Lake County Economic Alliance President/CEO Karen Lauerman and Don Koliboski, vice president of economic development, answered questions in regard to the county's economic future, achievements and work that needs to be done.
Lauerman and Koliboski were asked to join the county's economic development agency on Sept. 22, 2014. The agency was formed as a centralized effort to attract companies to the county's 19 cities and towns.
Question: Where do you see the Region heading?
Lauerman: 2018 looks to be a very positive year for us. We know the key areas will be advanced manufacturing, warehousing, distribution and office and medical office.
There is also an uptick in agri-biz and e-commerce.
We're seeing a lot of diversity in our economy, and I think we will continue to see diversity.
I also see growth in what we believe in, in Lake County. We are more than political corruption. We are more than just the gorilla in the room with half a million people. We collectively are surely more than that. Everyone is interconnected, but we are not trying to do each other's jobs. It's still a challenge to understand the alphabet soup that makes up Northwest Indiana. What it comes down to is if we are to continue down the path to success, we must stay mission-driven and focus on the end goal, which is jobs and investments. What can we do to keep this a better place and enhance the quality of life? It's really seeing the Region move forward and truly taking advantages of all the assets we have, including the airport, the lakeshore, tourism and brownfield development.
I think everyone is moving in a positive way, and we're ready for 2018 with 75 projects in the pipeline. We won't win all of them, but we can win the majority. It's truly a time of change, and for Don and me it's been an honor and privilege to help the region success and for Lake County to take that step forward for the good of all.
LCEA is truly making an impact because we provide answers, data and can respond. In Northwest Indiana, we know how to make things, and our work ethic is very strong.
Question: What progress or achievements do you believe have happened for the Region in recent years, and how have you (or your organization) contributed to that success?
Lauerman: The No. 1 success is the establishment of this organization, which is truly important. In Lake County, there was not a consolidated approach to economic development. There has been a step forward to show Lake County officials do know how to work with each other to be successful.
Koliboski: Lake County was the last of the 92 counties to have an entity to attract economic development. Now we have a consolidated effort. Previously a company representative would have to call 17 entities to have a grasp of an area. What we have been able to establish is a process to work with these entities. The process of site selection is partly site elimination. There wasn't a comprehensive approach, and now we do have one. Now we can help.
Lauerman: Don and I both worked at the Northwest Indiana Forum and drank the Kool-Aid. The unique thing is we were able to hit the ground running, and that resulted in almost immediate success. We have had so many success stories since 2015. Roughly, we facilitated 2,500 full-time jobs and $230 million of capital investments.
Koliboski: Because we drank the regional Kool-Aid and developed the relationships we did, we represent the county but don't downgrade our neighbors. If asked about a property in one of the other counties, we tell them who to contact.
Laurerman: We had a project we were in competition for and Porter County was also in competition with. We were able to sit through meetings, along with the state representative, and explain the advantages of Indiana. A win for one county is a win for both counties. It's a compliment to how far we've come. One community helps another community.
Koliboski: Sometimes it's overlooked, but one of our jobs is identifying land space. What we can do is to find available land spaces. We're here, and a lot of times folks are looking for land space.
Lauerman: Some communities, such as Hobart, have their own economic development staff. We're an extension of their team. We're here for those communities or those that don't have full-time staff. We're their go-to team. It helps.
We're staying competitive in the state. In the first three months of the LCEA formation, we answered more state-generated leads than the whole county in three to five years. We are following our mission to bring jobs and development to all of Lake County.
Question: Every community has its issues. What does the Region still need to work on, and how can you help?
Lauerman: Those in the Region still have to understand that everyone has a role and a responsibility. The general populace has to understand that everyone does play a role in the responsibility in a certain category. We (at LCEA) help consolidate the approach for Lake County. Previously in the state, there were 91 counties that had an approach. Lake County didn't, so we took on that role.
Everyone has their niche, and we can be collectively successful in the Region. We are doing our job to bring jobs and investments to the area, and as long as we can communicate we will all be successful.