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BusINess » BusINess Story of the Week Business Consumer » Reeling in Illinois businesses

Reeling in Illinois businesses

The Indiana welcome sign is shown above Interstate 80/94 looking eastbound from Wentworth Avenue in Lansing. A number of regional groups are cooperating on an advertising campaign to highlight the area's transportation infrastructure, proximity to Chicago, work force and facilities. (Photograph by Jonathan Miano/The Times.)

The Indiana welcome sign is shown above Interstate 80/94 looking eastbound from Wentworth Avenue in Lansing. A number of regional groups are cooperating on an advertising campaign to highlight the area's transportation infrastructure, proximity to Chicago, work force and facilities. (Photograph by Jonathan Miano/The Times.)

Northwest Indiana economic development groups are seizing new opportunities to recruit disgruntled Illinois businesses. But the effort started long before Illinois raised its income taxes earlier this month.

A number of local groups are cooperating on an advertising campaign to highlight the area’s transportation infrastructure, proximity to Chicago, work force and facilities, said Karen Lauerman, marketing and communications director of the Northwest Indiana Forum, a private group that promotes economic development in the region.

“We’re working with our partners to focus on the advantages of Northwest Indiana and the rest of Indiana,” Lauerman said. “We’ll be using a variety of mediums for this significant public relations effort—everything from billboards to social media to specific advertising.”

Although lower taxes are a draw, there’s even more to be touted in that campaign, said Donald Koliboski, the Forum’s economic development director.

“Indiana offers a lower cost of doing business. We have property tax caps, lower workman’s compensation rates and a lower cost of work force,” Koliboski said.

Last week, the Indiana Economic Development Corp., the state’s commerce department, also launched a new advertising campaign to place billboards in Illinois border communities and buy ads online and in newspapers in Chicago, Peoria and Springfield, said Mitch Roob, Indiana secretary of commerce and CEO of the IEDC.

“We’ll also be knocking on doors,” Roob said. “We’re also working more closely with the Northwest Indiana Forum. I’m meeting with Mark Maasel (president and CEO of the Forum). He’s the go-to guy in Northwest Indiana.”

However, Koliboski said, the marketing efforts are part of an ongoing effort that began much earlier.

“We’re three years into a marketing campaign focusing on the Chicago metropolitan area,” he said. “We target the commercial developers and industrial and office Realtors. We spend a ton of effort, and our numbers (of leads that generate a site visit) have increased.”

Other economic development groups also saw opportunity brewing before Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed off on a series of tax increases to close an $15 billion budget deficit, said Rex Richards, president of the Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce.

“In early 2010, we ramped up our marketing efforts with attendance at Illinois commercial and industrial real estate programs,” Richards said.

Participating in trade shows and conferences is one way to build rapport with those professionals who help businesses make decisions about new locations, said Lauerman, who attended an industrial trade show on Tuesday in Chicago, where she spoke to several business owners. And this activity now has taken on new significance, she said.

Chambers of commerce and other economic development organizations attended last week’s trade show along with NWI Forum staff.

Richards said the Porter County Alliance recently produced new printed materials to highlight the business opportunities in such areas as Duneland, Chesterton, Valparaiso, Hebron and Kouts.

There’s been an uptick in the number of inquiries from Illinois businesses seeking information about Indiana since Jan. 13, when Quinn signed into law a 66 percent increase in the individual income tax rate and a 46 percent increase in the corporate rate.

“We’ve gotten 15 unsolicited requests for information,” Roob said.

The same is true of the Northwest Indiana Forum, Lauerman said. However, the businesses interested in learning about the state are “not necessarily deciding to move yet,” she said.

Seeking information about an area is only the first piece of the puzzle, Koliboski said. A team effort goes into compiling a customized analysis for every inquiry.

For example, the IEDC provides cost comparison data on the targeted location. The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission compiles utility rate comparisons.

“We also do a customized package of labor costs based on national human resources codes,” Koliboski said. “We respond quickly.”

Whether the efforts lead to the relocation of businesses to Northwest Indiana is still a long way off, Richards said.

“Any time a company decides to make capital expenditures, it’s generally 12 to 18 months,” he said. “What makes it tricky is when a company decides to move 40 to 50 miles away, it affects the work force. How far will employees be willing to travel?”

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