Northwestern Indiana mayors heard about the challenges and promise facing Northwest Indiana when it comes to economic development from a nationally known site selector on Thursday.
"There are larger companies that truly want to be in Indiana, but when they have time requirements of six to nine months it is hard to accommodate that," NAI Hiffman Senior Vice President Kelly Disser told the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission at its meeting in Portage.
Disser said a lack of ready-to-go development sites and sometimes community officials that don't realize how fast they have to move when major companies come knocking continue to hold back development in Northwest Indiana.
The result of that is Northwest Indiana currently has just 800,000 square feet of industrial-grade buildings under construction while Southeast Wisconsin and the Interstate 55 corridor in Illinois each have more than 3 million square feet under construction.
"It's almost embarrassing that that much space is going up in Illinois and Southeast Wisconsion," said Portage Mayor James Snyder. "We are always poking fun at other states but the joke is on us."
Snyder and other public officials had plenty of questions for Disser, with Pottawattomie Park Councilman Roger Miller asking why developers don't seem interested in Michigan City and LaPorte's abundance of empty manufacturing and other buildings.
Disser explained although some existing industrial buildings can be rehabilitated, most developers today are looking for new buildings built on what is called "greenfields," such as open agricultural land.
Snyder pointed out that urban areas like Hammond, Gary and others have a predominance of brownfield sites which carry a legacy of industrial pollution.
Disser agreed that is an obstacle in development in those communities and suggested the state could help with programs to clean those sites up.
In board action on Thursday, NIRPC passed a $3.3 million budget for 2015, which represents a 5 percent decrease from the 2014 budget.
It also approved a new one-year contract for Executive Director Tyson Warner that will pay him an annual salary of $132,275. Warner was hired to succeed retiring executive director John Swanson two years ago. He made $130,000 each of the last two years.
The NIRPC board also passed a resolution supporting legislative renewal for the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, including the $10 million yearly support it gets from the state of Indiana.
"That's the glue that holds the RDA together," said Hammond Mayor and NIRPC legislative committee chairman Thomas McDermott Jr. "We want the state to continue at the least its $10 million per year.
The board also passed a resolution in support of investment in the South Shore commuter railroad including any opportunity to develop the West Lake Corridor extension to the suburbs.