HAMMOND | There is a new economic development group in town dedicated solely to Lake County and promoters say that's going to make all the difference.

The Lake County Economic Alliance held a coming out party of sorts Thursday at the Indiana Welcome Center. Formed only six months ago, the LCEA’s inaugural “annual meeting” drew a variety of business leaders either financially supporting the upstart organization or making connections with the idea of doing business in Lake County.

Founded by two former Northwest Indiana Forum executives, the LCEA is essentially a two-person show, led by Karen Lauerman, president and chief executive officer, and Don Koliboski, vice president of economic development. David Lasser, of Commercial In-Sites LLC, serves a LCEA chairman of the board.

Addressing the attendees, Lauerman marveled over the growth of the organization thus far, as a variety of businesses have pledged financial support that bodes well for Lake County’s economic development well into the future. She noted 26 economic development projects are “in the pipeline” with the potential to create $240 million in investment and 1,000 jobs over the next three years.

“Our mission is to make Lake County a shining star of opportunity … to envision us as a place to do business and for business,” Lauerman said.

Koliboski believes the LCEA is closing a historic gap in terms of economic development in Lake County. He explained that the Northwest Indiana Forum is focused on regional, multi-county economic development, and various chambers of commerce are more localized. But the LCEA can make crucial connections with potential business interests and tap the resources of these organizations to bring all interests together for a common goal.

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“We’ve met with every chamber in Lake County and meet with the chamber executives as a group regularly,” Koliboski said. “There are several companies here tonight considering Lake County as a location site. We’ve created a sustainable organization that helps bring projects to fruition.”

NIPSCO’s Don Babcock, a member of the LCEA board, said there’s been many missed opportunities to attract new business to Lake County, but the recent property tax caps are now opening the doors to private investment.

“We have outstanding leadership in Karen and Don,” he said. “It’s all about efficiencies  — being able to answer questions of potential investors at the speed of business.”

Thomas Long, president of Hebron-based telecommunications company NITCO, said his company recently became a financial supporter of the LCEA, as such relationships will bode well for entry into Lake County markets.

“We need to grow our fiber optic and broadband business, and when new business comes to Lake County, it opens up opportunities for our company,” he said.