It was forged by the efforts of state lawmakers in 2005 as one of the
largest initiatives ever in Indiana and has proved itself as the leading
economic driver for the region putting forward $210.5 million in investments
That’s what more than 40 Duneland Chamber of Commerce members and guests
were told Wednesday during a luncheon at the Hilton Garden Inn in Chesterton
The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA) is projected to
have supported the creation of roughly 4,000 jobs from its investments from
2006 through 2015, according to the most recent third-party return on
investment study done by Policy Analytics. Each dollar invested by the
agency returns $5.21 in cumulative economic output and $2.57 of those funds
leveraged came from outside sources benefiting NWI residents.
RDA Chief Operating Officer Sherri Ziller told the audience about projects
that either have been completed or are underway in Lake and Porter counties.
“We always enjoy the opportunity to tell our story,” she said.
The RDA was charged by the Indiana General Assembly with spearheading the
development of Gary/Chicago International Airport, extension of commuter
rail systems, regional bus transit, redevelopment of the Lake Michigan
shoreline and “other types of economic development,” Ziller said.
RDA involvements include the revitalization of East Chicago’s water
filtration system, Whiting Lakefront Park, Wolf Lake Development in Hammond,
Marquette Park Pavilion, the Portage Riverwalk and Northshore Park, the
ChicaGoDash bus line in Valparaiso, and for Duneland planning studies for
the towns of Burns Harbor and Pines and the Porter Gateway to the Dunes
which will connect with the countywide Dunes-Kankakee Trail.
Each year, the state funds $10 million in support to the RDA while the five
local sources pay $3.5 million in annual dues from either casino revenues or
local income tax. The agency works to get grants and form private/public
partnerships to make investments.
Ziller said for the Gary airport, every $1 invested by the RDA for the
runway extension generates $5.32 in total economic output. The airport
expansion is the biggest economic development project, she said, creating
approximately 2,430 new jobs by 2025 and will generate more than $527
million in economic output and $169 million in disposable income.
Shoreline development projects are projected to generate a combined total of
$93 million in total economic output for NWI with 1,010 new jobs, mostly
tourism-related, by 2015, Ziller said.
While the Regional Bus Authority was shut down due to lack of funding, the
RDA is still investing in “surface transportation,” or a bus and rail
combination. Ziller said the ChicGoDash, which was created with the help of
a grant procured by the RDA, gave a record number of 47,986 rides in 2012
and recently added a fourth bus.
One of the objectives the RDA is pushing toward is improving commuter routes
to Chicago. The RDA was instrumental in purchasing 14 new rail cars for the
South Shore line with a grant matching federal funds in 2007 and has
partnered with the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District on a
$550,000 effort to develop a strategic business plan which is to be complete
From the audience, Brock Lloyd of LaPorte Savings Bank in Chesterton said
talk of branching the South Shore Line into places like Valparaiso have been
a subject of conversation for more than 20 years now and asked Ziller if
there would ever be a “ah ha” moment to see things moving beyond “study
Ziller said the plan will flesh out details on how to meet goals in the next
15 years. She said the groups also want to determine if there is a need for
expansion which would involve many public discussions and workshops since
costs are expected to be in “the billion-dollar range.”
RDA Communications Director David Wellman added that the study will address
the possible expansion of service into other areas with access to airports
and recreational destinations, strategies to increase ridership on the South
Shore and opportunities for public/private partnerships.
“It’s going to lay out a roadmap rather than just talking about it,” he
South Shore Convention and Visitors President and CEO Speros Batistatos,
from the audience, gave his opinion that NICTD could reach its full economic
potential if its management undergoes a “full paradigm shift.” Instead of
just being “a net exporter of human capital” commuting workers to Chicago,
NICTD could develop connections with the many parks, casinos, the Gary
Airport, and other landmarks nearb,y bringing more dollars to the region.
Ziller said the RDA is hoping it can renew its $10 million of yearly support
from the state past 2015.
The state agreed to pledge $10 million annually to the RDA for 10 years from
2006 to 2015. The agency has five local sources which pay $3.5 million in
annual dues ($17.5 million total) from either casino revenues or local
Further investment will help the agency complete a growing list of projects
including further connectivity to Chicago, the construction of a trauma
center and teaching hospital in Gary, brownfield remediation in Lake County,
further development of the lakeshore in East Chicago and Portage, developing
partnering opportunities with the Indiana Economic Development Company and
opening up more regional trails.
“There are so many opportunities out there that will benefit generations to
come,” said Ziller.
Duneland Chamber Executive Director Heather Ennis asked members to “keep in
mind that all these projects are helping our quality of life.”
Ennis also told members a groundbreaking ceremony will be held for the
Dunes-Kankakee Trail on Monday at 1:30 p.m. at the historic gates of Indiana
Dunes State Park and thanked the RDA for their contribution in getting the
The event was co-sponsored by Porter Health Systems and Kramer and Leonard
Office Products, of Portage.