A westbound South Shore Line train arrives at the East Chicago train station

A westbound South Shore Line train arrives at the East Chicago train station. Recently released data indicates 35,752 Lake County residents go to neighboring Illinois for work. Better pay is a major draw.

Kale Wilk The Times

Anyone still questioning the importance of building a new Region economy based on business commuters need only look at recently released Indiana tax data.

The important numbers can be found in an article from Times business reporter Joseph Pete that published Sunday.

More than 12 percent of Lake County residents commute to Illinois for work, mostly to Chicago, driven by higher wages in the city but lower costs of living in Northwest Indiana, new data from Stats Indiana show.

Who can blame them?

The average wage in the Chicago metropolitan area was $26.12 per hour, more than $6 higher than the Gary metro area's average hourly wage, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The numbers further bolster the importance of expanding on one of the Region's greatest assets: its bedroom community status.

It's why so much figurative blood, sweat and tears have gone into our Region's push for expanded commuter rail between Hammond and Dyer and commute-speeding double-tracking between Gary and Michigan City.

It's why Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, Hoosier U.S. Sens. Todd Young and Joe Donnelly, the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority and nearly all Lake County municipalities have backed the concept in both words and dollars pledged or sought.

It's clearly why in the most recent legislative session, a new state law easily passed the General Assembly to allow for innovative financing of development near rail stations and along the South Shore Line train route.

Too often, we hear of desires to attract or build things in Northwest Indiana that don't yet exist, ignoring the sound foundations already here that are begging for enhancement or expansion.

Business commuters are a big part of our Region economy. By offering better and expanded rail service, our population, tax base and businesses can only rise from this firm foundation.

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Members of The Times Editorial Board are Publisher Christopher T. White, Editorial Page Editor Marc Chase, Editor Bob Heisse, Politics/History Editor Doug Ross and Managing Editor Erin Orr.