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Randy Palmateer

Randy Palmateer, business manager of the Northwestern Indiana Building and Construction Trades Council

The best thing about Northwest Indiana is that the American dream is still alive and well here.

We still build things and make things in the Region, and our strong local unions mean that the hard-working men and women of the Northwest Indiana building trades enjoy union jobs paying a living wage that let them buy a house, raise a family, send the kids to college and fulfill that dream, all the time spending their money in the local economy.

But these men and women aren’t just building a dream for themselves; they’re building it for everyone. Literally, from the new schools and hospital wings, to homes, office, factories, BP, the steel mills and casinos. The Northwestern Indiana building and construction trades are creating the best place to live and work in Indiana, brick by brick.

Just last October, Hammond broke ground on a new high school, an $84 million investment that will put tradesmen and women to work through 2022 and create a state-of-the-art educational facility to replace a more than 100-year-old Hammond High School.

Hammond is only the latest community to invest in new schools. Lake Central, Dyer, St. John, Schererville, Valparaiso and Munster have also heard the rumble of construction equipment. In 2015, Lake Central completed a three-year renovation project in Lake Central High School, and also built a new elementary school. Valparaiso has done a top to bottom renovation of its 1970s-era high school and has expanded and upgraded its elementary and middle schools.

Likewise, skilled craftspeople of all types have been busy building and improving health care facilities across the Region. Drive down Broadway in Crown Point right now, and you will see Community Healthcare System’s new Stroke and Rehabilitation Center going up, but go quickly; it will be done this spring!

These projects build on a foundation of quality of life improvements built by union hands in Northwest Indiana over the past 12 or so years. I have the pleasure of representing the Lake County Board of Directors of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, which since 2006 has directed hundreds of millions of dollars toward revitalizing the Lake Michigan shoreline and expanding Gary/Chicago International Airport. Now the RDA has set a new direction: expanding commuter rail to Chicago.

This is just one project that is set to create many greater paying union construction jobs in Northwest Indiana. Currently, the Indiana Legislature is considering a bill that would allow for the construction of a land-based casino in Gary. Civil leaders are also looking at ways to fund construction and operation of a convention center in Lake County. All of these projects aren’t just jobs for the building trades, but economic development catalysts for all of Northwest Indiana.

Finally, I will remiss if I didn’t mention that the building trades have been investing in themselves to maintain and train the next generation of skilled union craftspeople — most recently, the finished Pipefitters Local 597 Training Center off 101st Avenue. Then, after outgrowing their facility in Hobart, the Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters opened a new $13 million training facility in Merrillville last May. They currently have close to 400 apprentices enrolled in their four-year training program.

That new hall sits just down the road from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 697, which itself built in 2011 for the same reason — they outgrew their old space. It’s a common story here in the Region, where we still have a lot of options for someone who might not want to go to college, but still wants that American Dream.

Randy Palmateer is business manager for the Northwestern Indiana Building & Construction Trades Council. The opinions are the writer's.


Porter County Government Reporter

Senior reporter Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.