La Porte Economic Advancement Partnership (LEAP)

Before taking the leap into a merger, the team at the La Porte Economic Advancement Partnership put tons of time into research.

“We wanted to see what had been done before and best practices,” said LEAP Executive Director Bert Cook. “We feel that we are on the leading edge of a trend for organizations to merge back together after economic development split out of chambers in the 1980s.

“We have all of our resources under one umbrella. We are very proud of what we have done and how we positively impact our community.”

The LEAP team focuses on both roles as an economic development organization and chamber of commerce. The organization represents more than 400 members and hosts community and business events as well as works with site selectors to bring new business to the city. The team also connects entrepreneurs to resources to continue to grow.

“Our members range from the very small mom-and-pop shops to large businesses,” Cook said. “Our downtown is really unique as it has many buildings that were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It is the centerpiece of our community and center of our small business sector. We help align the particular needs of companies with the physical spaces that are available.”

Since arriving at LEAP, Cook and his team have worked to grow their membership and improve their downtown vacancy rate.

“We grew our membership 20 percent this year. That speaks to the fact that we create value for our members. Our retention rate is over 95 percent. You may be able to bring in new members, but can you retain them?” Cook said. “On the economic development side, our downtown vacancy rate has gone from 70 percent in 2014 to sub 15 percent today. We continue to work on that.”

Cook and his team continue to navigate working within the changing times of Covid as well.

“Like everyone else in the same boat, we are going through the process of adjusting and identifying different ways of doing business,” he said. “I have to give my staff tons of credit as it has been smoother than I would have thought. We have worked to stay connected to our board of directors and change the way we do gatherings. We have had to reimagine how we do things.”

Cook found his way into economic development after an internship at Deutsche Bank in downtown Chicago.

“I got a taste for negotiation, commerce and how our economy functions. I am personally proud that in the 15 years that I have been here, I have helped with $700 million in projects here in La Porte,” he said. “I hadn’t been to La Porte before I took the job, but I fell in love with the city, its natural amenities and our downtown. This is a great community.

“Every day is different. We work with so many different companies, and each one is very unique. It is incredibly challenging and super rewarding to work within this competitive, aggressive atmosphere to attract companies from all over the world.”


La Porte Economic Advancement Partnership (LEAP)

605 Michigan Ave. in La Porte