On Wednesday, the Duneland Chamber of Commerce held their monthly luncheon at the Hilton Garden Inn in Chesterton. Chamber members were treated to lunch sponsored by Tudor Floors Carpet One from Bartletts Gourmet Grill and Tavern in Beverly Shores as well as a keynote address Sherri Ziller from the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority.
“We were expecting around 60 Chamber members to attend today and we’ve had just over that number show up so it’s always nice to fill the room,” Maura Durham, President of the Duneland Chamber said. “This gives us a great chance to meet and speak with our local chamber members and we bring in speakers every month from around the public and private sectors of the Region. They learn what’s happening in the civic and business communities and get a chance to network, build relationships and meet new people.”
To get to know one another and what businesses and organizations are represented each attendee gets a chance to stand and introduce themselves and their company. This allows for easy introductions and access to whatever services might be available from business representatives and companies attending the Chamber's monthly luncheon.
This month’s keynote address at the Chamber luncheon from Ziller, Chief Operations Officer with the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, was about the recent changes to the RDA put forth by the 2015 Indiana General Assembly.
“The RDA is in its 9th year,” Ziller said. “We were created in 2006 to do the heavy lifting in our communities in Lake and Porter counties. We do focus on rail and bus transportation and the Marquette Plan, which is our shoreline restoration and lake access program. To date the majority of our focus has been on the Lake Michigan shoreline and the Marquette Plan but now our attention is shifting more towards rail.”
“The biggest changes to come out of the General Assembly was the changes in the Rail Construction and Operations,” Ziller continued. “Our new project - the West Lake Corridor - is probably the largest project we will be sinking our teeth in to. They wanted us to focus on projects. The West Lake was already in the works so we were able to secure $6 million annually for the next 30 years. It’s going to be a long term construction project and, locally, we were able to raise around $8.3 million as well. These funds will replace the $10 million the RDA received annually from the Major Moves fund, which will sunset this year. And $14 million of RDA funding will now go directly from the state to the RDA.”
“The West Lake Corridor will give us greater connectivity to Chicago beginning around 2023,” Ziller said. “We’re really trying to get rail travel times from South Bend to Chicago to under 90 minutes. It’s a huge attraction to get people to Indiana if you can say ‘we can get people from Hammond to Downtown Chicago in 19 minutes'. Our goal is to attract and retain people here in Indiana. Millennials drive less and want access to mass transit and walkable communities. This rail traffic will also increase property values and with our lower tax climate we can attract both residents and businesses.”
The Regional Development Authority has been making investments throughout Lake and Porter counties in its nearly ten years in existence. In that time they have put forward 10 projects, created 2,400 jobs and invested nearly $700 million into the state of Indiana and the Region.