Gary, Hammond and greater Northwest Indiana were among the 218 communities eliminated from the running for a second Amazon headquarters that would bring $5 billion in investment and 50,000 high-paying jobs.
But local officials are optimistic the bid will help with future economic development prospects. Leaders said they got national publicity for the Region and its assets, put Northwest Indiana on the map for future projects, gathered information that could be used in other pitches, achieved an unprecedented degree of regional cooperation and opened people's minds to being more aspirational in chasing jobs and touting the Region's quality of life.
"We're more prepared for every opportunity," Northwest Indiana Forum President and CEO Heather Ennis said. "It sharpens our game, helps us put our best foot forward. There we no surprises on the list. It was what people anticipated."
Northwest Indiana's pursuit of the Amazon headquarters, which officials acknowledged was a long shot from the start, has directly led to one economic development prospect.
Developers are pursuing a $200 million tech project at the old State Line Generating Plant on Lake Michigan in Hammond that would be the first of its kind for the Region, Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott said. He said they became interested after learning that Hammond pitched the lakefront site to Amazon, and the project is now more than halfway along.
McDermott declined to name the company considering the investment.
"All is not lost," he said. "It's a sizable investment."
Hammond still would benefit if the Amazon headquarters landed in Chicago, especially at the former South Works site on the South Side, because it would mean more jobs for residents to commute to, McDermott said. Northwest Indiana also would benefit if the online retailer's corporate office came to Indianapolis because it would mean an influx of tax revenue and residents to the state, he said.
"If it were on the South Side, that would be amazing for Hammond," he said.
McDermott said that the city should aim high and that he was considering a bid for the new Apple office that would bring 20,000 jobs in a $350 billion pledge to the U.S. economy over the next five years.
"I want to challenge my team and have them submit bids, even if it doesn't turn out the way you wanted," he said. "We had a great bid for Amazon and swung for the fences... We have to fight for jobs and investment."
Northwest Indiana will benefit from Indianapolis landing in the list of 20 finalists because it will make companies look on the entire state in a better light, Ennis said.
"People have thought of us as a flyover state and not real contenders," she said. "This adds a lot of legitimacy in public opinion."
The bid helped raise Northwest Indiana's profile, Ennis said.
"We have to believe we're worthy of these opportunities," she said. "This elevated us in the eyes of the state. We showed we were serious contenders and have a lot of assets. The more we get our name out there the better it is for everyone. It's important to dream, to think we're good enough for other opportunities and to compete."
The Region is in a stronger position to pursue jobs and investments after officials from as far away as Rensselaer and South Bend came together to support the Amazon bid, Ennis said. Northwest Indiana will be able to show regional cooperation and quickly assemble the information needed to bid on larger projects.
"The biggest lesson is the mindset of collaboration," she said. "There was a short window to make a proposal for this and we got that accomplished. We have to make people realize we're open for business so we can be ready for the big opportunities."