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The Northwest Indiana Forum is launching a new marketing campaign touting the Region with the slogan "Welcome to the middle of everywhere" and is launching a sweeping five-year economic development plan for the seven-county Region.

Forum officials announced they had raised more than $200,000 to pay Seattle-based consultant TIP Strategies to put together an expansive plan that would collect input from economic development agencies, local governments, big businesses and residents, and then outline action items that can be taken.

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. is chipping in $50,000 toward the strategic plan.

"Gov. Eric Holcomb cares very deeply about Northwest Indiana and my boss Jim Schellinger was excited about this strategic economic development plan for the entire seven-county region," IEDC Northwest Region Director Matt Saltanovitz said at the Forum's 2017 Year in Review meeting at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond. "We're in a unique place to drive economic development next to the third largest economy in the country, on the right side of the state line."

At the annual gala, NWI Forum officials touted their accomplishments last year, including luring 17 companies that pledged to create 1,493 jobs and invest $661 million in Northwest Indiana. They lined up 16 new investors, promoted the Region at 17 conferences across the country and hosted 19 events, including site selector networking at a Bulls game and the grand opening of the new stevedore Metro Ports at the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor.

"Nineteen networking events is a lot of food and drink," Northwest Indiana Forum President and Chief Executive Officer Heather Ennis said. "But it also led to a lot of good business. We got positive action on every item on our legislative agenda: state support for commuter rail expansion, the creation transit-oriented development districts, protection of economic development incentives, expansion of workforce initiatives, and continued support for infrastructure plan for higher education. Together we saw the largest, most long-range transportation infrastructure plan in our state's history. Together, we kept an eye on all things Asian carp and ensured a business voice was heard on no physical separation with the Chicago waterway system."

Now the NWI Forum will embark on a massive regional economic development plan that will result in tangible actions.

"We need the best plan that we can get, a shared set of goals for multiple organizations," NIPSCO Director of Economic Development Don Babcock said. "We need bigger and bolder plans for a better future. We need to stand up to do something for tomorrow."

Ennis said the plan would be "an action-oriented pragmatic playbook" that would set out quantifiable goals on issues like land use, marketing and infrastructure. She said the study would focus on how to best drive the economy and create wealth across the Region, and that there likely would be quarterly reviews to ensure progress was being made.

"There's reason for optimism," she said. "This is a big promise to Northwest Indiana."

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.