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.

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.