Northwest Indiana industries continue to show strength and resilience, regardless of the challenges we face as individual companies or as one industrial region. Significant investments in current operations, expanded facilities and new incoming business announcements gave 2012 some of its greatest moments.

U.S. Steel Corp., ArcelorMittal, NIPSCO and BP along with many other industries continued work on their large-scale projects and expansions — investment in Northwest Indiana of more than $6 billion. This type of financial commitment expresses faith in a strong regional economy and provides high quality good paying jobs for residents. Industrial investment also provides jobs in other sectors, too, such as construction and an increased tax base for local communities.

Northwest Indiana’s environment benefits, too. These projects include significant financial resources dedicated to technically sound processes to continue our commitment to preserve and protect the environment. Industry’s focus on environmental stewardship continues to produce results.

“Indiana’s air is cleaner than it’s ever been in modern times,” then-Gov. Mitch Daniels said on July 19.

“Our air is healthy. Hoosiers can be proud that Indiana has made great progress toward cleaner air and achieved the fine particle and ozone standards in all regions of our state,” said Tom Easterly, Indiana Department of Environmental Management commissioner, on April 18.

Projects such as the Gary/Chicago International Airport, the Gibson and Kirk rail yards in Hammond and Gary respectively, Inland Logistics Park in Kingsbury (LaPorte County), along with the opening of the new Porter Regional Hospital, the new Indiana Beverage facility in Valparaiso and the announcement of the new speculative building at the Northwind Crossings Industrial Park in Hobart are just a sampling of economic achievements to be proud of last year. They alone provide an investment level of more than $100 million.

As incoming chairperson of the Northwest Indiana Forum, the regional voice for the business community and economic development, I am pleased to report a 35 percent increase over other years in leads and prospects in 2012.

Northwest Indiana is on the radar of many companies as a great place to do business. Working collaboratively through the Forum, economic development organizations from seven counties, including the newly formed Gary Economic Development Corp., banded together to effectively market as one unified region. These outstanding efforts created numerous opportunities for communities to sell themselves to further attract investment and jobs.

Advanced manufacturing, transportation-distribution-logistics, information technology/data centers, and food processing lead the industry clusters attracted to Northwest Indiana. Interest from these industry clusters is not surprising, given our rich industrial history, proximity to Chicago, lower cost of doing business and skilled, available workforce.

I would be remiss not to include the significant improvements by our state elected officials and policy makers in taxes, permitting and economic development.

This year looks even brighter. Industry is a driving force behind smart growth, innovation and a diversified economy in Northwest Indiana.

Indiana’s truly business-friendly climate and the regional efforts to market Northwest Indiana collectively as a great place to do business, can only lead to additional retention and expansion of existing businesses and greater attraction of new operations.

Industrial investment creates jobs and opportunity. By working as one region on these efforts, we will continue to move forward. Sure, there will be uncertainties and challenges, and we will face them together. The business and industry partnerships are in place for yet another productive year for Northwest Indiana.

Thank you to Karen Lauerman and Don Koliboski of the Northwest Indiana Forum for their assistance and contributions to this column.

Jill Ritchie is director of public affairs and government relations for U.S. Steel Corp. The opinion is the writer's.

Politics/History Editor Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.