Northwest Indiana Makes its Pitch for Regional Cities Investment

lakeshore2Officials from the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) got a tour of Northwest Indiana yesterday in advance of the region’s application for Regional Cities funding. Northwest Indiana is competing with other cities and counties around the state for $84 million in Regional Cities grants that IEDC will distribute to winning communities. The goal of the Regional Cities program is to build healthy, vibrant communities that attract and retain talent in Indiana.

The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA) and the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District are submitting a proposal for $42 million from the Regional Cities program that would support rail improvements, service upgrades and transit-oriented development (TOD) along the existing South Shore line from Gary to Michigan City.

The heart of the proposal involves fully double-tracking the South Shore line from Gary to Michigan City. Currently, the South Shore line is double-tracked from Chicago to Tennessee Street in Gary. For 17.2 of the 25.9 miles from there to Michigan City, the South Shore is a single-track railroad. Constructing a continuous double track would increase scheduling flexibility, improve reliability, expand maintenance windows and eliminate the single point of failure that exists with single track operation.

Double-tracking would greatly reduce commuting times to and from Chicago and make cities and towns along the line much more attractive for transit-oriented development. Encouraging TOD around the South Shore line that compliments existing neighborhoods can enhance ridership, access to job markets and help the region in economic growth.

The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC), the Northwest Indiana Forum and One Region are among those supporting the application. Ty Warner, Executive Director of NIRPC and Heather Ennis, President and CEO of the Forum, were among those joining RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna, NICTD General Manager Mike Noland and NIPSCO Economic Development Director Don Babcock in guiding the IEDC delegation around Northwest Indiana.

Regional Cities representatives included Indiana Secretary of Commerce Victor Smith, IEDC President Jim Schellinger and Vice President for Policy and Strategic Initiatives Eric Shields. Also along for the day was Joel Gorelick, former Peoples Bank President and CAO, and a member of the committee which will choose the winning regions in the Regional Cities competition. You can see photos of the tour here.

We believe our inclusive, collaborative proposal will benefit four counties – Lake, Porter, LaPorte and St. Joseph – with a combined population of more than 1 million by encouraging private investment in transit-oriented development, attracting new residents and businesses, creating new jobs in Indiana and offering increased access to high-paying careers in Chicago. Fully double-tracking the existing South Shore line from Gary to Michigan City will reduce transit times to and from Chicago, enable the South Shore to offer increased service, and improve on-time performance and customer satisfaction. Quick, reliable and frequent access to the third-largest metro economy in the country will directly answer the Regional Cities challenge for plans that create jobs, encourage economic development and improve quality of place.

RDA Board Gives Green Light to Porter County Airport Grant

portrer county airportThe Board of Directors of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority today approved a $317,197 grant to the Porter County Regional Municipal Airport that will provide matching funds for $12.6 million in runway and equipment improvements.

The Board’s approval is contingent upon Porter County authorizing a like amount as part of a package of local and state matching funds. The $317,197 each from the RDA and Porter County would be combined with $634,394 in state funding to provide a 10% local match to access $11.4 million in federal funds.

The total $12.6 million from this combination would be used for rehabilitation and reconstruction on runway 9-27, which is in danger of falling below minimum service levels, and to complete a High Intensity Runway Lighting Rehabilitation project which would replace lighting components that are beyond their service lifetime.

“Just like the airport in Gary, the Porter County airport is a significant driver of regional economic activity,” said RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna. “A 2012 estimate put its economic impact at more than $17 million annually. This grant is a small but vital piece to access federal funding for urgently needed repairs and upgrades.”
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RDA Provides $3.5 Million to Bring 500 New Jobs to NWI

Titan (2)Hoist Liftruck Mfg., Inc., a manufacturer of high-capacity material handling equipment, announced plans today to expand its manufacturing operations into East Chicago, creating up to 500 new jobs in Indiana by 2022. The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA) is supporting the move with a $3.5 million commitment from its No-Interest Securitized Forgivable Loan Fund.

“Comparing business climates from around the Midwest to Indiana, the Hoosier advantage is clear,” said Governor Mike Pence. “Our low taxes, affordable cost of doing business and skilled Hoosier workforce are key factors in helping companies grow. Today, Indiana’s unemployment rate is the lowest among our neighboring states because businesses like Hoist Liftruck are looking at the numbers and choosing to expand to the vibrant communities in our state.”
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Gary Airport Celebrates New Runway

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This picture from the runway dedication program shows the old runway (left) and the new extension.

The Gary/Chicago International Airport formally opened its new, 8,900-foot runway to the applause of hundreds gathered below skies crowded with jets and planes practicing for the upcoming Gary Air Show. Airport Interim Director Dan Vicari called the new runway a game-changer for Northwest Indiana and Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson predicted that it would benefit the entire region

The project was started in 2006 but only proceeded by fits and starts until about two years ago. It had an estimated cost of $90 million in 2006 that swelled to an actual cost of $174 million by the project’s end.

Gary and region officials hope the opening of the expanded runway marks the beginning of a new era for Gary, as they craft other economic development projects such as a nearby Buffington Harbor industrial park.

An analysis conducted by the RDA in 2012 projects that the expanded airport will help create more than 2,000 new jobs in the region by 2025 and increase personal income by an estimate $156 million annually. Its impact was already being felt in the days leading up to the runway dedication ceremony with the announcement of two fresh private investments in the footprint of the airport.

