Chesterton Tribune


County lacks shovel-ready sites, awaits jobs report

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The Porter County Redevelopment Commission was told the county lacks “shovel-ready” sites but the wheels are in motion to spur more jobs when the Porter County Jobs Cabinet releases its comprehensive report at the end of this year.

Cabinet facilitator Bill Hanna accepted an invitation by the commission to speak on Thursday about how to approach the function of economic development, the central goal for the redevelopment commission.

Hanna referred to a presentation he gave to the County Commissioners in June on preliminary findings by the cabinet which is comprised of business leaders throughout the county and chamber of commerce members. The June report evaluated the county’s economic strengths – infrastructure, closeness to Chicago and the Indiana Dunes, good schools – vs. its weaknesses such as lack of coordination and planning.

The Cabinet’s plan, Hanna said, will include ways to grow four sectors in the county: healthcare, heavy industry, information technology, and tourism.

“We have the opportunity to show businesses we have a plan. We have certainty and drive,” said Hanna.

Surveys were conducted over the summer with about 150 responses from local business owners. The data collected will be used to quantify figures for return on investments on strategies that elected officials can act on.

“It will give you some pointers on which areas you want to hit first,” said Hanna. He said the Cabinet will not try to make the decisions for government officials and will only serve in an advisory capacity.

Commission Chair Ric Frataccia, fellow member Jim Polarek and advisor Ralph Ayres mentioned they would like to see a central point of contact for businesses to reach when looking to develop in the county and could point out where the best set up would be. Hanna said he supports the central contact as it would help prevent placing similar businesses in areas where they would be in competition with each other, which he said wouldn’t do much good “in the same tax pool.”

Ayres asked Hanna if he could provide numbers of how many people working in the county are from outside the county and vice versa. He said the reason he inquired is Lake County is considering its first optional local income tax and those residents would have to pay it no matter where they work.

If Lake County residents pay an income tax, those tax dollars won’t go to places like Porter County which means it’s likely the county would be impacted by a shortfall.

“It’s just something to think about,” Ayres said.

Grant writers found

In other business, the commission has selected South Shore Grants Center of Whiting to complete applications for three Office of Community and Rural Affairs grants for three separate matters. One would be to reinforce the dam at the Lake of the Woods Club in Valparaiso; another would be a restore the historic Collier Lodge on the Kankakee River in Pleasant Twp.

OCRA grants would need to be submitted by a government entity but since no one on the commission has the expertise in writing grant applications, South Shore Grants Center was sought.

The firm, which assists non-profits and government entities in writing grants, would be reimbursed 2.5 percent of the grants received. It is the same company which helped the Porter County Parks Department obtain grants for development at Sunset Hill Farm County Park.

TIF presentation postponed

Due to the shortage of time, the commission took a rain check on hearing a presentation from member John Shepherd providing an overview of how tax increment financial (TIF) districts would function and also the county’s potential for technological resources.

Shepherd will give a presentation during the next meeting on Oct. 18.

Meanwhile, another adjustment was made to the five-member commission. County Council member Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, will be the council designee for President Dan Whitten. The state requires the commissioner president and the Council president to be on the board or appoint a designee. At the last meeting, Shepherd was sworn in as the designee for County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North.



 Posted 9/21/2012