RDA Partners With Gary, NICTD on TIGER Grant

The Board of Directors of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA) today agreed to join with the City of Gary and the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD) in applying for a federal grant to fund transit-oriented development (TOD) at and around the South Shore station in Gary’s Miller neighborhood.

Gary is applying for a $21.05 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Transit Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, competitive grant program. Gary, NICTD and the RDA are pooling resources to provide the necessary local match for the grant application. NICTD is providing $860,000, Gary $1 million and the RDA $4.26 million.

If awarded the grant, the funds will be used for improvements at the Miller station, including the new high-level boarding platform called for in the NICTD 20-Year Strategic Business Plan jointly developed by the railroad and the RDA.

At today’s RDA Board meeting, the Board also accepted for review a request from Gary for a $7.5 million RDA grant to improve the access road at Buffington Harbor. If the grant is approved, these funds would be combined with investments from the City of Gary, the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Indiana Economic Development Corporation to complete the $14 million project. The project would separate industrial and casino traffic at Buffington Harbor and provide increased access to industrial sites near the newly expanded Gary/Chicago International Airport.

Finally, the Board directed the RDA’s fiscal task force to oversee the closing out of the RDA’s No-Interest Securitized Forgivable Loan Program (formerly known as the Deal-Closing Fund). Changes made to the RDA’s enabling legislation in the last session of the General Assembly removed the authorization for this form of economic development from the RDA’s mission. The new law takes effect July 1, and the No-Interest Securitized Forgivable Loan Program will sunset at that point.

In housekeeping details, the Board held its annual election of new officers. State of Indiana appointee Don Fesko was re-elected as Chairman; State of Indiana appointee Harley Snyder was re-elected as Vice-Chairman; and Gary appointee Bill Joiner was re-elected as Treasurer. New Porter County appointee Chris Campbell was also formally sworn in.

Indiana Invests in South Shore Expansion

The Indiana General Assembly approved, and Gov. Mike Pence subsequently signed, a two-year budget that includes funding to build the West Lake Corridor extension of the South Shore commuter railroad.

The state budget, House Bill 1001, provides $6 million a year for the next 30 years to the RDA to help pay for expansion of the South Shore Line to Dyer.

That money will be combined with local tax revenues in Lake and Porter counties to create the $17.5 million annual match required for the federal government to pay half the cost of the $571 million commuter rail project.

The long-term goal is to rebuild the region’s middle class by better connecting Indiana residents to high-salary jobs in Chicago and getting them to spend their paychecks at home; while at the same time redeveloping housing and businesses along the current and future rail lines geared to the needs of commuters.

The $6 million investment from the state this year comes on the heels of operational funding provided during the 2014 session. Last year, the legislature directed a portion of revenues garnered from closing a tax loophole to the RDA in order to establish an operating fund for trains on the West Lake Corridor. This funding, approximately $4.2 million annually, brings the total amount provided for construction and operation of the expansion to more than $10 million a year.

The RDA would like to thank the many people and organizations who have worked so hard over the past two years to make this investment in Northwest Indiana’s future happen. These include Congressman Pete Visclosky, whose challenge to the region in October of 2013 started this whole ball rolling; all the members of the Northwest Indiana legislative delegation, as well as many legislators from elsewhere around the state who also saw the value of commuter rail expansion; the local officials who took time from their schedules to go to Indianapolis and speak in favor of the project; civic leaders from the Emerging Leaders of Northwest Indiana and One Region; the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD), operator of the South Shore; the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC); the Northwest Indiana Forum; and a host of others too numerous to mention.

Thank you all.

New Legislation Sets RDA Priorities

The General Assembly has sent legislation to Governor Mike Pence’s desk that instructs the RDA to focus on shoreline and transportation improvements in Northwest Indiana.

House Bill 1398 (approved 86-0) clarifies the duties of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority by requiring the bi-county agency to focus on improving region transportation and infrastructure and implementing the Marquette Plan to redevelop the Lake Michigan shoreline.

This legislation also streamlines the RDA’s funding by sending the RDA’s share of casino admissions taxes directly to the RDA. This change will improve our ability to issue bonds to cover the costs of South Shore commuter rail expansion in Northwest Indiana.

Investments by the RDA since 2006 have had a cumulative economic impact of more than $1.1 billion, according to a study conducted by an independent economic research firm. By 2025, the RDA’s investments are projected to generate $770 million in economic output annually (in 2012 dollars). This increased economic output in 2025 will support approximately 4,000 jobs in the Lake and Porter County region. More than 2,000 of these jobs will be supported by industrial and commercial investment in and around the airport. The increase in economic activity and employment will increase personal income in Northwest Indiana by an estimated $383 million annually.