First, Carmeuse Lime & Stone broke ground on a new rail terminal, part of a $31 million package of investments that include a new waste-to-energy facility. The company plans to add 30 to 40 jobs as a result of the expansion. Just hours after the groundbreaking, Mayor Freeman-Wilson unveiled a partnership with Terre Haute-based Garmong Construction Services to develop an 85-acre industrial park at the airport.

Both projects are being supported by a $7.5 million grant from the RDA. This grant matches funding from the City of Gary and the Indiana Economic Development Corporation to pay for $13.5 million in access road improvements to the sites of Carmeuse Lime and the new industrial park. The RDA is committed to helping the airport and city attract more jobs and investment to the region.

We Need Your Help!

Residents of Lake, Porter and La Porte counties are being asked to weigh in on transit-oriented development (TOD) and service improvements on the South Shore commuter rail line. The online survey is part of an effort by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD) and the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA) to secure Regional Cities funding for TOD and other projects on the South Shore main line.

Encouraging development around existing transit service by both the public and private sectors can improve the entire regional economy by raising incomes and property values.

Please take a few minutes to complete our survey. Please feel free to skip any questions that you do not feel comfortable answering. This survey and the result are confidential and will be used as part of the application for funding for our area.

RDA Board Approves $13.5 Million in Grants and Loans

The Board of Directors of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority today approved roughly $13.5 million in matching grants and loans to support more than $160 million in infrastructure and economic development projects in Northwest Indiana.

“We’ve had some things on hold since the beginning of the year,” says RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna. “There were significant questions about our future funding going into the last session of the General Assembly and the board thought it best to adopt a ‘wait and see’ attitude before committing to anything beyond what we had already committed to. Now that the RDA has received fresh funding and direction from the legislature, we want to move forward as expeditiously as possible so these projects can get started and begin delivering benefits to the region.”

Actions taken today by the RDA Board include:

Φ Approval of a $7.456 million matching grant for the City of Gary for access road improvements at Buffington Harbor. This grant is contingent on final funding commitments from the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC), which has pledged $2.3 million, and Gary, which has promised a $3.5 million contribution.

This project will expand the newly constructed Gary Marina Access Road (Buffington Harbor Drive) to include an additional travel lane that provides directs access to industrial sites near the Gary/Chicago International Airport and the lakefront from Cline Avenue. This will allow industrial traffic to be separated from Majestic Star Casino traffic and enhance economic development efforts at the airport.

Φ Authorized use of the RDA’s No Interest Securitized Forgivable Loan Program (a.k.a. the Deal-Closing Fund) for two pending economic development projects in Northwest Indiana. The RDA agreed to provide:

$2.5 million to support a potential $110 million investment in Hobart that would create approximately 600 full and part-time jobs, and

$3.5 million for a proposed $35.6 million investment in East Chicago that would relocate about 250 jobs to the region and create an additional 100 new jobs over the next three years.

Ongoing negotiations between the companies involved, the IEDC and local officials preclude releasing further details of these projects at this time. RDA funds will only be used if the projects are finalized. These projects represent the final uses of the No Interest Securitized Forgivable Loan Program, which permanently sunsets July 1 by order of the Indiana General Assembly.

Φ Agreed to partner with Purdue and the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC) to pursue federal funds under the new NOAA Regional Coastal Resilience Grants Program. The RDA will provide $150,000, and Purdue and NIRPC $50,000 each, to access $500,000 in additional federal funding under the program.

The coastal resilience grants program will support regional (Lake, Porter and La Porte counties) approaches to activities that build resilience of coastal regions, communities, and economic sectors to the negative impacts from extreme weather events, climate hazards, changing lakefront conditions, and the vulnerability/climate protection of the South Shore train and Gary Airport.

Φ Approved the first loan from the Brownfield Revolving Loan Fund in the amount of $400,000 for the City of Gary for asbestos abatement at the Ambassador Apartments. Part of a $1.7 million demolition project, this effort will transform a dangerous, abandoned apartment building in the Horace Mann neighborhood into a vibrant green space with mixed-use development potential. The projects planned completion date is February 2016.

The loan fund is managed by the Northwest Indiana Brownfield Coalition (NWIBC). The Coalition and Loan Committee include the cities of East Chicago, Hammond, Gary, and also NIRPC, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the RDA. The NWIBC Loan Committee, on June 12, voted to approve the application. The loan term is five years with 0% interest charged as long as the loan is fully repaid within that time.

Φ Finally, the Board of Directors approved an amount not to exceed $450,000 to update the RDA’s Comprehensive Strategic Plan as required by legislation passed in the 2015 Indiana General Assembly. The update is a prerequisite to RDA receiving $6 million annuaLlY from the state for construction of the West Lake Corridor.

Because of this need to closely integrate the planning of transit-oriented development (TOD) side-by-side with the planning of rail construction and financing, the update will include both the West Lake and TOD planning elements. The update, to be done by Policy Analytics, LLC and American Structurepoint, will be completed by April 2016.

Rail Expansion a Game-Changer for Northwest Indiana

RDA President and CEO Bill Hanna recently sat down with Inside Indiana Businesses’ Gerry Dick to talk about South Shore expansion.

Passage of legislation that provides $6 million a year for 30 years to expand commuter rail is “hugely significant for us,” Hanna said. “It puts us on parity with Illinois suburbs and will help us reestablish the middle class in Northwest Indiana.” Watch the whole thing here.

After Bill’s segment, IIB’s panel of experts also discussed rail expansion’s impact, calling it a “huge regional economic development success” for NWI. You can watch their conversation here.

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 West Lake Corridor expansion will result in an additional $231 million in personal income for the regional economy.

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.