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9.5 million. That’s how many people live in the Chicagoland Metropolitan Statistical Area. Like it or not, Northwest Indiana is included in this area.

As a point of reference, the 9.5 million number is more than triple the population of the greater Indianapolis metro area. Who cares? We all should.

In Whiting, we have not only taken notice, but we also are learning to embrace our proximity to Chicagoland.

In recent years, a large percentage of our new residents have come from across the border. Tens of thousands of visitors who attend our annual Pierogi Fest and our Whoa Zone floating water park come from our neighboring state. The feasibility of our new Mascot Hall of Fame Interactive Children’s Museum would not have been possible without the advantage of our unique location. With hundreds of new residential units being planned in our city, many of our future residents will also likely come from the big city. Simply put, the people of Chicagoland will be key to our city’s future growth.

With all the world-class amenities in Chicagoland, why are Illinoisans moving to and visiting Northwest Indiana more frequently today? I say it’s all about quality of life.

Whether it’s the direct cost of living, access to community amenities or a safe environment, quality of life issues drive most family decisions. It just makes sense to take advantage of all the benefits of living in the Region, while still being able to access the cultural amenities of Chicago whenever you have the desire to do so.

If you were a young professional and could save $1,000 a month by living in Indiana while being only a short 20-minute drive from the Chicago night life, it might make sense to relocate to Whiting. If you want a slower paced life without the hassle of being stuck in traffic all day long, we’re the place for you. How about being able to park in a quaint downtown area for free, then eat at several great locally owned eateries? Whether it’s the cost of doing something, or ease in which you can do it, Northwest Indiana provides an attractive option for our friends in Illinois.

Northwest Indiana has also made enormous progress in recent years. We have made our communities more attractive and inviting than ever before. With new attractions and recreational amenities coming online every year, people want to visit the Region.

Just in the Whiting and Robertsdale areas alone, there are dozens of diverse recreational opportunities for people of all ages.

Well-conceived sporting venues are popping up across Northwest Indiana. New investment is being made in parks and art programs across the Region. New residential housing and retail opportunities are sprouting up throughout our hometowns to add to an already diverse inventory.

So in Whiting, we are embracing our neighbors to the Northwest. We believe we have amenities that will not only attract visitors to our community, but also new residents. These new visitors and residents will provide the catalyst for additional commercial growth, which is needed to sustain our community into the future. We will also strive to continually improve our quality of life assets to benefit our residents, both old and new.

Whether they are just visiting or looking for a place to live, we want the Chicagoland residents to feel at home in Whiting and welcome them to our community. At the end of the day, we want to convince our Illinois friends that the grass is truly greener on the other side of the state line.

Joe Stahura has served as mayor of Whiting since 2004, after serving 20 years as a Whiting city councilman. The opinions are the writer's.

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Porter County Government Reporter

Senior reporter Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.