NIPSCO marks 100 years of powering up

2012-07-29T00:00:00Z 2012-07-29T23:20:14Z NIPSCO marks 100 years of powering upBy Keith Benman, (219) 933-3326

NIPSCO is planning a number of community service events across northern Indiana to celebrate its 100th anniversary.

Those events will be headlined by the company's first Luminary Awards to recognize achievements by people and community groups in the realms of education, environment, safety and community leadership. That event is Thursday night at NIPSCO headquarters in Merrillville.

"NIPSCO would not be here at all if not for our customers and communities," said NIPSCO President Kathleen O'Leary. "It's central to how we got to where we are today and central to how we will get to our next 100 years."

The message of service to community also will be reinforced with volunteer service days by NIPSCO employees at Boys & Girls Clubs across northern Indiana during August and September, said NIPSCO spokesman Nick Meyer.

On Wednesday, the day before the Luminary Awards presentation in Merrillville, executives from NIPSCO, parent company NiSource Inc. and a number of employees from across the utility will be at the New York Stock Exchange to ring the closing bell. NiSource trades there under the ticker symbol NI.

NIPSCO traces its roots to the Calumet Electric Co. Inc., a utility incorporated on Aug. 2, 1912, by a group of Gary businessmen to supply electricity train service from Gary to Crown Point and on to Valparaiso and LaPorte.

The story of that company, its evolution into NIPSCO and the unique intertwining of the utility with northern Indiana's economy are told in a company history, "These Responsibilities Are Ours," that is the work of current and former NIPSCO employees.

That history tells how a decade after its incorporation, Calumet Electric merged with Northern Indiana Gas and Electric and both became part of the sprawling Midland Utilities Co. that was being cobbled together by industrial titan Samuel Insull out of Chicago.

For the next several decades and up to the present day, the utility's history has been linked to industrial development in the region as it supplied streetcars, steel mills, wartime manufacturers and other industries with power.

"The history of Northwest Indiana is just totally entwined with NIPSCO's," said Barry Veden, a former NIPSCO employee who worked on the history. "Each of us helped the other grow."

Veden retired in 2004 after working 30 years at NIPSCO but was called back into service to work on the history.

That intertwining of NIPSCO and local economic development continued into the second half of the 20th century with the powering up of Bethlehem Steel in the 1960s.

That emphasis on economic development continues at the utility today, O'Leary said. Just as the utility played a big role in powering up industry in the early stages of the electric age, it is working today to bring more jobs to Indiana, she said.

During the past year, NIPSCO worked with local and state economic development agencies to lure a number of companies to Northwest Indiana. In at least two cases, it was able to provide a special economic development discount on electricity for deals promising a total of 369 jobs for the region.

Although NIPSCO with its 100th anniversary is keeping the focus on the local utility and service to the community, a number of local leaders interviewed recently say another strength of the utility is that its multistate parent company, NiSource Inc., remains headquartered in the same building in Merrillville.

Having the local utility as well as its corporate parent headquartered in the region brings direct benefits such as jobs but also intangibles like a "personal connectivity" with top corporate leaders, according to Bill Hanna, executive director of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority.

"We've seen the loss of that in recent years with a lot of other industries," Hanna said. "With a utility or power company, that local presence is just critical, and you always hope they will maintain that presence in the community."

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