Sherri Ziller offers plan for future development in Northwest Indiana
Ziller was named president and chief executive officer in October after serving as interim president and CEO of the organization after the departure of Bill Hanna in February 2021.
“The RDA has been around for 15 years, and I’ve been there every step of the way,” Ziller said. “The RDA was created to invest in transformative regional infrastructure projects that will make Northwest Indiana economically vibrant.”
She said the legislation that created the RDA directs the organization to focus on the Region’s unique resources, including the Lake Michigan shoreline and proximity to Chicago.
“These kinds of assets can’t be duplicated anywhere else and so should be fundamental building blocks of our economy,” Ziller said. “This is tough work, and we’ve come a long way since 2006.”
Ziller said the RDA has accomplished much under its prior leaders and by fostering regional cooperation.
Before she worked for the RDA, Ziller was a teacher at Kaplan College. After a decade in education, she decided to pursue a career in the public sector.
Ziller was named to the leadership post after a search of candidates and an interview process conducted by the RDA board of directors. RDA Board Chairman Don Fesko announced Ziller’s appointment after the October RDA board meeting.
“For the past 15 years, Sherri Ziller has been a high-performing leader in advancing the RDA,” Fesko said.
“I am confident she will successfully lead her team and the organization to enhance the quality of life and economic growth in Northwest Indiana.”
Ziller, along with Hanna during his 11 years with the RDA and the rest of the team, hail the strides the organization already has made.
“As to milestones, there’s our first big project, the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk (Trail),” Ziller said. “When we — I mean the RDA, Portage, the U.S. Corps of Engineers and both state and federal park services — started it, this was a heavily contaminated industrial site.”
Today it’s more than 50 acres of national park, she said.
Completion of the runway extension at the Gary/Chicago International Airport ranks as another crowning achievement.
“It was the city of Gary, the RDA and the Federal Aviation Administration partnering to get the project done, and it was a big lift,” she said. “The airport’s business has grown, and it attracted a second fixed-base operator, and has seen new infrastructure built and even established a U.S. Customs facility to now allow for direct international flights.”
A lifelong resident of Northwest Indiana, Ziller was born and raised in Hammond. She graduated from George Rogers Clark High School in Whiting and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Purdue University Northwest in 2006 and a master’s degree in education from PNW in 2012.
Ziller said, while the concept of the RDA has remained the same since it launched, the mission “adapts to the requirements of the Region.”
She said the RDA’s charge is to provide funding for regional investments that communities on their own might struggle to execute. One example, she said, is the West Lake Corridor expansion of the South Shore Line.
“Even the largest local governments in Northwest Indiana would be hard-pressed to fund this (railway) project strictly from a financial point of view,” Ziller said.
She said asking one of these local governments to make that kind of commitment with “its own scarce resources beyond its borders” seemed out of the question. But the RDA stepped up and made an annual commitment of up to $8 million a year for 30 years for the project.
“We were able to team with civic and community leaders to build an alliance of 14 communities to add their own skin to the game, which in turn demonstrated to state and federal authorities that we were serious and got them to provide funding as well,” she said.
She said signing full-funding grant agreements with the Federal Transit Administration to lock in federal matching dollars for the West Lake Corridor project and double-track expansion of the South Shore commuter rail system easily ranks as the RDA’s “biggest milestone yet.”
“Those two projects are going to attract tens of billions of dollars of investment to Northwest Indiana over the next two decades,” Ziller said.
“In fact, it’s already started in Michigan City and Portage and Hammond and Munster, and we are working to attract developers to even more of our South Shore communities.”
Ziller said the RDA also has been given the task of establishing Transit Development Districts, or TDDs, around all the South Shore Line stations in Lake and Porter counties, as well as in Michigan City and South Bend.
“It’s still an ongoing process, though we expect the first TDDs to come on line in 2022,” Ziller said. “Once established, these districts will provide funds for the RDA to support development in the TDDs, so I expect we will be pretty busy working on that front for the foreseeable future.”
Ziller and her husband of 13 years, Zach, reside in Crown Point with their 8-year-old son Robbie.
“I continue to be humbled that the RDA board of directors trusts me with this important role,” Ziller said.
“It’s rewarding and challenging in a positive way, and a good fit overall.”