CHESTERTON — Gov. Eric Holcomb still is rooting for Gary despite city voters last month rejecting Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson's re-election bid.

The Republican chief executive said Wednesday that he is "absolutely not" feeling betrayed that Freeman-Wilson, a Democratic mayor with whom Holcomb has had an unusually warm relationship, no longer will be leading Gary after the year ends.

"She has been a wonderful partner to the state of Indiana and I look forward to working with her into the future, and with the new leadership as well," Holcomb said.

Lake County Assessor Jerome Prince toppled Freeman-Wilson May 7 in a crowded Democratic primary contest that Holcomb said he was not in any way involved in — "as you might imagine."

Last summer, Holcomb invited Freeman-Wilson to join the state delegation on a trade mission to Canada that included a meeting in Montreal with leaders of the cargo port operator FedNav.

Freeman-Wilson has worked during her two terms in office to turn Buffington Harbor into an intermodal shipping and warehousing alternative to Chicago, drawing on Gary's convenient water, rail, air and highway connections.

Holcomb took the first step toward making that dream possible May 8 when he signed into law House Enrolled Act 1015, permitting Gary's Majestic Star casinos to relocate from Buffington Harbor to a land-based site elsewhere in the city, likely adjacent to the Borman Expressway.

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He's also offered to have the state partner with Gary leaders in developing Buffington Harbor to attract transportation operators and business shippers.

"I'll work with the leadership in the future as I have in the past, and I'm excited about our future prospects," Holcomb said.

Notably, that project also has been a top priority for state Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, who announced June 4 that he's embarking on a statewide listening tour as a prelude to potentially running in 2020 to unseat Holcomb as governor.

Holcomb traveled to Northwest Indiana Wednesday to lead a meeting of the Indiana Economic Development Corp. board of directors at Urschel Laboratories in Chesterton.

Among other business incentive decisions, the board approved up to $5 million in state tax credits to support the redevelopment of the old ANCO property in Valparaiso for Journeyman Distillery's first location outside southwestern Michigan.

Holcomb said these kinds of business growth prospects, along with the planned South Shore Line expansion and other developments on the horizon are why he keeps returning over and over to Northwest Indiana.

"I have an affinity for this Region," Holcomb said. "It packs a powerful punch and it is truly one of the engines that's powered the state of Indiana to the place that we occupy right now."

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