Lake and Porter County's Challenges and Solutions
Recently Northwest Indiana has landed three big Illinois companies. One of Hammond's biggest employer’s Lear is building a new $30 million investment into the City of Hammond. They are building a new plant that will bring up to 750 jobs. The City of Gary landed a new $35 million production from Illinois steel that will bring up to 100 new jobs. And an unnamed company from Chicago's western suburbs plans to relocate from Illinois to the East Chicago, the manufacturer will hire about 500 workers at an average salary of $55,000 a year.
So what makes Northwest Indiana a hot spot for businesses? Valparaiso mayor Jon Costas gives insight on what makes the region a great place for businesses and people to move to.
“Northwest Indiana is certainly compared to some of our nearby states a very affordable place. We have all kind of different amenities, we’ve got Lake Michigan, which is awesome and we have all different types of towns and cities to choose from. And I think Northwest Indiana because it has all these things because it's affordable got great schools and buissness it has a lot to offer. I think we are seeing lots of growth in Porter county and in Lake county too it’s a bigger county and just all of Northwest Indiana it has a very positive future.”
Mayor Tom McDermott JR. says the region's location with Chicago benefits not just his city, Hammond, but Northwest Indiana as a whole.
“Our location to Illinois definitely helps us we have the advantage of the lower tax situation and we actually touch Chicago which is nice it's the third largest economy in America so you get the advantages of living in Indiana with the taxes and then the access to Chicago that people want.”
Even with all these positives there are still challenges that Lake and Porter counties face. Northwest Indiana has a history of corruption, and suffers from brain drain, which is keeping college graduates here in Northwest Indiana.
Northwest Indiana will soon have a trial with Portage mayor James Snyder who allegedly solicited money from Cortina in exchange for a towing contract for Portage. The last political leader conviction was just three years ago with Keith Soderquistwho was Lake Station’s Mayor and his family being indicted for misusing thousands of dollars from the mayor’s re-election campaign fund and the city’s food pantry to gamble at nearby casinos. Lake Station now faces a $1.8 million shortage in its general fund.
Fifth district Portage city councilman Collin Czilli weighs in on political corruption issues that have plagued the region.
“Every community that's faced this it becomes a cloud that doesn't go away for awhile and even so the cloud may never go away it may be something the city lives with for years. And Northwest Indiana itself has a reputation that the rest of the state sees and that other areas look at Northwest Indiana and just assume public corruption all the time and that's something we've lived with for generations it's very hard to get rid of that stigma even years after, so I like to think that businesses are looking at portage for more than just its political status.”
Micah Pollak, professor of economics at Indiana University Northwest has been researching the region's economic history. He says that government corruption can influence how businesses see the region, but ultimately there’s more to Northwest Indiana than just government corruption.
“If you’re thinking about relocating your business from Chicago to Indiana you might pick up the local newspaper and read about some of these corruptions and challenges, so it has kind of a perception affect and perception is something that we here in Northwest Indiana have to work on it has a long history of a challenging view both from across the border of Chicago as well as down state so we definitely need to work on that it never helps but at the end of the day it's other things like quality of life, tax incentives that ultimately bring a business or company here more so than a particular single case of some type of corruption.
The region also struggles with keeping college graduates, a problem known as brain drain. Pollak has an idea on how to keep younger generations in the region to help insure growth.
“One way we can kind of combat that is having cities and areas where they can live that have good quality of place, quality of life, have the amenities that they're looking for. We have different amenities here and hopefully we can attract and keep the next generation of millennial's in the region with stronger communities and so I think thats a big part of keeping the communities healthy and the economy strong."
Pollak states that the South Shore expansion approval will have a big economic boost.
"The transportation oriented districts are going to play a very big role in the future.”
The hope is Northwest Indiana will get an economic boost with access to Chicago to bring in more people, businesses' and to keep the younger generations here in the region.