VALPARAISO | In the midst of one of the worst recessions in the nation's history, Valparaiso has managed to grow and thrive. And, now that it appears the recession is easing, the city appears poised for a big upswing.
Rex Richards, Greater Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce president, said that upswing began in October with the announcement by North Coast Distributing that it is expanding in a new facility that will be the start of a shovel-ready development site. It is something the city has been trying to promote for the last couple of years to serve as the location of new businesses coming to town and others looking to expand.
"We have some serious tire kickers looking around," Richards said of other prospects, many looking to escape Illinois' recent tax increase. "The week between Christmas and New Year's, we were really busy dealing with prospects interested in coming to Valparaiso."
The construction of the new Porter hospital is spurring interest in the area from other health care-related businesses, and local companies like UGN, Sensit Technologies and Waste Revelation recently announced plans to expand in the city. The North Coast site and the former Task Force Tips building also are draws.
"When you have existing buildings, it is a real carrot to get people to come look at things," he said. "We are showing people properties and industrial sites. We have the lowest unemployment rate in Northwest Indiana because we have a strong, viable business community."
In his annual state of the city address, Mayor Jon Costas outlined the city's success in obtaining state and federal funds for rebuilding the city's infrastructure and how, despite the recession, the city has a $3.5 million rainy day fund. Ridership on the two city bus lines, the V-Line and the ChicaGo Dash, continues to grow and major redevelopment projects have revitalized several areas of the city.
The coming year will see completion of the new downtown Central Park Plaza and several projects designed to eliminate flooding problems around the city. The state will begin construction of a new interchange at Ind. 49 and Vale Park Road and the city will build a roundabout at Vale Park and Silhavy Road. The city also will continue to extend its system of pathways.
The city has continued to make improvements and add services without raising taxes or hiring more people. It's all part of the reason someone like lawyer Jim Jorgensen has lived in the city since graduating from Valparaiso University law school 37 years ago.
"Our two greatest strengths are the willingness of everyone to be engaged and care about the community," Jorgensen said. "There is a tremendous spirit of volunteerism and care and concern."
He credited the administration with being proactive in attracting and retaining businesses and working to maintain the city's infrastructure.
"One option is always to do nothing, and the city has seldom chosen that option," Jorgensen said. "There's an energy and an excitement and a sense of people working together that makes it a great place to live."