Portage blessed with location, access

2013-03-03T00:00:00Z 2013-09-12T13:15:11Z Portage blessed with location, accessJoyce Russell joyce.russell@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222 nwitimes.com

PORTAGE | When a company looks to relocate or find a new home, its officials look for ease of transportation and access to reliable utilities among other things.

Companies are finding those attributes in Portage, said Jim Fitzer, executive director of the Portage Economic Development Corp.

"Companies want transportation accessibility to their raw materials supplier as well as their end users. They also want access to utilities, fiber optics. They are also looking for accessibility to their home headquarters and are looking for workforce development to give them a capable workforce," said Fitzer.

Portage, home to some 36,000 residents, is blessed with a good location. On the tip of Lake Michigan, it is home to a deep water port. Interstates 94 and 80/90 cross through the city as well as three U.S. highways. Rail lines also crisscross the city.

Owners of Ratner Steel Supply saw the benefits in 2012 when they shifted the company's precision slitting operation from Minnesota to a new plant in the region, making a $15 million investment at the Port of Indiana. They initially created 30 new jobs.

Fitzer said the new city resident will buy a lot of steel from NMLK, supporting an existing business in the city, and will ship much of its product to the immediate area.

Other significant investments to the city in 2012 were Indiana Pickling, which made a $7.5 million investment at its plant at the port, creating four new jobs; Phoenix Services LLC, which built a 13-acre distribution facility at the port, creating 80 jobs and the acquisition by Manufacturing Solutions International of Graphic Packaging International and the continuing of its 157,000-square-foot facility on U.S. 20.

In addition, Fronius began moving into its new U.S. headquarters in AmeriPlex at the Port.

Retail-wise, last year brought two new restaurants, Panda Express and Texas Roadhouse, and the announcement by Meijer that it had purchased the former Kmart building on Willowcreek Road and U.S. 6.

With Meijer expected to open this spring, Fitzer expects an upswing in retail development.

"Meijer is the shot in the arm for retail," he said, adding to keep an eye on the U.S. 6 corridor.

Still, said Fitzer, his group is concentrating on economic development as a way to bring jobs into the community. PEDCO works closely with the city to help market available land for development.

That land is becoming scarcer. There are some remaining parcels at the Port of Indiana and a few at AmeriPlex, said Fitzer, adding much of their efforts will  be to market the city's Northside Business Park on Ind. 249. They are working with a prospect on a 43-acre parcel there, said Fitzer, adding it is too early to say who that might be.

There is interest in other areas throughout the city, he said, adding another important component for the city's future growth will be redeveloping the U.S. 20 corridor to provide land to developers.

U.S. 20 east of Ind. 249 is being developed for light industry with attractive buildings lining the roadway and manufacturing toward the rear of the property.

"Our goal is to expand that to the west (of Ind. 249) and have the same eye appeal," said Fitzer, adding that U.S. 20 is considered one of the gateways into the city.

Fitzer said it is too early to predict what will happen this year. Much of what happens in Portage depends on what happens at the state and national levels.

And, he said, it is equally important for the city to work with others, especially the state, to provide the incentives needed to help continue development within its boundaries.

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