businesses to make the county the “leading location for job opportunities in Indiana and the Chicago marketplace,” Hanna said.
While the county is primed to attract growth because of its good schools, quality of life, and proximity to Chicago, officials need to act so “we can determine our own destiny,” Hanna said.
Hanna said Porter County is blessed with healthy fund balances and unallocated economic development income tax revenues that can be used for infrastructure and development.
“You have an opportunity most communities don't have,” he said. “You're in the cat-bird seat in a sense.”
The report calls for the county to invest part of the principal from the sale of the hospital into two or three large capital projects. The county also should lend up to half of the principal to towns, cities and schools for capital improvements.
The report also says the county should work with local banks to provide mortgages for employees of relocating businesses, establish a matching fund program for nonprofit projects such as parks and museums, and set a policy that a majority of its CEDIT funds and Riverboat Revenue Sharing funds will be used for job creation and economic development.
Commissioner John Evans said the county will get moving on implementing the recommendations in the report.
“I give you my word, it's not going to sit on the shelf,” he said. “We truly are the crossroads of the country, and if we don't seize this opportunity, what are we going to tell our kids?”