Year in Review: Economic development pros predict continued growth

Dec 2, 2019

When asked to report on the success of economic development efforts in Northwest Indiana, leaders in the field sometimes find it hard to talk, but it’s not because the news is bad.

Quite the contrary. They have trouble speaking because they are smiling so much. Things are going very well in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties, and the economic development pros expect those smiles to linger through at least the coming year.

Lake County forecast

Karen Lauerman, president and CEO of the Lake County Economic Alliance, said the success of the LCEA in recent years has been enhanced by the Lake County Board of Commissioners providing a sustainable funding source for the agency’s activities “ensuring Lake County and its 19 communities are star players in the highly competitive global market for years to come.”

Delivering the message that Lake County is business friendly in its marketing efforts, the LCEA had a successful 2019 and, with 70 projects still in the pipeline, Lauerman and Don Koliboski, LCEA vice president for development, said they expect more of the same in 2020.

“Lake County’s current target sectors include an emphasis on food processing and distribution, advanced manufacturing, logistics and warehousing, e-commerce, call and data centers,” Koliboski said. “There also is heavy interest in health care/medical, office and hospitality to compliment residential development.”
Among the leading employers in Lake County in 2019 were health care, retail and hospitality, education and manufacturing. Small companies with up to nine employees made up 79 percent of the businesses while those with 20 or more accounted for 11 percent.

The LCEA is working within the 15 Opportunity Zones in Gary, Hammond and East Chicago to market sites for development, such as the former Stateline Generating Facility, Buffington Harbor and the DuPont/Chemours Resource Conservation and Recovery Act sites.
This year, the county received approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the remediation and development of the East Chicago Logistics Center. Plans include $26 million for remediation of 284 acres, donation of natural areas to The Nature Conservancy, a $100 million investment in a three million square foot facility with an initial one million square foot speculative building expected to create 3,000 full-time jobs.

Following the rapid leasing of the first Becknell Industrial speculative building in Merrillville, the company announced plans for a new 284,000-square-foot speculative building to meet the demand for Class A space on the growing Interstate 65 corridor, Lauerman said. Near the intersection of I-65 and Ind. 2, specialty food producer Life Spice announced plans to expand into Lowell with a 50,000-square-foot build-to-suit addition with room to expand further.

Another food processing company, Restaurant Depot, is coming to Griffith with a $10 million facility expected to create 45 distribution jobs. Developer ATG is opening a new office building just off the expressway in Hammond, and the city recently approved incentives for the expansion of Swanel Beverage. Midland Metals is investing $7 million in the former Lear complex that will create 135 jobs.

Retail, hospitality and service sector businesses are popping up in Schererville’s U.S. 30 and Indianapolis Boulevard area, while Munster announced plans for Maple Leaf Crossing. Crown Point is getting a new orthopedic center and a Hampton Inn, and construction is underway in Dyer on a medical/office building. The biggest project will be the $400 million Hard Rock Casino in Gary.

“LCEA believes the U.S. and local industrial sector shows signs of strength leading into 2020, given the expansion of e-commerce, low vacancy rates and desire to build on spec to add available inventory,” Lauerman said. “The research is telling us there is plenty of investment capital waiting to be utilized.

“Each day LCEA responds to inquiries from businesses wanting to move to Lake County and Indiana to refine their supply chain strategies, expand operations, reach customers more quickly, tap into logistics-rich e-commerce locations or improve overall efficiencies and bottom lines. We don’t see that changing in the next few years.”

Next year is likely to bring change to the broader vision of mixed use, where retail, lifestyle, hotel, medical, virtual reality and gaming, dining and entertainment converge to occupy vacant space once occupied by large anchor stores, she added.