After starting out hoping to change lives by finding cures for diseases, Lori Tubbs ended up changing lives by bringing jobs to Northwest Indiana as a commercial and industrial broker.

Tubbs, 47, was born in Gary and reared in Merrillville. After graduation, she attended Western Illinois University, where she played softball while working on her double major in psychology and microbiology.

“I wanted to go into the health field,” she said. “One of my sisters was very sick as a child and spent a lot of time in doctors’ offices, and I wanted to do something about that.”

She worked in hospitals and labs in Florida for three years before deciding on a career change. The move was inspired by her mother, Joann, who was involved in commercial real estate in the Region and decided on a career change of her own in 1998, founding Commercial Advantage.

“She decided she enjoyed it so much, she wanted to create her own office of team members. I think she thought I was a science geek, but I saw how much she enjoyed it and decided to make a career change.”

Soon her father, John, who originally worked in the mills before retiring to a second career selling heavy equipment, got his license and embarked on a third career, joining his wife and daughter. It became a foursome when Patti Tubbs, the sister who inspired Lori’s initial career choice, joined the firm.

Lori said she spent the first year in the Merrillville office learning the business before moving to Chicago to run that branch of the company. Much of her dealings during those early years involved representing buyers and sellers of golf courses all over the Midwest.

“Nobody was doing it,” Tubbs said of her golf course enterprise. “My dad is a golfer, and a lot of people in the Chicago market knew him and asked him to sell their property, so I specialized in that for several years.”

Lure of industrial real estate

As the real estate market changed in 2005-06, John and Joann Tubbs began talking about retiring. With the popularity and marketability of golf courses drying up, Lori decided to dive into the business and Northwest Indiana “shoulder deep” as president of Commercial Advantage.

“I was representing some heavy industries, including companies that worked with the mills, and it grew from there," Tubbs said.

"We had five offices in four states, but I cut it back to two during the recession. Now we have nine agents working in various capacities in two offices. My sister still works in the office and does the accounting, and Mom does the training.”

American Bar and Hoist Liftruck in East Chicago were two companies she worked with to obtain state and local incentives to get them to locate in Northwest Indiana, bringing several hundred jobs. Also working on the Hoist Liftruck deal was Karen Lauerman, president and CEO of Lake County IN Economic Alliance, also named as a Professional to Watch in this issue.

Another company Tubbs worked with was Patriot Rail, which bought 5 miles of rail line in Lake County along with the South Shore freight railroad, which bought 300 acres in two counties.

“We work pretty heavily with economic development, and we’re involved with several chambers of commerce in Northwest Indiana. We’re a member of the Association of Iron and Steel Technologies and the Calumet Area Industrial Council,” Tubbs said.

Deep knowledge of area a plus

NIPSCO Economic Development Director Don Babcock said Tubbs “is one of those behind-the-scenes unsung heroes who have contributed so much to Northwest Indiana.

“She’s a wonderful person to work with,” Babcock said.

“She knows more about the industrial buildings in Indiana, inside and out, than anybody I know. She really helped make those projects come to fruition, and, because she knows those buildings, she’s always looking for the opportunity to create more jobs. She’s definitely part of the economic team for Northwest Indiana.

“She’s also part of creating a positive image for Northwest Indiana,” he said.

“When companies are looking for a place to gain a competitive edge, she knows those places and can tell the stories, and she has seen what worked and what hasn’t. It takes a lot of tenacity to do her job. She does that for her clients, and she’s been doing it for years.”

Determination, team approach serves well

Jessica Burke, a commercial and industrial broker for Commercial Advantage, works closely each day with Tubbs, acting as the Robin to her Batman or, more appropriately, Gabrielle to Tubbs’ Xena, economic development warrior princess. Burke called Tubbs “a bulldog in the industry.

“She’s hungry for deals and success, not just for herself, but for Northwest Indiana,” Burke said.

“She’s constantly on the phone and emailing people trying to make connections and move projects along. There’s not a lot of downtime. She’s awesome to work for. Everybody in the industry loves her. She’s creating jobs one property at a time.”

Matt Saltanovitz has worked with Tubbs for four years, first as head of the Northwest Indiana Forum and now in his position as Northwest Regional director of the Indiana Economic Development Corp., the state's commerce department.

“She’s one of the more active brokers in our region,” Saltanovitz said. “She’s very passionate about what she does, and it comes through in her work. She’s looking out for her clients’ needs while doing what she does to make Northwest Indiana move forward economically.

“She’s adept at finding unique solutions in the Northwest Indiana market. She did a lot to bring the Hoist Liftruck deal and the 500 jobs to Northwest Indiana. That speaks a lot to what she can accomplish. She’s good at identifying a team-based approach to things, realizing when a client needs state support or to bring people together on an economic development project. That’s pretty critical on any project.”

Tubbs also is involved in the Big Brother/Big Sister program and is on the board of her church.

“I feel like we’re taking real estate to a higher level,” she said. “It’s more than just about selling properties. It’s knowing the community and finding the right fit. We’re helping the future of the companies and the communities.”