‘Dream Team’ plots county growth

February 18, 2019

La PORTE – The La Porte County Board of Commissioners has unanimously endorsed the Vibrant Communities Initiative as part of the more “robust” economic and community development strategy unveiled recently.

At its Jan. 2 reorganization meeting, the Commissioners renamed the county’s economic development office the “Office of Community and Economic Development” and appointed former Michigan City Economic Development Corporation director Tony Rodriguez as director.

At the commissioners’ recommendation, the county’s Redevelopment Commission this past week also hired economic development consultant Matt Reardon to work for the RDC.

He will be focusing on economic development in the RDC’s three key development areas

• Kingsbury Industrial Park

• State Road 39 North

• I-94/U.S. 421 corridor

All three zones have been designated by the Redevelopment Commission for Tax Increment Financing incentives to assist development.

The addition of Reardon, combined with Rodriguez, creates what Commissioner Sheila Brillson has dubbed a “Dream Team” of highly experienced economic development professionals working for the county.

Rodriguez is credited with helping Brillson land key employers when she was mayor of Michigan City, including Frech USA and GAF.

Reardon was most recently involved in helping the City of Hammond land a data center on the old Stateline power plant property that has the potential of significant job creation and economic development in that area.

Rodriguez is expected to head the county’s involvement in the Vibrant Communities Initiative, which was also endorsed unanimously by the Commissioners at the Feb. 6 meeting.

The resolution approved by the board describes Vibrant Communities as a “bottom up” form of community placemaking and inventorying of assets/listing of goals, rather than ’top down” centralized governmental planning.

The Initiative – headed up by co-chairs Maggi Spartz of the Unity Foundation and Jack Arnett, director of the Convention & Visitors’ Bureau – is patterned after similar successful initiatives in Valparaiso and Elkhart County.

Those involved large and small meetings, online feedback and physical surveys; and broad-based community engagement including government, non-profits, faith-based organizations, businesses, families and individuals, and stakeholders, all helping develop community wants and needs.

County officials, in endorsing the Initiative, stressed no county dollars will be invested, but “sweat equity” will be donated to the effort by various county officials, including Rodriguez and Reardon, to help with the numerous “community wide discussions and listening sessions planning an action agenda for the future.”

The resolution endorses the use of Planning Next, a Columbus, Ohio, consulting firm that helped both Valparaiso and Elkhart County steer through similar “quality of place discussions.”

Cost of the Initiative locally is expected to top $100,000 but organizers hope to raise that sum from local businesses and non-profit sector partners.

—From staff reports