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Gov. Eric Holcomb: Region resilience wins again

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If you’re looking for high quality of life, low cost of living, a pro-business climate ranked number one in the Midwest, and an outdoor environment sporting Great Lakes beauty, Northwest Indiana belongs at the top of your list. The explosion of opportunity couldn’t be more apparent on this side of the Hoosier border, where the Region’s magnetic appeal for people to visit, buy or build a home, and locate or grow a business is resulting in real population growth.

In fact, despite a global pandemic, the Region’s resilience has created such optimism it has propelled our state to an enviable position of strength. County unemployment rates in the Region stand at all-time lows, and Indiana’s unemployment rate is lower than every state we touch, lower than the national average, and the lowest in 46 years.

Our state’s top-ranked business and regulatory environment combined with Northwest Indiana’s ideal location and quality of life are now attracting businesses to make the move and invest in Region communities like never before. Over the last few years, I’ve been excited to join local officials and business leaders from companies — including Domino’s, Alliance Steel and Midwest Truck, to name a few — as they moved to Northwest Indiana and committed to creating hundreds of quality careers, further driving up growth and opportunity in the years ahead.

It’s just a fact. Businesses don’t have to look far to discover Region grass is truly greener.

Want the proof? Indiana continues to make history and break our all-time investment and career commitment records, including last year. In 2021, the Indiana Economic Development Corporation assisted 56 new business startups in Northwest Indiana, and 287 companies committed to moving to or growing in our state. These commitments will bring 31,710 Hoosier careers to Indiana, with an average wage over $28 an hour over the upcoming years.

We welcome them all and look forward to our win-win partnership.

After all, our state’s strong revenue gives us the opportunity to further invest directly in our people and communities. While neighboring Illinois, Ohio and Michigan lost residents, Indiana’s population continued to grow. With a hot housing market, abundant amenities and career opportunities here on Hoosier soil, people and businesses from other states are fleeing, and flocking to Indiana and specifically the Region. Purposeful state and local investments, like in modern infrastructure projects and quality of place, will further propel the Region to even greater heights.

And it’s becoming easier to travel to and from Northwest Indiana communities, just as it’s already become more attractive to stay.

That’s why we’re continuing to invest in the overall infrastructure platform that connects us to each other and a world of opportunities by building out our top-ranked infrastructure and implementing a fully-paid-for 20-year roads and bridges program.

Since 2017, INDOT has invested more than $395 million in highway projects and $283 million in local infrastructure projects in Northwest Indiana alone. Travel lanes have been added on I-65 between Merrillville and Lowell and a new interchange constructed at U.S. 20 and State Road 2 in LaPorte County.

And while all roads are increasingly leading to Indiana, the way the Region is leveraging its lakeshore location couldn’t be more relevant to its growing appeal. Visiting Indiana Dunes, it’s easy to see why this picturesque park — rightfully our state’s first national park — is making waves, attracting well over 2 million visitors a year to enjoy more than 15,000 acres of Hoosier beaches, trails, forests and wildlife habitats along the blue water and scenic sands of the Lake Michigan shore.

Speaking of getting outdoors, the Region is blazing new trails with the support of Indiana’s Next Level Trails program, the largest infusion of state trail funding in Hoosier history.

Crown Point and Schererville put a $2.9 million state grant to work on the Pennsy Greenway Northwest Trail, with the goal of connecting Crown Point, Schererville and Munster with Lansing, Illinois. Hebron received more than $300,000 to add nearly a mile to the Veterans Memorial Parkway Trail system between Hebron and Crown Point. In Burns Harbor, $1.7 million was awarded to extend the Marquette Greenway between Hebron and Portage as part of a future multi-state trail along the Region’s Lake Michigan shore, linking with Chicago and Michigan.

Whether you’re walking, hiking, or biking, Northwest Indiana communities have never been more connected to each other, but we’re full steam ahead to build even stronger connections.

The essential infrastructure that connects our lives, livelihoods and leisure is increasingly the kind that enables downloads on our digital devices. That’s why we’ve made the largest broadband investment in our state’s history to provide everyone, everywhere in Indiana, with access to affordable, quality broadband — and the endless opportunities it affords — regardless of where you live, work, play, study or stay.

And let’s not forget, construction is underway on two of the nation’s most transformational commuter rail projects: double tracking the South Shore Line to better connect Michigan City, Gary and Chicago — and linking the West Lake Corridor from Hammond to Dyer. Beyond the reduced travel and wait times they’ll deliver, these monumental projects are on track to drive the Region forward by attracting $2.3 billion in private investment to Northwest Indiana, with 6,000 new jobs and $3 billion in economic impact projected to follow over the next several decades.

With so much opportunity in the pipeline, there’s never been a better time to double down and invest directly in our vibrant, affordable communities and the enhanced quality of place that will propel Northwest Indiana’s growth in years ahead.

That’s why, last year, with legislative support, Indiana launched our $500 million Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative (READI) program, the largest investment in Hoosier history aimed at helping communities throughout our state collaborate and drive their economic growth to the next level. Northwest Indiana received full funding, $50 million, leveraging up to an additional $672 million in local and private dollars to push and power the projects forward that will enhance quality of life, attract talent and further unleash the entrepreneurial spirit that created the Region in the first place.

By investing in Northwest Indiana’s natural advantages, connecting our communities to the world and unlocking the unlimited opportunities available, the Region will continue to be the very definition of a compelling destination in the decades to come.

Looking out on the Hoosier horizon, it couldn’t be more crystal clear: the sun is rising on a renaissance of Region relevance to our state and nation.

Eric J. Holcomb is governor of the state of Indiana.

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