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HAMMOND — The Lake County IN Economic Alliance marked its fifth annual meeting Thursday with a recap of 2018, during which it received 330 inquiries from companies, site selectors and others involved in economic development.

"This activity has led to approximately 68 projects and developments that are at various stages in the decision process," LCEA President and CEO Karen Lauerman told a gathering of public officials and business people at the Indiana Welcome Center.

The LCEA's investors include a variety of area businesses and municipal governments. Lauerman noted that the Lake County Commissioners committed $250,000 of county economic development money to the LCEA last year that sets up sustainable funding for the organization.

"We work behind the scenes at LCEA, in front of the scenes and wherever they need us," Lauerman said. "We assist in the entire process to drive jobs and investments."

The LCEA also enhanced its geographic information system, or GIS, to aid companies, site selectors and real estate brokers. A $15,000 grant from Legacy Foundation helped make that possible.

Among recent successes is the move of Alliance Steel to Gary, Lauerman said. The process that led to that $20 million investment, in a 250,000-square-foot building, started nearly four years ago.

"Another vacant building purposed for a beneficial use," Lauerman said.

That type of client — a manufacturer looking to renovate an existing building — makes up a significant proportion of companies interested in Lake County, according to the LCEA.

Three-quarters of the clients the LCEA works with are looking for existing buildings that they can renovate for their own needs, Lauerman said.

Last year, about 60 percent were in manufacturing, with a strong emphasis recently on food processing and packaging. Automotive and light manufacturing and assembly also retain strong interest. Another 30 percent of interested clients are in transportation, distribution and logistics, and 10 percent medical offices and technology.

A quarter of clients are interested in vacant space.

"We've identified more than 20 significant land tracts in Lake County," Lauerman said. "This is increasingly important as the leads and opportunities are looking at more developable space for large scale projects or business parks."

The highest demand is for buildings smaller than Alliance Steel's. Buildings of 75,000 to 100,000 square feet top the list, with a 30 percent increase in interest last year as compared to 2017, Lauerman said. Buildings between 100,000 and 150,000 square feet saw a 15 percent increase in interest.

The LCEA entered 2019 with a new marketing slogan, "Positioned for Prosperity," and Lauerman said there are "several things in the pipeline," including projects in some of the new federal opportunity zones in Northwest Indiana. 

"By the end of the second quarter, a total of $150 million of investment will be announced," Lauerman said.


Assistant Deputy Editor

Andrew covers transportation, real estate, casinos and other topics for The Times business section. A Crown Point native, he joined The Times in 2014, and has more than 15 years experience as a reporter and editor at Region newspapers.