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How’s this for business-friendly? Tom Ustanik’s fuel costs are 40 cents per gallon cheaper, energy costs are 12 percent lower and his taxes per square foot are half of what they are in Illinois. His auto insurance for his fleet would be 18 percent cheaper if he had a policy in Indiana.

“All of these things have an impact on small business,” said Ustanik, owner of Lansing Cleaners, which has seven locations including three in Illinois and four in Indiana.

“We’ve seriously considered moving our entire operation into Indiana. If I was starting up today, I would never come to Illinois or have my plant operation in Illinois. It’s ridiculous.”

In its recently released National Small Business Survey, Thumbtack.com reported how friendly states are to entrepreneurs by going directly to small-business owners who work in service industries.

More than 6,000 businesses participated nationwide with about a dozen in Lake and Porter counties, according to cofounder Sander Daniels. The state received a B+ in overall friendliness and ease for start-ups; A+ to A- in regulations, health and safety, and labor and hiring; and B+ in tax code, licensing, environmental and zoning.

“Indiana scores quite well overall,” Daniels said. “If you look at northern Indiana across all regions in the entire country, it also scores well.”

Ustanik easily found all the support he needed in Indiana for inspections, licensing and permits when he opened stores in Munster, Highland and St. John.

While Jean Fager, owner of Greco Nut and Candy, agrees taxes are much higher in Illinois, her experience when opening a store in Highland was filled with frustration. “We had a hard time finding where you went to get things done such as licensing and sales,” she said. “We felt like we were stumbling through it.” Fager also has three retail locations in Illinois.

Don Koliboski, economic development director for the Northwest Indiana Forum, a private organization, said regional economic development organizations, Small Business Development Centers, chambers of commerce and local banks provide outstanding support.

Small businesses are vital because they are a major factor in the region’s economic growth. “That’s why we need to support them through good business practices and policies,” he said.

“If a business calls the Forum, we answer every phone call. We have a good sense where we’re sending someone will save them time and money. We know we have the resources for them.”

Earlier this year, the Elevate Ventures program was created to develop emerging and existing high-potential businesses into high-performing Indiana-based businesses, he said.

Koliboski said there is still a need for greater incentives from the state and local municipalities to support expansion so businesses can grow from small to mid-size.

Other surveys also rank Indiana among the top business-friendly states.

According to CNBC’s America’s Top States for Business in 2011, Indiana ranked 15 overall. It ranked eighth in the cost of doing business and 10 for business friendliness.

For 2011, Indiana ranked as best in the Midwest and fifth overall in Area Development magazine’s “Top States for Doing Business" study, as well as sixth in the nation for its business climate according to Site Selection magazine.

In 2012, it ranked first in the Midwest and fifth in the nation in Chief Executive Magazine’s “Best and Worst States” survey, and first in the Midwest and 11th nationally in the Tax Foundation’s 2012 Business Tax Climate Index.

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Assistant Local News Editor