The 2013 Indiana General Assembly has convened, and the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority is talking with legislators about extending the state’s portion of its funding beyond 2015, when it is now scheduled to end. And in those conversations, the RDA is demonstrating that the region and the state can, in fact, cooperate to do great things.
The RDA’s Board of Directors has guided the organization’s more than $200 million in investments since 2006. On the RDA’s watch, long-dormant projects like the expansion of the Gary/Chicago International Airport and the Marquette Plan for the Lake Michigan shoreline championed by U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., have come to life.
Communities throughout the region – Gary, East Chicago, Hammond, Merrillville, Porter, Portage and Valparaiso – have benefited from RDA investments. Individually, few if any of these locales could have afforded these initiatives. But combined, the $200 million in local and state funding from the RDA has attracted an additional $500 million in local, federal and private dollars, and spurred more than $1.1 billion in total economic activity. Very solid investments yielding significant dividends for the state and Northwest Indiana.
Indiana’s contribution to the RDA, $10 million annually, is scheduled to end in 2015. While the RDA will continue to operate with $17.5 million in annual local funding beyond 2015, the loss of more than a third of its budget would obviously have a major impact on what could be accomplished.
And there is still a great deal more to do. The RDA, Gary and the Federal Aviation Administration partnered along with many others to shepherd the railway relocation and runway expansion at the Gary Chicago International Airport toward its December 2013 completion. But the runway expansion is only a first step in making the facility a driver of jobs and economic development in Northwest Indiana.
Beyond building business at the airport itself, land use planning, highway and mass transit access and brownfield reclamation are just some of the issues that need tackling.
Likewise, a robust regional transportation system is vital to our future. We boast of Indiana’s tax advantages over neighboring Illinois in urging people and businesses to relocate here. But if your job is in Chicago, Northwest Indiana’s commuter transportation options lag far behind what’s available in the Chicago suburbs. It is essential that our rail and bus services align so Northwest Indiana residents can benefit from a true, regional transportation system.
All of these challenges are among those the RDA intends to address as it moves forward.
Renewal of the state’s support for the RDA would benefit both Indiana and the region, and continue what has been a successful partnership between Northwest Indiana and Indianapolis. This partnership is an example of the region and Indy actually accomplishing things by working together; a partnership we should continue to build upon.