Economic development leaders working hard

2014-03-16T00:00:00Z 2014-03-16T01:04:15Z Economic development leaders working hardBy Bob Kasarda, (219) 548-4345

Despite a stagnant national economy, local economic development officials said the region has had several good years and continues to move forward.

But these local gains have not come without an effort.

"We're not sitting back waiting for the phone to ring," said Donald Koliboski, director of economic development at the Northwest Indiana Forum.

The forum is a private, nonprofit organization focused on economic development and in giving a voice to business leaders in a seven-county area that includes Porter, Lake and LaPorte counties.

Karen Lauerman, Forum marketing and communications director, said the organization took part in more than 20 trade shows and conferences last year, and it hosted nine events in the Chicago area.

The group also answered more than 2,000 requests for information and had 175 inquiries about specific sites around the region.

"So we're really getting word out about the diversity of our economy," she said.

Examples of growth around the region last year include Tec Air closing on a $12 million deal in Munster that will result in 258 new jobs, Koliboski said.

Pratt Industries consolidated its operations in Valparaiso, which will bring 137 new jobs, he said.

Another big win for the area was the retention of Urschel Laboratories Inc., which will be relocating from Valparaiso to Chesterton rather than leaving the area, Koliboski said.

Urschel was to begin construction on the $104 million, 350,000-square-foot corporate headquarters and manufacturing plant east of Ind. 49 and north of the Indiana Toll Road. The company's more than 300 employees are expected to start at the new site in the spring of 2015.

The 2012 opening of the Porter Regional Hospital at Ind. 49 and U.S.6 continues to fuel growth of health care-related businesses in the Chesterton area.

"We're staying above water," Koliboski said.

Lauerman said manufacturing firms topped the list of those inquiring about specific sites last year. This was followed by transportation and distribution, food and agriculture, life sciences and health care, energy, and information technologies.

Various government officials are also working to bring new businesses and jobs to the region.

Porter County officials formed a jobs creation committee in 2011, which produced a 10-page report.

At the heart of that document is the $159 million in proceeds from the 2007 sale of the county hospital. The report calls on county officials to consider investing part of the hospital sale proceeds in "two to three large, extraordinary major capital projects, public or private, to provide game-changing impacts to the county."

The committee also suggests the county treasurer lend up to half of the hospital sale proceeds to towns, cities and school corporations "to provide low-interest financing for capital improvement projects" and/or contribute some of the funding toward a pool of money for mortgages to attract employees of relocating businesses.

The region faces some obstacles in efforts to attract growth, Koliboski said. These include a lack of land and buildings in urban corridors.

Alternatives are available in south Lake County, and in Newton and Porter counties.

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