(The Center Square) – Though northwest Indiana has traditionally had a robust economy based on manufacturing and agriculture and its close proximity to Chicago and Lake Michigan, since 2018 the area has been in an economic revitalization effort and is well on the way to meeting its five-year objectives.
Ignite the Region is a strategy for economic transportation that focuses on five key areas: business development and marketing, entrepreneurship and innovation, talent, placemaking and infrastructure.
"Since the kickoff of Ignite in August of 2018, more than 27% of our implementation matrix is complete with an additional 61% in process," Raeann Trakas, director of marketing and membership at Northwest Indiana Forum, told The Center Square. "That’s 88% of our five-year plan in process or complete in just two years."
Trakas told The Center Square of several completed initiative projects, including in northwest Indiana, being designated an Economic Development District to be managed by the Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission and a partnership with Indiana Economic Development Corporation in a travel program that allows our local economic development organizations to visit with over 400 businesses, site selectors and brokers in 24 trips throughout the United States.
Impact Labs, an entrepreneurship and innovation hub created by Society of Innovators and Purdue University Northwest, are in development stages. A collaboration of regional community foundations has created the Northwest Indiana Biz Hub, a resource for entrepreneurs, business owners and innovators.
In an effort to showcase northwest Indiana's scenic amenities, Indiana Dunes National Park became Indiana’s only national park and the nation’s 61st. The South Shore Commuter Rail Doubling Track and Westlake projects have received local, state and federal funding to proceed. Influencing daily family life, with the Legacy Foundation, Lake County Eats Local Program has brought a market coordinator to the region to implement several new farmers markets in Gary and East Chicago, including the area’s first mobile market.
The Gary/Chicago airport will now serve as a UPS cargo hub. Also in infrastructure advancements, the New Market Tax Credit has provided capital to qualifying businesses and projects in highly distressed low-income areas.
There are several partners in this initiative, including Center for Workforce Innovation, local economic development organizations, Society of Innovators, Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission, Community Foundations, One Region and the Regional Development Authority.
"We want to continue to update this plan and look at what's next and make sure that the goals and the targets that we've set out for ourselves are really the things that we want to see come to fruition because we know that as we move forward, those things are going to change and that the opportunities for advancement may not be what we thought they were two years ago," Heather Ennis, CEO of Northwest Indiana Forum, told Inside Indiana Business.