Interview with Bill Hanna of the NWI RDA, Part 1

Can you recap 2013 for the RDA?

bill-hanna-interview-rotBill Hanna: 2013 was a big year for us. In terms of total construction this is the biggest year the RDA has had. We've had close to 500 jobs created in conjunction with the state here locally through some manufacturing companies, primarily a hand full of those that have chosen to relocate to Northwest Indiana.

The shoreline has been a big focus for us for a long time. It's asset that you can't replicate. I'd like to think in terms of there's a canal or river walk in San Antonio, Indianapolis, places like that, but there's just rarely anything on the planet that can be replicated that looks like the fresh waters of Lake Michigan. Portage the lakefront park that I know you guys talked about before is now I think the busiest federal park in the Midwest, which is a tremendous thing. A former steel site that now is up by the Bass Pro Shop and really is a signature piece for not only Portage but also Northwest Indiana.

You've got projects like that in the Marquette Park area in Gary, which in 2013 made tremendous progress. It represents the restarting of the Miller neighborhood as an economic engine for Gary again. One of those areas where we're tying the lake shore into train transportation eventually where you're going to see some transportation orient development is the buzz phrase, but really commercial in and around train stops in the Lake Street corridor where business has been good.

In Hammond, the Wolf Lake Park has been around for a little while nearing almost total completion and that continues to be a great signature piece for the state as you come in on the toll road. We're doing some work in East Chicago along the shoreline right now. I think one of the neatest projects that we've been involved in which really I can't tell people enough to go see is the Whiting development with partnerships BP and the State of Indiana. Mayor Joe has done a tremendous job really visioning and saying okay I have this great little downtown but we need shot in the arm. The markets are changing and so forth so we're going to do the full package. We're going to figure out how to get restaurants in and we're going to make it a beachfront community. We were able to go in with their shoreline project and really clean up the shoreline. Help provide some new facilities and it really shows an example where investments like that are not about building parks they're about economic development

Can you give us an update on the Gary International Airport?

BH: The Gary/Chicago International Airport, if you were to go there today, you're going to see skilled tradesmen out there laying new lines for the relocation of the CN tracks that were an obstacle to expanding the runway. Since the RDA got involved few years back in with mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson we were able to close negotiations there and actually relocate the CN line.

Another big thing happened that we all worked with the city in the legislature in partnership on there was a bill called 585 that came out at the senate that had in it many pieces for the benefit for the city of Gary, but also are those pieces are was the reestablishment of a new structure for the Gary Airport board of directors. The former board had done a lot of work over time and it really helped push the project forward. The thought was as we go forward into business development to try to get the on aviation assets to match up with the construction advancement and all that we're going to need a different skill set to come in.

So what's happened since that time is the boards been re-populated by the mayor. She has four appointments. Each county, Porter and Lake, have one apiece and then the governor has now the appointment the chairperson. Business people have been put on the board. It's a great looking board in terms of qualifications and so forth. Tom Collins the CEO of Luke Oil has stepped up to be the chairman of the airport board.

That's very significant to have a C-level person that runs a billion-dollar corporation to say I'd like to let my skills to this and see what we can do. So having him step up as the governor's appointment and come in there I think really sends a message to the public and the business community too that it's a different day. We're trying to try seek out the best talent and minds we can to put on the task to making this work. At the end of the day it's about the citizens that live here and job opportunities it will come out of this.

What’s the outlook for 2014?

BH: The RDA is in a place right now where we're really looking forward to almost a phase 2. We've had a lot of success around the shoreline and different things and it will continue to grow out from itself. We started really kind of looking at what is it that we need to do to bring the middle class back to stabilize the middle class in Lake County to you attract our own children to come back.

The middle class is declining all over the place. We're all part middle class and State of Indiana is a middle class state. You don't have massive uber wealth here and big money people. We're working class people, whether we're doctors, lawyers, or we work at a mill, one of our best assets is work ethic. What we've been looking at as well how do we do that? We can continue to drag companies over here and we do that, but that's a lot harder than maybe tapping into say a market that has a million more jobs in than State of Indiana in total. That's the Chicago market place.

There are a million more jobs in Chicago than there is in a State of Indiana and we're sitting next door to it. We look at well the North and West suburbs have 15 rail lines. We have one, and that one could use some work as well. So what we're aggressively pursuing is the expansion of the South Shore train line into the Dyer area as a phase 1. We're not trying to do the whole project, which was originally established as a line to Valpo and Lowell. We're saying well how can we take a bite out of the elephant here and get to where the population center is now.

We can help with congestion, but we can also run bus systems in and out there, shuttle systems, things like the Chicago dash and really put a stake in the ground in saying this market is open. So what's happened historically in Chicago too with just having access to jobs downtown if you get a work force established eventually the companies looking say well you know Porter County is a pretty nice place or Lake County I can get my property much cheaper and the workforce is there.

So if you look at places like Naperville Barrington and other places corporate headquarters have actually moved out twenty to twenty-five years after the train line was set because their workers now live there. Now instead of having a loop address it's fine to be out there and it's a lot cheaper. We're not even in that game right now. We're not even in the thought processes of companies like that because we don't have to workforce established here. We're not done fighting the good fight we're going to continue to push on as we believe that's the way that we're going to pave openings to that market future for citizens of Indiana Northwest Indiana our kids and so on.

What can NWIndianaLife expect to find in the future of Lake County?

BH: You're going to positively find there are some really great people there. I was pleasantly surprise in many cases about some other public servants and different things that you run into. People that you end up respecting that are really just trying hard. People who live in those communities over there want the same thing that everybody wants in Porter County.

I've met some great people great families in Gary, Hammond, East Chicago, and Whiting. It's been a pleasure to really get in there and see a lot of our heritage in Porter County is based off of those communities in Lake County. There are not a whole lot of dissimilarities there. You still have the same work ethic it's a Midwest mentality. It's a tough, tough crowd in a good way in terms of they don't get beat down easily. We've had our ups and downs and hardships and we've been industrialized and we've been consolidated in industry and we've lost jobs and we've gained jobs.

We've been in the shadow Chicago, so these new initiatives I think are so important because I really do believe that the resource we have here is completely and ultra valuable in terms the people. We just have to open the front door for them. Let's let them do what they can do. I think that's the real upside to it.