Indiana Senate Invests in South Shore Expansion

The Senate Appropriations Committee today approved funding to upgrade and expand South Shore commuter rail in Northwest Indiana. While there are still several weeks of conference committees and conversations to go, the initial approval of state participation in the project is a major step forward. To all our legislators, friends and supporters who have worked so hard to get the region to this point, thank you very much.

As currently written, the State of Indiana would invest $6 million annually over the next 30 years to fund construction of the West Lake Corridor.

If enacted into law, the state money and locally-generated RDA funds, along with income tax revenue contributed by region communities, will create the $17.5 million annual local match required for the federal government to pay half the cost of the $571 million commuter rail project.

“I am extremely pleased that Senator Kenley and the Appropriations Committee have recognized the value of this project, not only for Northwest Indiana but for the state,” said state Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso. “It’s clearly an investment for the state that is going to reap benefits well into the future.”

Currently, commuters who use the existing South Shore line and ChicaGo Dash buses to travel to jobs in Chicago bring back a combined $430 million in personal income annually to spend on goods and services here in Northwest Indiana. Building the West Lake Corridor would result in an an additional $231 million in personal income for the regional economy.

The benefits of expanded connectivity to Chicago will flow throughout the region. A 2013 study commissioned by the American Public Transportation Association and the National Association of Realtors found that residential home sale prices were on average 42% higher during the Great Recession in neighborhoods with proximity to transit versus further away.

Specific to Chicago, the study found that the average sale price of a residential property in the transit shed outperformed the overall market by about 30%. The study also found that those living close to transit options spent less on transportation, and had access to twice as many jobs, as those living outside the reach of transit.

Stronger commuter links to Chicago will also help attract new companies and new jobs to Northwest Indiana. Today, the region lags behind the rest of the Chicago market in terms of attracting new business investment. Last year, just 19 of more than 600 deals in the metro area were done in Lake and Porter counties. More commuting options will make us a more attractive and competitive region in which to start or relocate a business.

RDA Legislation Moves Forward in Indiana General Assembly

Last Tuesday, the Indiana Senate Tax & Fiscal Policy Committee unanimously approved HB 1398, Rep. Ed Soliday’s package of administrative changes to the RDA. The committee also signed off one significant modification, an amendment that removed proposed changes to board qualifications.

House Bill 1398, sponsored by state Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, mandates the RDA focus entirely on improving region transportation and infrastructure, or implementing the Marquette Plan for redevelopment of the Lake Michigan shoreline, instead of subsidizing corporate moves or other general economic development programs.

The measure, which now advances to the full Senate, also requires the State Budget Committee review RDA projects and obligates Hammond, East Chicago, Gary, and Lake and Porter counties to pay their annual $3.5 million shares of the RDA budget on time.

In response to concerns voiced by representatives of the Northwest Indiana Federation of Interfaith Organizations, work is underway on an additional amendment to the legislation which would add local hiring goals to the RDA’s mandate.

On the following Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee heard testimony regarding the RDA’s request for state funding for the West Lake Corridor expansion. The RDA is requesting $7.5 million a year for the next 30 years.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, a Democrat, and Portage Mayor James Snyder, a Republican, both urged the panel to include RDA funding for South Shore expansion in the state budget it is set to release April 9.

“As we ask for your help to move forward, I think you’re seeing a different type of Northwest Indiana. You hear ‘one region’ often; we’re putting action to those words in what we’re doing here,” Snyder said. “Because the success of west Lake County, the success of Gary, the success of Hammond is the success of Portage.

“Abandoning this would be a disaster.”

Since our inception in 2006, the RDA has invested about $30 million in regional transportation projects, including new rail cars for the South Shore commuter rail line, and parking and station improvements for the ChicaGo Dash service. Commuters who use these services every day to travel to jobs in Chicago bring back a combined $430 million in personal income annually to spend on goods and services here in Northwest Indiana. Currently, the RDA is working with local, state and federal officials to expand South Shore service to Chicago. That expansion, the West Lake Corridor, would result in an additional $231 million in personal income for the regional economy.

RDA Welcomes Chris Campbell to the Board of Directors

The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA) welcomes Christopher Campbell to its Board of Directors. Campbell, Senior Vice President at Centier Bank, will serve as Porter County’s representative to the RDA.

