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Lear might build new plant, consolidate NWI operations

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Lear looking at building new plant, consolidating NWI operations

Workers assemble Ford Explorer seats at the Lear Corp. plant in Hammond in 2013. Lear is looking at a new plant in Hammond or elsewhere in Northwest Indiana.

Northwest Indiana’s largest automotive parts supplier is looking at opening a new plant where it would consolidate its local operations.

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said the city is negotiating with Lear Corp. about building one big plant that would send seats to Ford’s Chicago Assembly Plant in nearby Hegewisch.

Other Northwest Indiana communities also are in the running for the plant, which likely would be a multimillion-dollar investment and employ more than 700 or 800 workers when auto sales are strong.

Lear officials did not return messages.

Since at least the 1990s, the Dearborn, Michigan-based auto supplier has operated a 100,000-square-foot automotive seat factory on 165th Street in Hammond. It feeds the nearby Chicago Assembly Plant on the Calumet River in neighboring Chicago.

Lear has been one of Hammond’s largest employers. Employment sank to a low of 89 workers during the Great Recession but rebounded to more than 760 as the popular Ford Explorer broke sales records over the last few years.

The tier one auto supplier grew enough that in 2014 it opened a second subassembly plant in Portage, where it invested $5.1 million in the AmeriPlex at the Port business park.

Lear hired an estimated 96 new employees and transferred 189 workers to the new factory, which makes automotive seating systems that go into the seats made in Hammond, which in turn are installed in Explorers, Tauruses and Police Interceptors at the Ford plant on Torrence Avenue in Hegewisch.

Ford’s massive Chicago Assembly Plant is a just-in- time factory, meaning it does not stockpile parts and depends on suppliers like Lear to keep a steady stream coming to meet current production levels.

After a few years of operating factories in Hammond and Portage, Lear now is looking to consolidate operations under one roof.

McDermott said Hammond has been in discussion with Lear about a big expansion over the last few months, but that it faced competition from other Northwest Indiana communities.

“They’ve been happy with us,” he said. “They’ve been good neighbors, and we’ve been a good host city. There’s also the location. We have proximity to the Ford plant, and we’re in Indiana, not Illinois.”

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.

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