Northwest Indiana Forum

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The Northwest Indiana Forum is the regional voice for the business community and premiere source of a full package of services that promote economic development and retention of quality jobs. With more than 130 investor organizations, the Forum’s mission is to increase the broad-based wealth in Northwest Indiana through economic development. Funded by investor contributions and grants, an investment in the Northwest Indiana Forum translates to a direct investment in the 7 county region to support growth and economic innovation.



our goals


Raise the per capita income
Attract + Retain quality investment
Support policy that leads to quality growth

our team


The Forum’s team is focused on economic development and the prosperity of business/industry in our dynamic market by providing customer-focused services designed to meet your unique needs. The Forum welcomes the opportunity to work with you and make a compelling case for locating or expanding in Northwest Indiana. We serve to foster economic growth and diversity for the region.

 HEATHER ENNIS  President & ceo


President & ceo


Heather Ennis is President and CEO of the Northwest Indiana Forum, a privately held nonprofit organization focused on creating economic development opportunities for the seven-county region. With more than 125 members, the Forum works to create a positive business climate promoting investment and quality job creation and retention in harmony with the environment and critical components of a sustainable regional economy. Funded by membership contributions and grants, Forum membership translates into a direct investment in the region’s future.
Previously as Executive Director of the Duneland Chamber of Commerce, she led an organization committed to improving the quality of life and breadth of economic opportunity within the five lakefront municipalities of Beverly Shores, Burns Harbor, Chesterton, Dune Acres and Porter.
In addition, Ennis was the President of the Duneland Economic Development Company; a body invested in strengthening the local business environment through business attraction, retention and expansion. More than just a community leader, she served as a catalytic voice for her constituents on a regional level as a member of the Northwest Indiana Forum Economic Development Committee, the Porter County Economic Development Alliance and the Porter County Jobs Cabinet.
Ennis credits her husband and young son as the source of her passion for local community building and regional economic development. After working nationally for several years, she made a firm commitment to raise her family in Northwest Indiana – a region she is doing her part to strengthen for the next generation.


JOE RURODE | Director of Economic Development

In his role as Director of Economic Development, Joe spearheads economic and business development efforts for the seven counties of Northwest Indiana. Through this role, Joe actively markets Northwest Indiana and connects prospective companies to the resources they need. A graduate of Indiana University, Bloomington, Joe brings a dynamic program management history having previously served as the Director of Economic Development for the Town of Burns Harbor, IN as well as guiding business development efforts of global through start-up Information Technology companies. After a decade residing in Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Chicago, Joe returned to Northwest Indiana to raise a family and help drive the continued revitalization of the region.


RAEANN TRAKAS | Director of Marketing & Communications

Raeann Trakas, a native of Northwest Indiana, serves as the Director of Marketing & Communications for the Northwest Indiana Forum. In her role at the Forum, she partners with local economic development professionals and organizational leadership to exemplify the message that Northwest Indiana as THE place to do business. By leveraging local partnerships, Raeann is able to market the region as a whole to commercial brokers, site selectors and businesses.
Trakas gained her marketing, communications and event planning experience through her previous positions as the Special Events Director for the City of Hobart; Director of Circulation Marketing for the Chicago Sun-Times and as Vice President of Marketing with the Post-Tribune newspaper.
Previously, Raeann served on the Board of Directors for the South Shore Convention & Visitor’s Authority. She attended Indiana University Bloomington, and is proud to call Northwest Indiana home and along with her husband, Tom, and strives to create a positive environment in the region for her children Zoe and Theo.

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KAY NELSON | Director of Environmental Affairs

Kay Nelson is a 1977 graduate of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. She received a Bachelor of Science Degree from the School of Agriculture in Natural Resources and Environmental Science. In the pursuit of her degree, Ms. Nelson focused upon water quality issues.
During the course of her career, Kay’s roles have included:

  1. Industrial Pretreatment Coordinator
  2. EPA Wastewater Expansion Construction Grant Administrator 
  3. Brownfield Redevelopment Administrator
  4. Director, Indiana Department of Environmental Management Regional Office
  5. Indiana representative to US EPA Iron  & Steel FACA group
  6. Great Lakes compact, Indiana negotiating team member
  7. Great Lakes Commissioner. Appointed by Governor Pence, reappointed by Governor Holcomb
  8. VW Trust Fund Settlement Board member. Appointed by Governor Holcomb

Ms. Nelson joined the Northwest Indiana Forum in 1998. Recognizing the integral relationship between economic development and environmental protection, Ms. Nelson’s role with the Northwest Indiana Forum is diverse. She is an active participant during the new and/or expanding business process – working to assist understanding by the community at large of the impact and importance of economic development. Working on environmental issues affecting existing members, Ms. Nelson provides a forum whereby regional position papers are developed. In this process, Ms. Nelson represents the business community in discussions with environmental and community stakeholders to develop understanding and often consensus on issues of regional, state and international importance. The successful passage of Indiana Senate Enrolled Act 45, the adoption of the Great Lakes Compact, as signed by Governor Mitch Daniels on February 20, 2008 reflects this unique collaboration Ms. Nelson works to affect.
In recognition of her Great Lakes Compact work, Ms. Nelson was awarded the Sagamore of the Wabash from Governor Mitch Daniels.
Ms. Nelson was awarded the 2014 Influential Woman of Northwest Indiana in Economic Development award.