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Urschel Labs serves a global market from Chesterton
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Urschel Labs serves a global market from Chesterton

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct errors.

Crinkle cut fries, toaster pastries, shredded lettuce, orange-scented dish soap, frozen pizzas, peanut butter, potato chips.

Each of these products needs precision cutting to make a finished product, as provided by Urschel Labs' line of industrial cutting machinery.

In 1910, Urschel was founded in Valparaiso by William E. Urschel with the debut of his invention, the Gooseberry Snipper, which separated the stems and blossoms from the berry for canning. The invention was deemed a culinary innovation, doing the labor equivalent of 100 workers each day.

Today, the company produces multitudes of cutting machinery for customers in more than 100 countries, whose operations range from making bakery goods to cleaning products.

"Strength and engineering overall, and being innovative in the market has kept us going forward," Debra Novello, advertising manager, said. "We make cutting equipment, but we are also on the cutting edge of processing equipment."

The factory was on Calumet Avenue in Valparaiso until 2015; after 28 plant expansions, the company moved to Chesterton with 160 acres of land. It is preparing to break ground this spring to expand again. The new location is about 40 percent larger than the original facility, and is expected to grow.

Tim O'Brien, vice president of sales, said Urschel's successes can be attributed to a few key factors.

"First thing is the type of product our company produces, and the quality of product we provide," O'Brien said. "Ninety percent of our clients are food-related industries, and people need to eat, especially as the population continues to grow."

Urschel has 11 European offices, four in Asia and one in Latin America, that include departments in sales, customer service, inventory, administration and technical support. At Chesterton there are about 400 employees, with 152 other employees working across the world.

"It's very much a global company; 50 percent of our sales are outside the U.S.," O'Brien said.

Urschel sells "well over" $100 million of its precision cutters annually, O'Brien said, and last year was a record-selling year for the company.

In March 2016, the company became employee-owned, transitioning from a privately held company to being an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, or ESOP.

O'Brien has worked at Urschel since 1990 and has gotten to know the Urschel family through its second, third and fourth generations. In an up-and-down economy, Urschel has been consistent in its growth over the century, O'Brien said.

The company currently sells 50 different machines, with 10 of them accounting for the majority of sales. O'Brien pointed out that one thing that sets it apart from the rest of the cutting-machinery industry is its test lab facilities, designed for potential buyers to see or use the machines in action, either in person or by video.

"If someone is processing food, we like to think we're involved with that," O'Brien said.

Urschel Labs also welcomes students at the high school and college level to tour the facility and learn about the company's operations.

"We want to educate them on the industry, and also promote interest in people looking at a career in the field," O'Brien said.

Novello said Urschel also has a history of community involvement and philanthropy, including donating the Urschel Pavilion, which serves as an ice skating rink and event space in downtown Valparaiso's Central Park Plaza.

"The Urschels manage their business excellently, from how they treat their employees to the quality of the machines they manufacture," O'Brien said.

"Strength and engineering overall, and being innovative in the market has kept us going forward. We make cutting equipment, but we are also on the cutting edge of processing equipment." — Debra Novello, advertising manager of Urschel Labs

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