HAMMOND — Lear Corp. has moved its Northwest Indiana operations into a new $30 million seat manufacturing plant in Hammond that's more than twice as large as its previous factory in the city in north Lake County.
The Southfield, Michigan-based auto parts supplier has combined its Hammond and Portage plants in a new state-of-the-art, 240,000-square-foot plant at 2204 Michigan St. The 30-acre parcel is just south of the South Shore Line train station in East Chicago. It employs an estimated 875 workers.
"It's a huge facility. There are hundreds of cars in the parking lot," Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said. "They wanted to be under one roof and we were always worried they could leave Hammond. But we kept them here, and it means a lot of jobs for Hammond residents. We kept the 600 jobs, and got a couple hundred more."
Hammond offered the Tier 1 automotive supplier, which makes seats for the Ford Explorer and other vehicles manufactured at the nearby Chicago Assembly Plant in Hegewisch, about $4 million in tax breaks in exchange for the investment and staying in the city. McDermott said it was a priority to retain one of the Hammond's 10 largest employers.
"I didn't know what I would tell residents if a big corporation of that size left," McDermott said. "It's a lot of jobs. But our location by the Chicago Assembly Plant played into our hands. Portage has a lot more land for development but it's a longer commute. It was a good investment in keeping them. I won't have to worry about them leaving again for as long as I'm mayor. With an investment like that, they're not going anywhere for 20 years."
Lear opened its seat factory in Hammond in 1994 and eventually outgrew its 112,000-square-foot facility on 165th Street during a boom period when the Explorer was smashing sales records. In 2015, it moved about 300 workers doing subassembly work 20 miles east to the AmeriPlex at the Port business park in Portage.
Now all of the workers, who are represented by United Auto Workers Local 2335, will make seats under the same roof. They're now making seats for 2020 model-year vehicles, such as the new Explorer SUV that's expected to hit dealership lots this summer.