Industrial O Indiana

Can the Opportunity Zone program bring new life to NWI Indiana community?

Can the Opportunity Zone program bring new life to NWI Indiana community?,ph01
A rendering of the East Chicago Logistics Center

During the last 30 years, Moorestown, New Jersey-based IMPACT Environmental has helped to revitalize more than 48 million square feet of commercial sites in the United States. The company specializes in brownfield redevelopment work, cleaning up abandoned industrial sites and transforming them into new uses.

Now, thanks in large part to the Opportunity Zone program passed into law in 2017, IMPACT is ready to bring new development to a largely neglected swath of land in East Chicago, Indiana.

In June of last year, IMPACT formed its first Opportunity Zone Fund, that same month purchasing a 438-acre former industrial property in East Chicago. The goal is build a series of modern warehouses, forming the East Chicago Logistics Center.

The first phase of this Opportunity Zone project will focus on the construction of a 1.1-million-square-foot warehouse. Future phases will see the construction of additional support warehouses. When finished, the project will provide jobs for thousands of local residents, said Schott Aschoff, principal of IMPACT Environmental and partner with East Chicago Gateway Partners, the investment group behind this Opportunity Zone project.

The project is a good example of what is supposed to happen in areas designated as Opportunity Zones. The Opportunity Zone program provides financial incentives to encourage developers to build in neglected areas. This portion of East Chicago fits that bill. And the hope is that the new logistics center will encourage more development throughout this Indiana city that has long faced economic challenges.

Aschoff said that the East Chicago Logistics Center will produce 2,250 direct full-time positions, 711 construction jobs and 2,700 multiplier positions. He estimates the total economic impact to be $342 million.

Though the Opportunity Zone legislation is still in its infancy, Aschoff said that he already sees it making an impact on communities across the country.

“Our vision to be a sustainable organization and to help the environment,” Aschoff said. “We want to serve the greater good, helping both the environment and the community. We see a good match with that mission and Opportunity Zones.”

The East Chicago project is a good example. Not only is IMPACT cleaning up a polluted area and creating new, modern warehouse space, it will also provide a boost to the Indiana city’s economy, Aschoff said.

Take those multiplier jobs. As Aschoff says, when people go to work at the East Chicago Logistics Center, they’ll need other services. They might have to hire babysitters. They’ll need to go out to lunch or dinner after work. They’ll go shopping for new clothes. They might even buy new cars.

The new warehouse jobs, then, will benefit other industries and companies throughout the East Chicago region.

“We are not asking for any money from anyone for this project,” Aschoff said. “We look for sites that make sense for us, that can become profitable for us. People talk about socially responsible investing. We do that with projects like these. We are helping to create jobs and a boost to the tax base here.”

Why was the East Chicago site a good one for IMPACT? Aschoff points to the location. East Chicago isn’t far from Chicago and its huge population. The Gary Chicago International Airport is two miles away. Aschoff said that this airport, in particular, is a valuable asset. It’s underutilized today, he said. But companies might find it far cheaper to use this smaller airport, he said.

“We are doing exactly what the Opportunity Zone legislation is supposed to do,” Aschoff said. “East Chicago has suffered in the last several decades. With a project like this, we can help the entire community.”