The two largest Chambers of Commerce in Lake County, Lakeshore and Crossroads Regional - representing more than 1,200 businesses - announced a new economic development alliance Jan. 24 designed to assist the communities of East Chicago, Hammond, Crown Point, and Merrillville in business retention, attraction, and expansion efforts.

The Lake County IN Economic Alliance, under the strong leadership of chairman Joel Gorelick, recently retired president of Peoples Bank, will begin its efforts by conducting retention and expansion surveys in the local communities.

National studies continually indicate that as many as 80 percent of new jobs created are a result of the growth and expansion of “existing” businesses in a community and, accordingly, if a city’s future development results from existing business growth, it is vitally important to understand the plans and concerns of these local businesses.

The LCEA’s short-term objectives of the business retention and expansion surveys are: 1) to demonstrate community support for local businesses by conducting personal interviews, and 2) to assist with any immediate business concerns. Long-term objectives include: 1) build capacity to sustain business growth, 2) increase competitiveness of local businesses, and 3) establish and implement a strategic plan for economic development.

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In the past, Lake County has been known for creating silos, and fighting regional efforts to consolidate, always fearful that someone might be “gaining an edge on us” if we dared to collaborate with neighboring communities. But times have changed, and public officials in Lake County are now willing to talk to each other when faced with issues that have regional consequences.

This recent collaboration between the Lakeshore chamber (representing the merger of the East Chicago and Hammond chambers more than 11 years ago) and the Crossroads Regional chamber (representing the merger of the Crown Point and Merrillville chambers three years ago) represents months of working together.

LCEA was not created in a vacuum, as it took a dedicated effort by our partners at the Northwest Indiana Forum, NIPSCO, the Indiana Economic Development Corp., and the two chamber boards of directors working together to make it happen. Now it is a reality, and together with President and CEO Sue Reed of the Crossroads chamber, Chairman of the Board Joel Gorelick, and a strong Board of Directors, we look forward to helping our communities strengthen economic development efforts in Lake County.

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Dave Ryan is the executive director of the Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce. The opinions expressed are his own. He can be reached at dryan@lakeshorechamber.com or (219) 931-1000.