South Shore Expansion Will Bring Jobs to Northwest Indiana

One question we hear about expanding commuter rail to Chicago is, why depend on Chicago for our jobs? Why not focus on creating good-paying jobs right here in Northwest Indiana? The answer is that expanding rail will not only improve access to jobs in Chicago, but also lay the foundation for business growth in communities throughout Lake and Porter counties as well.

In 2013, there were 677 business investment project in the Chicago metro area (including Lake and Porter counties in Indiana) according to World Business Chicago’s annual market profile. These projects represented more than 38,000 jobs and $6 billion in private investment. But of those 677 investments, Lake and Porter counties received a mere 16, while the suburban collar counties around Chicago in Illinois collected 265. You can see the full breakdown here.

Overlaid on a map of rail lines in Chicago and Northwest Indiana, the pattern becomes clear: businesses are choosing to invest in the parts of the Chicago market where the rail, and the population, are strong. Lacking that same transit connection, Northwest Indiana hasn’t been able to amass the same kind workforce depth. That means the number of companies that would consider relocating here is limited, despite our lower taxes and lower costs of living.

What this tells us is that all rungs of the development ladder must be strong when competing in a market like Chicago. In order to compete. Increased commuter access that will make us a true part of the third-largest economy in our nation, along with our other advantages, constitutes the way forward for the region. This is the strategy for new jobs, new residents and new investment right here that will turn Northwest Indiana in an established direction of success.

Rail Expansion Boosts Property Values and Disposable Income

How will expanding commuter rail in Northwest Indiana benefit those in cities and towns on or near the new line? A recent study suggests that it will increase property values and, for those riding the trains, reduce transportation costs.

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.

Looking more broadly, the benefits of expanded connectivity to Chicago will flow throughout the region. Currently, commuters who use South Shore trains 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 additional $231 million in personal income for the regional economy.

The Indiana General Assembly is now considering House Bill 1618, which would provide state funds for the construction of the West Lake Corridor. Please contact your representative today and let them know that you support commuter rail expansion in Northwest Indiana.

Gary/Chicago International Runway Extension on Track

Despite frigid winter temperatures, contractors working on the rail relocation and runway expansion project at the Gary/Chicago International Airport are 90% done removing the old railroad tracks and earthen berm that have blocked the runway expansion for more more than a decade.

Once the removal is complete, the new section of the runway can be connected to the existing runway. The longer, completed runway will allow the airport to accommodate planes of any size and to maintain its viability as Chicago’s third airport.

The expansion project is a collaborative effort funded by the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, the State of Indiana and the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, the Chicago Department of Aviation, and the City of Gary.

“With completion of the runway and relocation of the railroad tracks, the Gary/Chicago International Airport is poised to contribute significantly to the regional economy,” RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna said at an October event marking the start of demolition work on the old tracks. “The expansion is expected to create more than 2,000 new jobs in Northwest Indiana by 2025, which will generate an estimated $156 million in personal income annually and have an overall yearly economic impact of more than $420 million.”

State Considers Investment in South Shore Expansion

Legislation being considered by the Indiana House would continue to provide state support to the Regional Development Authority (RDA) for expansion of commuter rail in Northwest Indiana.

State Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, this week filed House Bill 1618 creating a matching state grant program to provide $9.4 million annually through 2045 to help pay the local share required to obtain the federal funds needed to run the train to Dyer.

The legislation, co-sponsored by state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, codifies the RDA’s promise to spend $8 million a year for the expansion project and another $4 million on operating costs by obligating the agency to annually pay at least $9.4 million of its revenue for the South Shore in order to receive the same amount in state funds.

We are grateful for the foresight and support of Reps. Slager and Soliday, as well as that of the rest of the Northwest Indiana House and Senate delegations. Commuter rail expansion is critical to job and economic growth in the region.

Over the past year and a half, the RDA has committed to support commuter rail expansion, more than a dozen local communities have agreed to pitch in funds and the General Assembly has dedicated a revenue stream to establish an operating fund for the new West Lake Corridor. This year’s legislation represents the final piece of the puzzle.

For more on the importance of commuter rail in Northwest Indiana, check out RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna’s appearance this week on Inside Indiana Business.

Air Show Returning to Marquette Park in 2015

The Gary air show is returning to Marquette Park in July of 2015, Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson announced at a November press conference at the Marquette Pavilion. The city is partnering with business at the Gary/Chicago International Airport to produce the event.

Referring to the RDA-funded restoration of Marquette Park, the Mayor noted that “what was done at Marquette Park was done with the air show in mind, and this really does bring together two of the RDA’s most significant investments,” the park and the airport. Added Gary Common Councilman Ronald Brewer, “we have had all these great renovations, and now it’s time to show off our jewel.”

