Porter County's assets promote economic development

2013-03-03T00:00:00Z 2013-03-03T11:30:04Z Porter County's assets promote economic developmentBy Rex Richards nwitimes.com
March 03, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The future of Porter County, from an economic development perspective, continues to be strong and robust. My vision for the future of Porter County is based on several factors that have carried our economy through the last three years with a great deal of stability while the rest of the country remained sluggish.

The best way to see why I am so positive about Porter County is to look at factors that contribute to its vitality and strength.

Porter County has the fourth highest per capita income in Indiana. The relative high wages earned by residents help drive retail sales and keep many retailers afloat where in other parts of the region, retail sales slumped substantially.

During the current recession, Porter County’s largest single employer, Arcelor-Mittal, has continued to produce and kept its employment levels stable.

A good number of Porter County residents work in adjoining counties and across the border in Illinois, so no overriding number of residents are employed in any one single industry or company; therefore, the diversification of our employment works to our advantage. As the population continues to grow in Porter County, I see this diversification continuing based on the employment locations of new residents.

The most recent population figures show that the three largest communities in Porter County — Portage, Valparaiso, and Chesterton — have grown over the last 10 years. Other counties in this region have shown a population loss.

Our growth in population has been driven by two main factors:

  • Porter County public schools have high graduation rates and are perceived to be excellent schools. Excellent schools attract families who desire to live where their children can get an outstanding education.
  • The relatively good property tax climate has been maintained by elected officials consistently over time, providing basic government services at a reasonable price. Our elected officials think long and hard before they spend the taxpayers' money in all units of government throughout Porter County. This has proven to be beneficial in providing an attractive and affordable tax climate, which encourages investment by both families and companies who desire to expand.

Quality health care, as well as health care jobs, will be a big contributor to our economic engine in the future. We saw this last year with the opening of the new Porter Regional Hospital at Ind. 49 and U.S. 6. St. Mary Medical Center, based in Hobart, opened a new health care clinic along Ind. 49 at Burlington Beach Road. Other health care-related firms are targeting Porter County for future operations.

Advanced manufacturing jobs will continue to find our area attractive. The recent change in steel technology has permitted the steel mills to produce more tonnage of product with fewer employees. This has changed the type of vendors who supply the mills with value-added services in advanced manufacturing. These jobs are more technical and pay a much higher wage.

Porter County has succeeded in attracting the higher wage earners for advance technology firms to live here. Porter County’s central location within the region with its outstanding school systems and its attractive tax climate again attracts those higher-income families.

Porter County is unique to have a stellar postsecondary education presence that will only grow over time, adding to the economic engine.

Valparaiso University continues to gain national recognition as an outstanding university. Having such an array of excellence, with its schools of business, engineering, nursing, divinity, law and the arts, the university provides a resource most cities and counties only dream about.

We are also fortunate to have the Ivy Tech Community College campus in Eastport Centre, and Purdue University North Central, with its MBA program  in Porter County.

Last, but not least, is our location on the southern shore of Lake Michigan. The Indiana Dunes State Park and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore both provide the county with outstanding recreational offerings few areas have and bring millions of visitors annually.

As you can see, my vision for Porter County is all about the reality of what we already have.

Rex Richards is president of the Greater Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce and of the Valparaiso Economic Development Corp.

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