No Off-Season for Economic Development

No Off-Season for Economic Development

Lots of Exciting Projects Coming Our Way!
By Karen Lauerman, President, CEO, Lake County IN Economic Alliance (LCEA)


As the seasons begin to change, many find a moment to enjoy a brief lull in activity level. Maybe it is the end of a sports season, children being back in school, contracts closing, last minute vacations, or simply taking a pause from our regular routine. Conversely, there is limited down time at this or any point during the year for economic development professionals.

In fact, ask anyone in economic development. They will tell you economic development does not happen overnight and it is vitally important to stay in the game.

It takes constant engagement to get to the goal: public hearings, commissions, project meetings and management, RFPs and inquiry responses, site visits, community briefings, communications and media relations, incentive discussions, local negotiations, marketing and advertising, tradeshows and conferences, broker/developer/client relations, and emails.

In Lake County alone, the Lake County IN Economic Alliance (LCEA) is working on 79 active projects throughout the county. The top 20 projects in the pipeline equate to about 8,500 jobs and $700 million of capital investment. Getting to those numbers is not easy. It takes effort, relationships with key people, and established process and protocol.

While there is an understanding in the field that one community, county, region, or state cannot win every project, the results are definitely worth every effort and time spent.

Recently, construction ramped up including the new Becknell Industrial 182,000-square-foot speculative panel building off I-65 and 61st Street in Merrillville, and also south of that building the new Carpenter’s Hall, Training, and Safety facility is now complete. At AmeriPlex at the Crossroads, the Pipefitters new center is underway – not to mention the existing buildings undergoing renovations for new, more state of the art operations.

“Project Pumpkin,” a national food distribution company announced a couple of weeks ago, is a planned three phase development deal, years in the making for unincorporated Lake County. Phase one alone represents an estimated 550+ construction jobs, 60 full time positions, $30 million of investment in material handling equipment, and a 200,000-square-foot building. The city of Crown Point is in the final running for a project that is considering an 800,000-square-foot e-commerce fulfilment center, and there are more projects in communities across the county.

Announcements like the attraction of HMD Trucking, a third-party logistics firm, brings 500 full time jobs, construction jobs, a $6 million investment and the creation of a brand new 35,000-square-foot corporate headquarters and operations facility in Gary.  Henry Malukas from HMD stated, “With this one move, we will capitalize on the ideal site southeast of Chicago, available workforce and Indiana’s solid business environment. We are happy to be part of the Indiana family.”

Retaining the current family of business and industry members is just as important as attracting new members. Lear, a tier-1 auto supplier in Hammond, announced an expansion with 400 new jobs in additional to retaining their current workforce. Aunt Millie’s Bakery in Lowell is adding additional shifts. Polycon in Merrillville grew its footprint by 150,000-square-foot and 100+ employees. Just next door there is another planned $20 million investment at Modern Forge. In Hobart, Albanese Candy continues to expand on its ‘sweet’ location on US 30.

This is only the tip of the iceberg.

LCEA is working with developers in identifying larger parcels of land, assisting in making sites ready for end users, and fostering the municipal/statutory process for economic development and potential incentives. These activities are critical to attracting transformational, game changing projects such as large e-commerce distribution centers and advanced manufacturing operations with high capital investment accompanied by a large number of jobs. With significant development interest continuing in Lake County, LCEA anticipates several more announcements by end of 2017.

Success is not limited to Lake County. Throughout Northwest Indiana, the region is making great strides in job creation, investment, business retention, and expansion through quality of life and infrastructure improvements, programs addressing the skills gap, connectivity and additional fiber optic support, and other critical decision-making factors outside of the simple availability of land or existing buildings.

In Porter County, the city of Valparaiso celebrated the availability a rail served site in close proximity to the airport. A new 80,000-square-foot speculative building, expandable to 100,000 square feet with an additional eight acres adjacent, and another speculative building are on the way. Further to the east, Michigan City broke ground on a new 65,000-square-foot speculative building and kicked off its downtown revitalization plan by opening the new Artspace (artist colony and anchor to the district) and restaurants while other neighboring areas and counties are experiencing consistent inquiry and activity levels.

Statistics indicate when companies search for existing buildings, the most common requests are in the 26,000-50,000, the 100,000-150,000, and the 300,000-500,000-square-foot categories and land acreage requests in the 11-20, 21-40, and the 100+ acres. According to the IEDC, in the last three years approximately 66 percent of inquiries identified specific geographical segments of the state with the remainder being statewide, and only 21 percent of the total requests fielded by the state included rail.

The Northwest Indiana numbers skew a bit more to rail served sites and buildings. LCEA responded to more than 20 requests for rail in the first half of 2017. While there is a confluence of rail throughout the region, only a small number of properties fit those inquiries. LCEA along with other local economic development groups are in talks with both the Class I and the short lines to better accommodate companies requiring rail access.

Manufacturing and logistics make up 52.5 percent of Indiana’s GDP growth since the Great Recession, so it is no surprise Northwest Indiana, Lake County in particular, sees a high level of projects in those categories. Food processing/distribution, e-commerce fulfillment, and service sector inquiries, including call and customer support centers, are rising.

With exciting prospects for every community, county, and the state of Indiana as a whole, it is a good thing there is no off-season for economic development. Opportunities knock every day. Literally.