For more than a century, industrial manufacturing has been a critical component to the success of northwest Indiana. While the region was hit hard by the nation’s manufacturing transition, there are signs of significant economic improvement and growth with the rise of tourism, a planned $300 million Hard Rock Casino in Gary, and several quality of place investments in various communities.
On a special road show edition of Inside INdiana Business with Gerry Dick from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Hanna said the state of the region’s economy has never been better.
"We went through a period of struggle there of course with the industrial decline and a lot of it had to do with productivity, too, so I feel like the steel industry and BP are more competitive than they’ve ever been," said Hanna. "But we’re learning also to adjust to some of the changes there in terms of employment and so I think we’ve postured ourselves as the new suburban opportunity around Chicago and that’s a game changer for us."
Hanna says while manufacturing is still a powerhouse in northwest Indiana, the region has begun to look toward a changing workforce.
"Looking at diversity and professional jobs, that’s changed a lot and it’s been on the rise. Tapping into our educational institutions like IU and Purdue that are up here and some of the benefits that come from that has become bigger and stronger. And of course, you know, tapping into the third-largest economy in the country in a place that has as many jobs as the state of Indiana, Chicago, Illinois, is going to be huge for us."
One of the many projects in the region that would help is growing the workforce is the West Lake Corridor project, which would feature an eight-mile extension of the South Shore Rail line from Hammond to Dyer. Project officials are seeking up to $440 million in federal funding and last month, the project was moved into the engineering phase by the Federal Transit Administration.
Hanna says the project is all about economic development.
"The impact, really, is about two things: taking people to work and then bringing people here to increase our population. We’ve had areas that have had decline in population in the north since the 70s and some growth in the south, but this is going to help change the direction of what people are thinking about in terms of living opportunities within northwest Indiana."
Hanna says officials in northwest Indiana have changed their approach from just looking to bring businesses over to the region from Illinois and other places to also increasing the population and creating a quality of place to attract new residents.