20 Under 40

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Twenty young professionals from around the Region will be honored during The Times Media Co.’s annual “20 Under 40” awards banquet at the Blue Chip Casino, Hotel and Spa, in Michigan City, beginning at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.

The honorees, all under the age of 40, are leaders in business, education, government and social services around Northwest Indiana. The annual recognition program, sponsored by The Times Media Co. and IN Business magazine, is one of the Region's signature business events.

Sunday is the deadline for ordering tickets online at nwi.com/20under40.

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This year’s 20 honorees were culled from nominations received during the summer and were announced in the September issue of IN Business magazine. Visit nwi.com to read the complete profile of each honoree. This year's class includes: 

Cory Armand has built a successful career at a global company while maintaining a local focus on his native Northwest Indiana. Armand helps manage the information system that keeps the Hammond plant of the multinational firm Cargill running smoothly.  

Amy Blaker is literally running around the Region. The Hobart resident is a constituent case worker for U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville.

Giles Bruce is on a mission to improve the health of Northwest Indiana residents. For the past three years, The Times Media Co. health reporter has shined a bright light on the Region's critical health challenges, such as infant mortality and opioid addiction, promoted a physically active lifestyle and analyzed the business of health care and its impact on health outcomes.

Making things grow is one of the things Rich Christakes loves to do. He is CEO of Alsip Home and Nursery. He and his brother Dave took over the company in 2012, buying out their father Bill, who had owned the business since 1969. 

Growing up in the Region, Maura Durham said she always knew she was going to stay home. After earning her bachelor of arts degree from Ball State University, she returned and today serves as president of the Duneland Chamber of Commerce. 

"A quickly moving, ever-changing target" is how Alfredo Estrada describes the current state of affairs of immigration policy. He's an associate attorney at Burke Costanza & Carberry LLP.

Claudia Garcia had assumed drug addicts were just bad people with weak will power. That was until her then-boyfriend, and now husband, Rodrigo Garcia, a health-care professional like her, became addicted to Vicodin. This led her to start a drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility called Parkdale Center for Professionals.

Kevin Hand had long dreamed of owning his own business. Hand's dream came true when he opened a Zounds Hearing franchise, in Crown Point, in March 2014. He subsequently opened locations in Valparaiso and Munster in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

Jonathan Hildebrand enjoys helping people, whether they're buying equipment or real estate for their business. As Centier Bank vice president, as well as commercial loans, small business and small business administration department manager, he led Centier to becoming the No. 1 SBA lender in the state of Indiana in 2014 and again in 2016.

When someone asks Leah Konrady to tackle a massive project, she doesn't have to be asked twice. The Michigan City native jumps in feet first, ready for a challenge. Konrady has spent the last 15 months fitting nicely into her new role as president and CEO of One Region, a nonprofit civic organization with a mission of promoting projects and policies that attract and retain talent and increase household income in Lake, LaPorte and Porter counties.

Katie Kirley had lived in five cities and three Midwest states by the time she was 18. Kirley, now 33, is convinced it was that adjustment to multiple people and places that helped her become the person she is today, including her suitability as Steel City Academy executive director and principal.

Being an accountant is more than getting to know the numbers for Brian Laciak. It’s about knowing the people, which is something he learned early from his father, Joseph. Brian now is an accounting manager with Laciak Accountancy Group in Valparaiso and Schererville.

Baseball puts a smile on the face of RailCats' Brian Lyter. The 30-year-old, of Merrillville, became the youngest general manager of Gary's independent baseball team nearly three years ago and is in his fifth season overall with the RailCats.

Ashleigh Marlow, who entered the grocery business by chance, now handles public relations and human resources for Highland-based Strack & Van Til.

Byron Martin said he initially wanted to be a psychologist. After a short time working in the area of housing at his alma mater, Abilene Christian University in his home state of Texas, Martin began working in the area of multicultural programs. That led to an opportunity three years ago at Valparaiso University as director of the Office of Multicultural Programs.

You might say Ibrahim Najamuddin has health care in his blood. His mother was a family doctor, his father a biochemist for a Region hospital. One of his sisters is a clinical psychologist, another a neurologist. Even his wife is a dentist. For the past two years, Najamuddin has been the director of physician practices and recruitment for the Community Care Network, the physician arm of Community Healthcare System. 

Anthony Novak planned to become a professional golfer, receiving a golf scholarship to attend Ball State University after graduating from Michigan City High School in 2007. “When I got to college I realized that there were many golfers who were better than I was,” said the 28-year old attorney, an associate with the law firm of Newby, Lewis, Kaminski & Jones LLP in LaPorte.

Anna Ortega has a desire to work with people. Her business experience as well as her analytical abilities brought her to a position in which she administers a contract governing work conditions for nearly 2,000 employees as manager of labor relations for Northern Indiana Public Service Co. parent NiSource.

Merrillville native Marisa Smoljan said she's always had a flair for numbers. After working in Chicago, Smoljan returned to the Region and today serves as tax department chair and shareholder at McMahon & Associates.  

Beth Szamatowicz says she knew from the day she went to college that she wanted to work with people, and today she has realized that dream, though her path was a bit circuitous. After graduating from college she worked in the for-profit world at a graphic design agency, then as a real estate agent for a few years and then made the transition to nonprofit. She now serves as director of public relations and volunteer services for Campagna Academy.