As refinery project winds down, construction industry has fingers crossed

2013-07-21T00:00:00Z 2013-12-18T16:23:21Z As refinery project winds down, construction industry has fingers crossedBy Keith Benman, (219) 933-3326

It's hard to compete with a project employing more than 10,000 workers, but the local construction industry is hopeful renewed vigor in some sectors can fill the gap left by the winding down of the BP Whiting Refinery expansion.

"Every year we've seen construction activity go up a little," said Bill Hasse III, president of Hasse Construction. "And a lot of it had to do with BP. It was the savior."

But with the recession fading in the rear view mirror, other construction sectors such as commercial, housing, and utilities are bouncing back in Northwest Indiana.

The Luke Oil chain of gas station and convenience stores has firmed up deals to add at least three new locations this year, one of them as far away as Lafayette, according to Luke Oil President Tom Collins Sr.

"We are hiring new people every day," Collins said.

Other commercial projects include the long-delayed Shops on Main, on U.S. 41 in Schererville, which began construction this spring. At $70 million for phase one, it figures to be among the largest retail construction projects locally since the end of the recession.

Although the BP project is now 95 percent complete and construction layoffs there are beginning, local contractors and unions are hopeful other large industrial and utility projects can float the industry.

Those include projects to install new smokestack scrubbers at NIPSCO's R. M. Schahfer Generating Station in Wheatfield and a similar project now just getting fired up at the utility's Michigan City Generating Station.

The R.M. Schahfer project, underway for two years, employed 700 construction workers at its peak and has an overall price tag of $500 million, said NIPSCO spokesman Nick Meyer. It will wrap up in 2014.

The Michigan City project is expected to employ 300 construction workers at its peak and has an overall budget of $240 million, Meyer said.

The Enbridge pipeline expansion that will take place in Illinois and Indiana, with its termination in Griffith, is slated to start construction in the fall of 2014.

In addition, home construction is finally starting to revive, Hasse said. The strongest segment within that sector may be the construction of senior housing and assisted living communities, he said.

"It's a good time if you want to build," Hasse said. "Competition is good. Inflation is low. But borrowing remains tough."





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