Northwest Indiana’s economy has long been driven by its deep manufacturing base, proximity to Chicago and Lake Michigan, multimodal transportation infrastructure, and agricultural production and processing sectors. Natural amenities, well-regarded higher education and healthcare institutions, a skilled workforce, diverse communities, and a competitive business climate contributed to the region’s success. However, in 2017, the region was losing population due to out-migration, the labor force had not grown in nearly 20 years, job growth remained stagnant, and much of the region’s job creation was occurring in lower-wage service sectors, exacerbating pockets of poverty and distress that had persisted in the region for decades.
In an effort to identify the region’s most promising opportunities for transformative economic growth, the Northwest Indiana Forum hired TIP Strategies to prepare a regional strategy. The ambitious initiative—labeled Ignite the Region—included a data-driven look at the factors affecting economic vitality in the seven-county northwest Indiana region and an extensive public input process that included a survey of more than 430 residents. The resulting Strategy for Economic Transformation articulated a forward-looking vision of the Northwest Indiana economy. The plan provided a holistic set of goals, strategies, and actions designed to promote economic diversification and collaboration by enhancing the region’s talent base, infrastructure, entrepreneurship ecosystem, and unique places. In light of the initiative’s comprehensive and far-reaching nature, TIP also recommended the creation of a regional implementation coalition, consisting of multiple organizations and leaders to coordinate and champion the strategy.