Local development exceeds pre-recession levels

2013-02-24T00:00:00Z 2014-02-16T12:42:11Z Local development exceeds pre-recession levelsBy Don Babcock nwitimes.com
February 24, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The unifying forces of the Northwest Indiana Forum, the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, the One Region initiative, the Indiana Economic Development Corp. regional office, the Center for Workforce Innovation and many others are having a very positive effect on the region. More and more people believe we can create a better future by working together.

We have long had some of the best assets in the world. People are beginning to realize the competitive advantage that this region has to offer to business. It’s hard to beat immediate access to Lake Michigan, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Chicago. And it’s hard to beat our universities, colleges and trade schools that sharpen the skills of our young people and those already in our workforce so our businesses can compete in the global marketplace.

I often challenge people, “Show me a region where there is a greater confluence of rail, road, air, port, power, water, oil, fiber and natural gas infrastructure. Show me a region that produces more steel, refines better fuels, delivers better goods, and builds better buildings. Show me a region with all of these outstanding attributes that has struck a balance with the environment, where our air, our water, and our soils are cleaner than they have been for generations.”

While it is true that our steel industry no longer employs more than 70,000, we’re fortunate that steel still employs more than 18,000 with a $1.8 billion annual payroll.

We’re fortunate that U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal continue to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in Northwest Indiana. We’re fortunate that BP is investing more than $4.5 billion in their state of the art refinery. We’re fortunate that the RDA has judiciously invested millions in the Gary/Chicago International Airport, the Marquette Plan for greater access to Lake Michigan, the South Shore commuter rail and other impactful projects.

These major investments are impressive, but we must do more. We need to continue to build an environment in every single community that invites investment. We need to work more closely with businesses to help them create a competitive advantage and that in turn will create job opportunities for region residents. No single entity can do all these things alone.

The Forum, the Indiana Economic Development Corp., NIPSCO and many others are working with our communities to more effectively market Northwest Indiana and to support the development of high quality business parks like NorthWind Crossings, Ameriplex at the Port, Ameriplex at the Crossroads, the Munster Lake Business Center, the Port of Indiana and several others.

Those efforts are paying off with recent announcements by Ratner Steel, North Coast Distributing, Huhtamaki, Paul Wurth, Land O’ Frost, Dawn Foods, Horizon Financial Management, Strack & Van Til, Potash, ITR America, Merit Steel and Urschel Labs. And there are many more in the works.

This year is looking to be a great year. New leadership at the Statehouse promises continued focus on creating the best sandbox for business to thrive but with a greater emphasis on building our state’s human capital.

At the local level, the newly formed Lake County IN Economic Alliance promises to strengthen the economic development efforts of Crown Point, Merrillville, Hammond and East Chicago. The Gary Economic Development Corp. is gaining traction, and the Duneland, Valparaiso and Portage economic development corporations are working more closely than ever before through the Porter County ED Alliance.

For more on Porter County initiatives, look for next week's NWI Now section.

More unity. More selfless leadership. And a greater understanding of our shared opportunity is a recipe for a tremendous 2013.

Don Babcock is NIPSCO's director of economic development. The opinions are the writer's.

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