A Positive Outlook for the NWI Economy

A Positive Outlook for the NWI Economy

A panel of business and economic experts from throughout the Northwest Indiana region delivered a positive forecast for the upcoming new year. During the 2019 Business and Economic Outlook conference held at Ivy Tech’s campus in Valparaiso, presenters from a variety of sectors informed attendees about developments that will impact our region’s 2020 performance. Most of the audience members were business leaders who came with questions about jobs and long-term projections that could impact their companies.

The free event was hosted by the Northwest Indiana Business Roundtable (NWIBRT) and the Construction Advancement Foundation of Northwest Indiana (CAF).

Dr. Micah Pollak, associate professor of economics at Indiana University Northwest, had some mixed news that had both positive and negative findings. His complex economic profile of the region found several points of strength for NWI, in that we’re developing a healthier mix of industries and we’ve had promising population growth. But we’re also encountering challenges from national issues like tariffs and trade issues surrounding steel, and a potential recession on the horizon. Therefore, the forecast for our region depends greatly on how national issues like inflation and the so-called trade war play out.

With that, he projected an overall growth rate of about 1% and the addition of roughly 2,000 jobs for next year, as well as a Gross Metropolitan Product increase of about $320 million. These are all slower than preferred figures, but still in the black.

Job growth and population growth were also a key focus of the Northwest Indiana Forum’s objectives for the years ahead. Heather Ennis, president & CEO, described how the Forum has built a committee of representatives from 15 leading companies and a group of contributors of more than 60 regional investors to guide strategies on marketing NWI as the go-to place for business. Economic development, talent, and quality-of-place projects are all key components of the Forum’s plan.

Regarding regional transportation, several key updates on the $816 million West Lake Corridor and $416 million South Shore double tracking railway projects were described by Northwest Indiana RDA President and CEO Bill Hannah. Complete design and engineering work for both projects should be completed in 2020, followed by the full funding grant negotiation phases. Construction on both projects could begin in 2021, if everything works out.

Ty Warner, executive director of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC) shared additional transportation details from the organization’s NWI 2050 plan. Using data from a recently conducted household travel survey, NIRPC is planning to boost the connectivity of the region while also increasing the number of amenities that people would want to visit. All modes of connectivity are on the table, including trails, public transportation modes, and longer-range methods like autonomous vehicles and even hyperloop systems. Another big focus of the plan is the reduction of the impact of rail crossings in the region.

In addition to transportation infrastructure, our region’s communications infrastructure was discussed by Tom Dakich, senior manager of the Digital Crossroads data center that’s currently in development in Hammond. Dakich explained that telecommunications infrastructure in the region is better than originally anticipated in terms of the local fiber routes, long-haul fiber routes, and better power infrastructure. Also, recent legislative changes put in place by Governor Holcomb will enable the growth of further data center operations in the state, which will future expand fiber access. He said business leaders can foreseeably expect greater fiber connectivity in underserved areas and new data facilities as things move forward.

Darrel Zeck, executive director of the Office of Work-Based Learning & Apprenticeship, spoke about many of the workforce development options available to employers under the Next Level Jobs initiative. Since the office was launched in 2018, there has been a 106% increase in the number of work-based learning programs in the state. Also, training grant options are available that could help employers skill up their workforce.

And finally, a breakdown of the potential benefits of NWI’s new national park designation at the Dunes was given by Anthony Sindone, professor of finance and economic development, Purdue University Northwest. In 2018, there were 1.8 visitors at the Indiana Dunes, spending an estimated $77.9 million. This year, the new national park designation is projected to elevate this impact. For example, the current number of visitors this year (fiscal year-to-date) is nearly 2.1 million visitors.

The Business and Economic Outlook is a free annual event held near the beginning of November each year. For more information on this event and other, visit https://nwibrt.org/.

Category Business Buzz