NWI Times: Officials tout Northwest Indiana’s potential in bid for $52M in state READI grants

Heather Ennis, president of the Northwest Indiana Forum, speaks Wednesday to state commerce leaders in support of Northwest Indiana’s request for $52 million in funding from the state’s $500 million READI grant program to support 36 regional infrastructure and economic development projects.

Dan Carden

Northwest Indiana leaders made their pitch to state economic development officials Wednesday for $52 million in funding to support 36 regional projects focused on taking an already dynamic corner of the state to the next level.

“Northwest Indiana is on the tipping point of greatness,” proclaimed Heather Ennis, president of the Northwest Indiana Forum. “We have all the ingredients to be the powerhouse of the Midwest, but we need some resources to string these opportunities together.”

The state’s commerce agency, known as the Indiana Economic Development Corp., is poised to distribute by the end of the month some $500 million in federal economic stimulus funds in the form of READI (Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative) grants.

Altogether, 17 self-identified regions across the state are competing for the grants, including the Northwest Indiana region of Lake, Porter, LaPorte, Newton, Jasper, Pulaski and Starke counties.

Northwest Indiana’s READI pitch centered on ready-to-go projects drawn from the multibillion-dollar “Ignite the Region” economic development plan developed and implemented over the past four years as a framework for building economic growth and prosperity in the Region.

Both focus on timely investments in five key areas, or pillars: infrastructure; place making; entrepreneurship and innovation; talent; and business development and marketing.

Among the projects in the Northwest Indiana READI application are requests to fund technology initiatives aimed at turning the area between Chicago and South Bend into a quantum computing hub for the nation, three new business and industrial parks, and a medical research park.

It also seeks funds to train a new generation of workers for high technology jobs in those developments, upskill current workers changing to technology careers, and support young, minority and rural entrepreneurs to innovate and lead in tech and other industries.

In addition, the application requests money to finish the Marquette Greenway trail spanning the length of Indiana’s Lake Michigan shoreline, developing transit-oriented neighborhoods adjacent to the South Shore Line expansion projects, and promoting local farm and food distribution initiatives.

Officials said Northwest Indiana individuals, businesses and communities already have committed more than $550 million to these projects — a 10:1 match — and additional support from the state in the form of a READI grant will help put them over the top.

“I have never been more inspired, or more confident, in its potential success,” said Don Babcock, director of economic development and community relations at Purdue University Northwest.

Sherri Ziller, president and CEO of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, said just the extension of the South Shore Line from Hammond to Dyer, and the double-tracking of the existing commuter rail line between Gary and Michigan City, are projected to generate $2.3 billion in additional economic development, create 6,000 new jobs, and attract 10,000 new residents by 2048.

She said the projects in the Northwest Indiana READI grant application, as well as the Ignite the Region plan, have “limitless potential” to draw even more investment, business and people to Northwest Indiana, improve the Region’s quality of life, and grow the per capita income of area workers.

IEDC officials were characteristically mum following the presentation at the Dallara Indycar Factory in Speedway, just outside of Indianapolis.

At the same time, Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb never has been shy about touting economic growth in Northwest Indiana as key to the continued success of the state as a whole.

Holcomb said in August at the induction ceremony for the Business and Industry Hall of Fame, sponsored by The Times Media Co., that he believes the only thing that surpasses Northwest Indiana’s current status as a great place to live, work, play and stay is its potential.

“You’ve got so much going on here,” Holcomb said. “We’re humble Hoosiers, but it’s OK to have some swagger when it’s true, and there’s a lot to share about this Region.”

View article in the NWI Times here.