“I am honored to be selected by the Porter County Commissioners and County Council as their appointee to the RDA Board of Directors,” Campbell said. “I have a deep interest in the region and strongly believe that by coming together we can compete with anyplace else in the county.”

Campbell holds an MBA from Valparaiso University and sits on several other Boards in Northwest Indiana, including the Boards of the Valparaiso Parks Foundation, the Porter Starke Foundation, Valparaiso Events and the Valparaiso Economic Development Commission. Campbell is also Chairman of the Board of the E.F. Wildermuth Foundation, a national philanthropic organization based in Columbus, Ohio.

“On behalf of the Board of Directors, I would like to welcome Christopher to the Board and to the RDA,” said Board Chairman Don Fesko. “I look forward to working with him as we continue to lay the foundation for growth and development in Northwest Indiana.”

Bill Hanna, President and CEO of the RDA, noted that Campbell brings valuable skills and insights to the RDA. “Christopher brings additional experience in the financial industry and investing, which is more important than ever now that the RDA is gearing up to tackle its largest investment ever, the $571 million West Lake Corridor,” Hanna said. “He is also well-versed in grants and economic development, both of which are staples of RDA activity.”

Porter County Commissioner Jeff Good, who served as the county’s representative to the RDA until his election as Commissioner last November, called Campbell “an ideal choice” for the position. “He is an outstanding businessman and member of the community, and I can’t think of anyone I would rather have take my seat,” he said. “Christopher will be a great asset to the RDA, Porter County and Northwest Indiana.”

Chicago Leads Nation in Business Investment Again; NWI Lags

For the second straight year, Chicago led the nation in business investment, according to Site Selection magazine’s annual rankings. Overall, the State of Indiana shared in three of the top 10 metro areas with a population over 1 million: Chicago, Cincinnati, OH, and Louisville, KY. Of these, the Chicago market was by far the strongest, recording more business investment projects than the other two combined.

In conjunction with Site Selection’s rankings, World Business Chicago released its annual report of business deals in the metro area, (pdf) including those in Northwest Indiana. The good news: WBC counted 19 business investment projects in Lake and Porter counties in 2014, up from 16 in 2013. The bad news: that remains a meager fraction of the total deals — 624 in 2014 — done in the metro area last year.

Northwest Indiana’s lack of connectivity to Chicago compared to other counties surrounding the city is a major reason for this underperformance. It puts region residents at a disadvantage when competing for the more than 38,000 jobs these investments generated in the metro area last year. It also makes Northwest Indiana less attractive as a place to locate a business.

Currently, the RDA is working with local, state and federal officials to expand South Shore service to Chicago. Since our inception in 2006, the RDA has invested about $30 million in regional transportation projects, including new rail cars for the South Shore commuter rail line, and parking and station improvements for the ChicaGo Dash service. Commuters who use these services every day to travel to jobs in Chicago bring back a combined $430 million in personal income annually to spend on goods and services here in Northwest Indiana. The proposed expansion, the West Lake Corridor, would result in an additional $231 million in personal income for the regional economy.

South Shore Expansion On Track to the Indiana Senate

Tuesday evening, the Indianapolis House of Representatives voted 96-0 to send House Bill 1618 on to the Indiana Senate. The measure, authored by Rep. Hal Slager, creates a state grant program to fund expansion of the South Shore along the West Lake Corridor.

A second bill concerning the RDA, HB 1398, sponsored by Rep. Ed Soliday, passed the House on Monday. This bill makes several technical changes to the RDA’s enabling legislation which will strengthen our case for federal matching dollars on the West Lake Corridor project.

We would like to thank Reps. Slager and Soliday, all the members of the Northwest Indiana delegation and the many Representatives statewide that are supporting our efforts to foster economic growth and development here through a stronger connection to the Chicago market. Without their vision and hard work, none of this would be possible.

Since our inception in 2006, the RDA has invested about $30 million in regional transportation projects, including new rail cars for the South Shore commuter rail line, and parking and station improvements for the ChicaGo Dash service. Commuters who use these services every day to travel to jobs in Chicago bring back a combined $430 million in personal income annually to spend on goods and services here in Northwest Indiana. Currently, the RDA is working with local, state and federal officials to expand South Shore service to Chicago. That expansion, the West Lake Corridor, would result in an additional $231 million in personal income for the regional economy. For more about the project and why it’s important, check out RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna’s recent interview with nwindianalife.com above.