Wil Davis, owner of the Gary Jet Center, pledged his support in making the air show happen next year. “We are bringing the air show back to Miller where it belongs,” he said. Mayor Freeman-Wilson noted that the show will drive tourism dollars into the city, and Gary Chamber President/CEO Chuck Hughes said that was great news for businesses in Gary that the air show used to boost. “Many members of the Chamber look forward to being vendors at the show,” he said.

The RDA invested $28 million in the renovations at Marquette Park as part of the Marquette Plan to recover 75% of the shoreline for public use. This attracted an additional $2 million from federal sources. To date, the RDA and local communities have invested more than $200 million in shoreline improvements in Hammond, Gary, East Chicago, Whiting and Portage over the past nine years. This investment is projected to create more than 1,000 jobs, primarily in the tourism and hospitality industries, and add more than $90 million annually to the region’s economy by 2025.

South Shore Expansion Funding Drive Continues

Bad news for commuters who drive to work in Chicago: the cost of parking is going up. Mayor Rahm Emanuel is raising the city’s parking tax to 22 percent on weekdays, which would give Chicago the highest parking tax in the nation. That’s all the more reason to expand and upgrade the South Shore train line and give Northwest Indiana residents even more options for accessing high-paying careers in Chicago.

Congressman Pete Visclosky recently sat down with with nwindianalife.com to talk about the $571 million West Lake Corridor extension and how it will be funded.

Northwest Indiana residents had an opportunity to give their thoughts on the proposed West Lake Corridor project at a meeting hosted by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD). More than 100 people turned out to learn about and comment on the project.

“People were generally supportive of the expansion,” says RDA COO Sherri Ziller, who was on hand to answer questions about financing. “Understandably there are concerns about cost, the locations of stations, the impact on traffic and many other aspects of the project, but there’s also an awareness of the huge potential benefits to the region.”

The session was part of the process of drafting a federally required environmental impact statement for the project. “We want to make sure that anyone who is interested can voice their opinion and be heard,” says NICTD Planning and Marketing Director John Parsons. “Anyone who is not able to come to a public session can also submit comments online at www.nictdwestlake.com.”

In continuing support of the expansion project, both the Northwest Indiana Forum and the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission recently renewed their backing for the West Lake Corridor project. Both groups passed resolutions calling for extended state funding for the RDA and expanding the South Shore in 2013 and have updated them for this year.

The West Lake Corridor extension and upgrades to the existing line are projected to create nearly 2,000 jobs in Northwest Indiana. The project is part of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District’s 20-year strategic plan to create jobs and boost the economy of the region and the state. When in full operation, the extension will serve more than 5,000 daily riders who will bring back about $147 million in annual salaries to spend on goods and services in Northwest Indiana. That’s a 62% increase over the income returned by the existing South Shore line. The extension will also increase property values, spur transit-oriented development in communities on and near the new line, and increase the region’s attractiveness to companies looking to relocate to Indiana. The RDA has pledged $8 million annually over the next 30 years to fuel construction of the West Lake Corridor.

Lakeshore Restoration Gets Statewide Attention

Regional Development Authority President and CEO joined Inside Indiana Business’ Gerry Dick recently to discuss the transformation of the Whiting Lakefront Park into a lakeshore destination for Northwest Indiana. The project, fueled by $22 million in RDA grants, has attracted tens of millions more in local, federal and private investment in Whiting, including a new baseball stadium, new residential and retail development and infrastructure upgrades. Watch Gerry and Bill discuss the Whiting Lakefront Park and its broader implications for the region and the state of Indiana here.

This project is among the Marquette Plan projects the RDA has funded in Whiting, Hammond, Portage, East Chicago and Gary. Overall, the RDA and lakeshore communities have invested more than $200 million in the Lake Michigan shoreline since 2006. Over the next ten years, these investments are projected to generate more than 1,000 jobs and will add $93 million a year to the region’s total economic output by 2025.

Gary Airport Announces Student Career Symposium

As part of the Gary/Chicago International Airport’s broader workforce development initiative, the Airport, public-private partner, AvPORTS, the City of Gary and several other businesses and organizations have partnered together to host a one-day Student Career Symposium to introduce high school juniors and seniors to career opportunities in high-growth sectors, higher education, and the skills necessary to successfully enter the workforce.

The event will be held at the Genesis Convention Center in downtown Gary, Indiana on Saturday, December 13th, 2014.

Exhibitors who would like to share information about careers in their field with High School Students can sign up for free exhibit space. All of the region’s public and charter high schools have been invited. The event is also seeking persons who would consider being a Mentor for the Resume Building & Interview Skills Workshops. For complete details download this informational pdf.