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Manufacturing still rules in Porter County

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The official seal for Porter County features an industrial building with two smoke stacks next to an equally towering stalk of corn.

While the amount of farming has dwindled across the county, manufacturing remains strong alongside an increasingly diverse workforce.

Manufacturing topped the job list last year in the county at 9,949, according to figures provided by Anthony Sindone, director of the Center for Economic Development and Research at Purdue University Northwest.

The number is up 11 percent from a decade earlier, he said.

This differs from the region as a whole, which lost manufacturing jobs during the same 10-year period primarily as a result of Lake County, Sindone said.

Porter County has been successful in recruiting manufacturing firms from elsewhere.

"They are growing," he said.

New Pratt Industries paper facility

A view of the world's largest corrugated cardboard plant at Pratt Industries in Valparaiso.


The county's heavily industrialized lakefront is home to some of the top employers, including the ArcelorMittal steel plant in Burns Harbor, which boasts 2,771 hourly and 570 salaried employees.

U.S. Steel Corp. also operates a mill along the lakefront in Portage, along with the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor and various other industrial firms.

Portage is also home to various manufacturing companies, several located within the Ameriplex at the Port industrial park, according to Nancy Simpson, executive director of the Greater Portage Chamber of Commerce.

The number of jobs at AmeriPlex at the Port grew from 2,216 in 2015 to 4,378 in 2016, according to Corporate Director of Marketing Amanda Watson.

The park has a growing emphasis on more environmentally friendly businesses, such as the recent opening of Polymer Logistics, which will store, clean, sanitize and ship plastic crates used in grocery stores for fruits and vegetables. The park is also home to Fronius, a producer of solar inverters, and Green Sense Farms, an indoor grower of fresh greens.

AmeriPlex also is planning the development of an 8 acre site at the former Natural Ovens facility in Valparaiso, Watson said. Plans call for two 50,000-square-foot flex buildings with the hope of attracting six to 10 new businesses and 80 to 100 new employees.

Valparaiso already has its share of manufacturers, according to Rex Richards, president of the Greater Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce.

The city, which sits near the center of the county and serves as the county seat, is home to several large and well-established businesses that are stable and maintain a consistent or growing number of employees, he said.

Among these is Task Force Tips, which produces firefighting equipment, and Pratt Industries, which operates paper recycling and corrugated box plants.

The city and surrounding area is also home to industrial parks where other manufacturing firms are providing good-paying jobs, Richards said. Among these is Nuco Steel Bar Technologies, which is investing $36.9 million to build a 150,000-square-foot technologically advanced mill that will process raw steel into bars. More than 50 people will work at the plant.

Porter Regional Hospital

An ambulance leaves after dropping off a patient at Porter Regional Hospital, at U.S. 6 and Ind. 49, during the hospital's first day of operation on Aug. 25, 2012.

Health care

Health care and social assistance fell second on the list of the top jobs in Porter County with an increase of 14 percent from a decade ago, according to Sindone.

Chesterton is home to several health care providers, including Porter Regional Hospital, which opened its doors at the northwest corner of Ind. 49 and U.S. 6 nearly five years ago.

A new assisted senior living facility is planned for the Porter Business Park immediately west of the hospital.

The Chesterton area is already home to several health care providers and senior living facilities, including the Franciscan Emergency Center, according to Maura Durham, president of the Duneland Chamber of Commerce.

The emergency center along Indian Boundary Road is adding space to increase is departments and services, she said.

There are also several health care-related facilities along Ind. 49 near the Toll Road entrance, including the Lakeshore Bone & Joint Institute, Durham said.

More diversity

While government had been the third largest employer in the county 10 years go, that spot is now held by retail work, according to Sindone.

Accommodation and food services is in the fifth spot, which shows an overall growth in the number of service jobs, he said.

The concern with this change is that these jobs typically pay less than manufacturing work, said Micah Pollak, assistant professor of economics at Indiana University Northwest.

Service jobs typically pay between $18,000 and $20,000 a year, he said, as compared to manufacturing at $70,000 to $80,000.

The government sector, which is the fourth largest employer in Porter County, includes schools, Sindone said.

Porter County is home to eight public school districts; private and charter schools; and Valparaiso University.

The Duneland School Corp. not only provides lots of jobs, but also has a strong reputation that attracts businesses to the area, Durham said.

"It is a big economic driver for us," she said.


Porter/LaPorte County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Bob is a 23-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.

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