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GARY — Borrowing a key word from an economic meeting at Indiana University Northwest, IUN School of Business and Economics Dean Cynthia Roberts said she was “excited, delighted, ignited” by what she heard at a Wednesday luncheon on the Region's economic future.

Roberts was among four panelists at the event, sponsored by the IUN Chancellor’s Commission for Community Engagement. The event included an update on the "Ignite the Region" economic development effort launched recently by the Northwest Indiana Forum.

As outlined by Heather Ennis, president and CEO of the Forum, Ignite has engaged more than 60 investors and nearly 500 people in a seven-county still-evolving process. Noting how Northwest Indiana needs to shed its fragmented efforts and negative perceptions of itself, Ennis said the Region “has not fully engaged” all its assets.

Ennis said the 8-month-old Ignite effort includes goals regarding business development and marketing, entrepreneurship and innovation, infrastructure, talent attraction and placemaking, with the hope of renewed growth in population, jobs, real state development, new businesses and local innovations.

Ignite, Ennis told an audience of business and community leaders, is “a work in progress, but a platform for us to build upon. It’s a lot of people acting in concert."

Also at the meeting, Lorri Feldt, regional director for the Northwest Indiana Small Business Development Center, cited the importance of bringing entrepreneurs and innovators together to share successes and challenges.

Small businesses, Feldt said, represent “an essential part of the future of Northwest Indiana.”

Carolyn Saxton, president of the Legacy Foundation, said that the Lake County-based group supports projects that encourage people to “not just come here, but live here.” These projects, Saxton said, range from for arts to transportation, a focus this year.

Roberts outlined university programs that enable students to assist local merchants, including small businesses. This help includes business plan development, financial analyses and marketing strategies. In addition, IUN students will soon open their own business, the Red Hawk Entrepreneurial Club Store.

Commenting on the panel, Rex Richards, president of the Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce, noted, “Northwest Indiana does not have a history of women as leaders. What a way to go into the 21st century, and my hat’s off to all of you.”

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