The group ready to fashion a robust workforce for Porter County came to
Tuesday’s County Commissioners meeting to show they mean business.
A handful of members from the county jobs cabinet were in attendance as Bill
Hanna, the facilitator for the group, presented a “midpoint report” to the
Starting in January after Commissioner President John Evans, R-North,
appointed members along with Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas and Portage Mayor
James Snyder, the cabinet met on a bimonthly basis to investigate the
economic growth factors, impediments and opportunities within the county.
A system of surveys and input from the board led to the findings. The
cabinet is now in the process of reaching out to stakeholders – local
businesses and private industry, chambers of commerce and elected officials
– to participate in input sessions for further insights into what resources
are needed to improve the county’s economy.
“While we have a lot of expertise in the room, we don’t have all the
answers,” Hanna said.
According to the report, Porter County’s greatest economic strength lies in
its infrastructure, given its access to roads such as I-80 and I-94 and the
Port of Indiana in Burns Harbor. Location was rated high on the list of
strengths, as the proximity to the Indiana Dunes is central to the economy.
Hanna said a third reason businesses want to move here is for education,
saying that the county has a number of school districts with some of the top
test scores in the state. “It’s a huge economic driver.”
More reasons the county remains attractive to businesses is the tax climate,
having high assessed values and reasonably low tax rates.
On the flip side, Hanna said the cabinet named lack of coordination or
partnering on efforts as the county’s biggest weakness when it comes to
economic growth. A related problem, Hanna said, would be for officials to
not think regionally about what opportunities there may be to benefit the
region or the state. Among the weaknesses, having planning codes that make
development difficult was mentioned and lack of a countywide plan for
The cabinet further named opportunities the county could look into to spur
growth, chiefly the $180 million nest egg associated with the sale of Porter
hospital. They also suggested looking at cluster developments and improved
use of infrastructure, including thinking ahead about the Illiana
Things that could threaten growth, the cabinet said, would be development
without a strong plan. “Creating a plan is pretty much why this group
exists,” said Hanna.
A polarized political climate is also one of the detriments listed. Not
taking advantage of the natural resources nor competing with firms in the
Chicago area are also seen as potential problems. Other threatening
situations to avoid are loss of tax base, infringement and having areas that
are not aesthetically pleasing.
Once the data from the remaining focus sessions is compiled, Hanna said the
cabinet will get to work on its main objective, which is to create a
strategic plan or “roadmap” for officials to follow and execute with the
promise of bringing jobs.
Hanna said approximately 120 business from each pocket of the county have
participated in one of the 18 focus sessions which are being conducted by
Desila Rosetti of Organizational Development Solutions. Questions try to
pinpoint what the needs are of a business and how the county can coordinate
with the stakeholder on achieving those. Solutions may include building new
In the upcoming month, the cabinet will hold a retreat to reevaluate goals
and set a course for the strategic plan.
Evans expressed his satisfaction with the cabinet’s progress and the fact
that there is representation from all over the county with different levels
“It’s really a tribute to the people working in the group. We are ready to
get this done,” Evans said.
Fellow commissioner Nancy Adams, R-Center, said the plan commission over the
recent months has added six new amendments to the Unified Development
Ordinance to make it more convenient and less costly for developers wanting
to build in Porter County. Changes have been officially made to the sections
regarding Planned Unit Developments (PUDs), drainage, subdivision control,
development review, sign posting and property maintenance.
Instead of “jumping through a lot of hoops,” plan commission executive
director Robert Thompson said, developers will have the ability to work with
one review committee. The amendments do make developing easier but the same
standards apply, he said.
Evans said the county’s new economic redevelopment commission will be a
strong asset, fostering growth in the areas of the county poised for
development such as the one surrounding the new hospital.