Region gets back to business, despite treacherous roads, biting cold

2014-01-07T14:30:00Z 2014-05-01T11:20:07Z Region gets back to business, despite treacherous roads, biting coldJoseph S. Pete joseph.pete@nwi.com, (219) 933-3316 nwitimes.com

Subzero cold, ice-slicked roads and drifting snow banks persisted Tuesday, but the brutal weather was not bad enough to freeze commerce in the region.

More people returned to work as a growing number of businesses reopened after Monday's dangerous plunge in temperature, which plummeted to an arctic low of 16 degrees below zero.

Southlake Mall in Hobart and Horseshoe Casino in Hammond both reopened late Tuesday morning. More gas stations, restaurants and retail stores resumed their normal hours, while more commuters ventured onto the snow-packed and still-icy streets.

South Bend-based 1st Source Bank waited out the bone-chilling cold and did not open its multiple Porter and LaPorte country branches until 1 p.m. Tuesday. Freddy's Steakhouse in Hammond stayed closed for lunch but reopened for dinner, after the temperature had climbed back above zero. Specialty food store Old World Market in Valparaiso opened and told customers on its Facebook page that it had "enough cheese to see you through another 6 feet of snow!"

Big industry got back into the swing of production, after more workers braved the bitter elements. Ford asked workers to report back to its Chicago Assembly Plant in Hegewisch and its Chicago Stamping Plant, so it could resume operations. Enbridge Energy Partners LP reopened its office at its Griffith terminal after telling non-essential workers to use their own judgment whether they could come into work Monday.

Other businesses, however, remained closed at a time when the Indiana State Police and Indiana Department of Transportation both discouraged any non-essential or non-emergency travel. The Indiana Welcome Center in Hammond, most of the restaurants inside the Majestic Star Casino in Gary, and Fair Oaks Farms in Newton County all remained shuttered.

Sam's Club in Hobart opened Tuesday, but shut down in the early afternoon after its pipes froze and burst.

Some productivity could have been lost while workers were snowed in and businesses were shuttered, but the impact likely was not great on the local economy, said Micah Pollak, an assistant professor of economics at Indiana University Northwest.

"There's a perception that everything shuts down and kind of stops productivity-wise," he said. "Productivity will decrease when some people are not working, but they still cleared out the grocery stores in anticipation of the storm. They're substituting when they are spending, not spending less overall."

Economic activity mostly shifted instead of declined, Pollak said. People suffering from cabin fever, for instance, are more likely to eat out at restaurants or go to the movies after they are no longer cooped up inside.

"Once you get freed up, you rush out and do things," he said. "Plus, you're spending a lot more on energy, television, cooking, ovens, things like that. The public service part of the economy still goes on with snow plows and snow trucks."

Many workers also were able to work from home, so business went on even while the region was battered with wind and cold and snow, Pollak said.

"You can't telecommute to a steel mill, but you can telecommute to a lot of jobs," he said. "Even if they weren't able to work from home, workers can be more productive when they return to regularly scheduled work after a break."

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