Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Chesterton's pluses are minuses in quest for economic development dollars

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By KEVIN NEVERS

The Town of Chesterton has too few residents unemployed, too high a per capita income, and too robust a population growth rate to qualify for federal funding for the two infrastructure projects most covetously eyed by local officials: the Ind. 49 utility corridor and the Dickinson Road extension engineering study.

That’s the conclusion of the draft Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) devised by the Northwest Indiana Economic Development District (NEW EDD), an independent not-for-profit which is applying for EDD status for the region from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA).

EDD status would make Northwest Indiana eligible for federal assistance and financial support for economic development projects in the region.

If Chesterton officials want such assistance for these two projects, however, they’re going to have to look elsewhere or otherwise wait, as the utility corridor project scored an eight out of 24 possible points and the engineering study a seven, placing both in the “Long Term/Project to be Reexamined” category.

Yet none of the 27 projects submitted for EDA consideration scored particularly high, in the “Immediate/Project is a Priority” category. The top two—the KIP Industrial Park in the City of LaPorte and the Front Street Office Park in Whiting—garnered a 16 and 15 respectively, in the “Short Term/Final Details to be Ironed Out” category.

The top 16 projects—scoring at least a 10 and at best the 16—are all in Lake and LaPorte counties, with half of them being in the City of LaPorte.

Submitted projects earned from zero to three points in eight categories, with preference given to those in areas with high unemployment, low per capita income, and sluggish population growth. Preference was also given to shovel-ready projects with previously secured funding which would have a “regional impact” and result in significant job creation.

Public Comment Period

Northwest Indiana residents still have two weeks to comment on the draft CEDS—until 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 15—which can be found at www.nirpc.org and www.nwiforum.org

Comments should be submitted in writing to NWI EDD c/o Donald Koliboski at nwiedd@nwiforum.org or 6100 Southport Road, Portage, IN 46368.

CEDS Goals

The CEDS makes a number of recommendations for economic development projects over the next five years. Among them:

•Maximize technology, productivity, and efficiency of existing core industries, like steel, including the mapping of all fiber optic systems running through the region; facilitating collaboration between those core industries and higher education and technology centers to find “new ways of doing business”; and supporting the development of a regional teaching hospital to support the healthcare industry in Northwest Indiana.

•Create diverse, emerging, and sustainable industries in the region: “advanced” manufacturing; transportation, distribution, and logistics companies; and life sciences.

•Redevelop urban core area, by revitalizing existing commercial and industrial corridors; improving housing stock; and repairing infrastructure.

•Expand transportation infrastructure, by promoting the Port of Indiana; promoting the development of the Chicago/Gary International Airport; and securing funding for the establishment of high-speed rail.

•Improve the region’s workforce, by aligning its skills with “key industry clusters”; improving access to qualified workers and awareness of training resources; positioning the youth for college and workforce readiness; and supporting “an entrepreneurial spirit.”

•Make the region desirable for business, by pursuing the Marquette Plan; marketing recreational opportunities; supporting accessible healthcare facilities; encouraging non-motorized transport; investing in the arts and culture; and coordinating with country tourism bureaus.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The CEDS identifies several strengths on which Northwest Indiana can build but at the same time corresponding weaknesses:

•The proximity to Chicago, whose media simultaneously threaten to overshadowed the region.

•The Gary/Chicago International Airport, which however has no scheduled commercial air service and could be made irrelevant if the Peotone Airport were to become Chicago’s third major facility.

•The low cost of living, yet at the same time a misperception of the region’s having high wage rates and labor costs.

•A skilled workforce which is nevertheless not skilled in emerging industries.

•Universities and colleges, which do the region little good because their graduates leave Northwest Indiana to work elsewhere.

•Available land but no regional land-use plan.

•South Shore Commuter Rail but no regional transit system.

•Intergovernmental cooperation, offset by a lingering parochialism which could hinder a regional approach to economic development.

•Cultural diversity versus urban core decay.

Regional Demographics

The CEDS notes the following about Porter County:

•Since 1960 Porter County’s population has increased by 169.1 percent; Lake County’s has declined by 3.8 percent.

•The region is becoming much more ethnically and culturally diverse “due to both natural birth rates and migration.” Over the past eight years, Northwest Indiana’s total population increased by 25,000; over the same period, its Hispanic population increased by 20,000.

•The region has aged rapidly over the last decade, with the largest population increases experienced by these age groups: 55-59 (37.7 percent); 60-64 (34.9 percent); and 85+ (33.7 percent). By 2030, fully 21 percent of the region’s residents will be 65 and over. “Diminishing numbers of younger persons could have serious implications for the provision of services required by increasingly older populations,” the CEDS states.

•The region is lagging the rest of the nation in higher education: 48.1 percent of persons over 25 have completed some college, compared to 54.4 percent nationally; 19.7 percent have earned a bachelor’s degree, compared to 27.5 percent nationally.

•About 4.7 percent of persons living in Porter and Lake counties speak little or no English, compared to 3 percent across the state and 8.6 percent across the country.

•Porter County’s mean household income is $48,042, compared to the statewide mean of $47,448 and the nationwide mean of $50,740.

•Porter County’s per capita income is $39,497, compared to the national per capita income of $38,615.

•In Porter County 8.7 percent of residents live in poverty; In Lake County, 16.5 percent; in Indiana, 13.1 percent; in the nation as a whole, 13.2 percent.

•Between 2003 and 2007, employment in the region increased by 2.9 percent: management positions increased by 56 percent, educational services by 21.7 percent, transportation and warehousing by 16.3 percent. But agricultural jobs decreased by 23 percent, information jobs by 11.5 percent, and arts/entertainment/recreational by 10 percent.

•Of the four largest employment sectors, between 2003 and 2007 manufacturing lost 5 percent of jobs and government 3.4 percent; while healthcare gained 11.5 percent and retail 4.8 percent.

 

 

 

Posted 4/1/2010

 

 

 

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