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MERRILLVILLE | A nationally recognized site selector told the Northwest Indiana Forum on Wednesday the region has many advantages when it comes to attracting business, but a lack of big, ready-to-move-into buildings is holding it back.

Vacancy rates are down, commercial building is up, and prices are increasing across the Chicagoland market, NAI Hiffman Senior Vice President Kelly Disser told about 100 businesspeople at the forum's Economic Development Update and Midwest Market Report. The NWI Forum is a private membership group composed of area businesses and industry.

"The momentum just continues," Disser said during his report at the Radisson Hotel. "There is just no sign of it slowing down. And there is a tremendous opportunity for Northwest Indiana to capitalize on this growth market."

Site selectors' clients these days are looking for what is called "immediate fulfillment," such as the 90-day turn-around Kenosha, Wis., recently did to land a 1.1 million-square-foot Amazon distribution center, Disser said. That facility is expected to open this fall and provide about 1,100 jobs.

Disser said the Amazon project is just one of a number flooding into southeast Wisconsin, where total industrial-sized building activity totals 2.8 million square feet, as compared to just 473,000 square feet in Northwest Indiana.

Northwest Indiana has the potential to become one of the top-performing submarkets in the Chicago area if more move-in-ready buildings can be found, Disser said. Such buildings are called "spec" buildings in the industry, because they are built on the speculation that a tenant will soon be found to fill them.

Indiana's cut in corporate income taxes and low worker-compensation costs are both contributing to its best-in-the-Midwest ranking for business attractiveness, Disser said.

Northwest Indiana Forum Director of Regional Economic Development Don Koliboski said the spec building of large industrial spaces collapsed during the 2008-09 recession, but interest and availability are returning.

Becknell Industrial recently won approvals to build a 163,000-square-foot spec building at CrossWinds Northwest, in Hobart. And a number of companies have expressed interest in moving into a 500,000-square-foot building at Ameriplex at the Port, which BP America recently vacated with the conclusion of its Whiting refinery expansion, Koliboski said.

In addition to the state's pro-business climate, Northwest Indiana soon should have another major asset to build on, Disser said.

"The Illiana Expressway is perceived in the marketplace as something that is coming," Disser said. "It will be another improvement in Indiana's great infrastructure."

The Illiana Expressway would run from Interstate 55, in Illinois, to Interstate 65, in Indiana. A major interchange is planned at I-65 just north of the Ind. 2 interchange.

NAI Hiffman is marketing the 125-acre Park 65, an industrial park located at the northeast corner of the I-65/Ind. 2 interchange. It also is marketing the 245-acre Hallmark Crossing, which sits just southwest of the same intersection.

"To have the opportunity to put a new building on a new highway with a four-way interchange creates opportunities that just did not exist before," Disser said.

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