The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC) has been selected to host one of 65 Fellows placed nationwide as part of the Economic Recovery Corps (ERC) Fellowship program. The program aims to build capacity in economically distressed areas across the U.S. while cultivating the next generation of economic development leaders.
“From over 500 applications, NIRPC is honored to be selected to host Fellow Celena Green in this inaugural program,” stated Ty Warner, NIRPC Executive Director. “This is a unique opportunity to address an economic development need in Lake County that will spur the redevelopment of brownfield sites and assist in new business attraction along the new quantum computing fiber corridor.”
The ERC Fellowship was launched in 2023 through a $30 million cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA). It is led by the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) and supported by six other national economic development
“ERC is more than a fellowship; it is a testament to the power of collaboration and strategic partnerships deeply needed to produce lasting social and economic impact. By joining forces with national partners, host organizations, funders, and practitioners eager for new models and practices, ERC will build capacity in places of need while supporting the next generation of economic development leaders all while driving more equitable economic outcomes,” said Nathan Ohle, President & CEO of IEDC. “By investing in capacity building and leadership development, facilitating knowledge sharing and partnerships, the ERC program will set the stage for the future of economic development and a new age of collaboration in the economic development field.”
Each of the 65 projects across the U.S. receive a dedicated fellow who serves as a field catalyst to enhance, strengthen, and coordinate relationships and local efforts alongside the host organization. NIRPC partnered with the Northwest Indiana Forum in developing a project focused on the region’s readiness for the potentially transformative economic opportunities anticipated from the quantum computing fiber that will connect Chicago to South Bend. The corridor runs through Gary, Lake Station, East Chicago, and Hammond which all have an industrial heritage that has resulted in many underutilized and/or vacant brownfield sites. Redevelopment of these sites for new businesses seeking proximity to quantum computing fiber will provide additional tax base and jobs to these communities.
“Experience working with brownfields has shown that sites often have barriers to redevelopment beyond the environmental concerns,” Kathy Luther, NIRPC Director of Environmental Programs explained. “Our Fellow will be investigating multiple factors for each site.” Ms. Luther will serve as a mentor to the Fellow during the 2.5-year fellowship that is fully funded by EDA.
The information generated from the in-depth site investigation will assist the four communities and the Northwest Indiana Forum in attraction of and negotiations with prospective businesses and developers. Some sites to be investigated may also be in newly established Transit Development Districts along the South Shore commuter rail line or in Opportunity Zones. The project’s outcome aims to identify eight sites that are between 10-50 acres, ready for business development or with specific redevelopment strategies suggested.
“The Fellow will be a welcome addition as we work to create investment ready assets in Northwest Indiana. We are continuing to add infrastructure and resources that will evolve our economy and build greater opportunities for our region for generations to come,” stated Heather Ennis, President & CEO of the Northwest Indiana Forum. Forum staff member Kay Nelson, Director, Environmental Affairs, will assist with Fellow mentoring.
“Ms. Green will be living and working in Northwest Indiana. Her contracted project deliverables will help boost local economies and revitalize communities. The selection of both host organizations and Fellows was rigorous,” explained Denarie Kane, NIRPC Economic Development District Coordinator. “The application process was different from typical EDA grant opportunities, and the six-month collaboration with IEDC and their partner organizations was key to NIRPC developing a successful application.”
Ms. Green has spent her career supporting social enterprises and small businesses as they build capacity, secure funding, and plan for succession. She is founder of ProsperWorks, which provides tech tools and services to enable businesses to retain, engage, and reward their frontline workers, and FoundRE, which aids property owners and municipalities in activating underutilized or vacant commercial spaces.
“I spent three years in South Bend as an INVANTI Entrepreneur in Residence exploring the possibilities of technology to create market opportunities for brownfield redevelopment and the adaptive reuse of industrial spaces. I also served as a consultant/instructor for the SPARK Women Entrepreneurs Program at Saint Mary’s College and created the curriculum and training for the first 4 cohorts of the South Bend-Elkhart Regional Partnership’s HUSTLE- SBE program serving small business owners in that region,” said Ms. Green. “I am happy to return to Indiana to continue working with the business community and to activate vacant land for economic growth.”
NIRPC serves Northwest Indiana’s common good through expertise and programming in urban planning, transportation, environmental management, and economic development and as a body of local governments. NIRPC is a regional partner making strong connections between the Federal government, the state, municipalities, and residents. NIRPC is the regional Council of Governments, the Metropolitan Planning Organization, and administrator of the Economic Development District in Lake, Porter, and La Porte counties.
(Additional resource: http://www/economicrecoverycorps.org/)