HOBART | Becknell Industrial is constructing a 160,000-square-foot industrial shell building at NorthWind Crossings that could hold the key to Northwest Indiana's economic future.

The building is the first in the region of its size to be built on speculation, that is with no immediate tenant lined up, since the Great Recession squashed the construction of such facilities seven years ago.

At a ceremonial groundbreaking Wednesday, Becknell Industrial COO Mark Shapland said the NorthWind Crossings business park currently lacks any vacant space above 30,000 square feet but gets plenty of inquiries from companies looking for buildings of 100,000 square feet or more.

"And in a market like this, they need space right away," Shapland said as huge earth movers scraped and piled dirt behind him. "Speed to market is very critical today."

Buildings built on speculation go one step beyond making a piece of land simply "shovel ready" for industry. Instead, with a so-called "spec" building, a site becomes "move-in-ready" with a new tenant able to start operations almost immediately.

Local developers say more such buildings will have to be constructed here before Northwest Indiana can compete with areas that are booming, such as southeast Wisconsin.

NorthWind Crossings has 700,000 square feet of existing industrial space already, with most of it filled by industrial operations, distribution facilities and a call center. The park is located on 200 acres immediately off Interstate 65 at the 61st Avenue exit in Hobart.

Lyons, Ill.-based Becknell Industrial has a total of 122 properties totaling more than 12 million square feet in 31 states.

Shapland said his company's long standing relationship with UBS Realty makes the financing of buildings on speculation possible when many other development firms are still finding that difficult.

City of Hobart officials at Wednesday's groundbreaking said their partnership with Becknell Industrial at NorthWind Crossings has brought jobs and income to the city.

"Every time Becknell comes in with a plan we sit down and we discuss it with them and they have been nothing but good neighbors," City Council President Jerry Herzog said.