Big projects in education, manufacturing, distribution and lifestyle amenities.
by Michael Puente
Northwest Indiana is experiencing a building boom of sorts with several major projects on tap for the coming year.
One large-scale project that's slated for completion in early 2012 is the new headquarters and distribution center for North Coast Distribution, a wholesale beer distributor based in Valparaiso with a national reputation for excellence in service.
Chief Operating Officer George Douglas says North Coast has outgrown its current 123,000-square-foot location at 705 Silhavy Road in Valparaiso where the firm has been distributing millions of cases of beer annually since 1993. The company's been recognized by Coors and Miller brewing companies as the best beer distributor in the nation.
“We've maxed out the current site and we're landlocked. We're hemmed in and no place to go. As our business continues to grow, we really don't have a way to take advantage of those opportunities,” Douglas says. “Where we are going we'll have plenty of land and build space to grow and realize future opportunities.”
North Coast has a long history in Northwest Indiana. It got its start as Valpo Beverages in 1939. Valpo Beverages remained a small operation and closed its doors for a year because of hard times in the 1950s, but the company's savior was the Falstaff Brewing Co. which designated Valpo Beverages as its wholesaler in Indiana.
Growth really took off for Valpo Beverages in '70s and '80s when it began acquiring other beer distribution companies in surrounding counties, including Lake County Beverages in the 1980s. By 1992, the company had grown so much – and beyond just serving just Porter County – that it decided to change its name to North Coast Distributing Inc.
The new facility off Indiana 49 and U.S. 30 will be about 215,000 square feet. Douglas says the firm will be moving operations from a South Bend location to the new Valparaiso facility.
Before ultimately deciding on staying in Valparaiso, Douglas says a consulting firm was brought in to make sure North Coast was in the best spot to distribute its beer to its locations in a seven-county region that makes up Northwest Indiana.
“Anytime you're in the distribution business, it's about logistics. You need to find where the optimal location is,” Douglas says. “Our market territory is northern Indiana, a territory that covers the northern third of the state.”
Construction started the weekend of Memorial Day in 2011 on North Coast's new headquarters that will have sustainability built right in.
“Everyone wants to have a sustainable business but also a sustainable facility,” Douglas said. The new location is on 35 acres on Indiana 49, south of U.S. 30 across from the Porter County Jail and Porter County Fairgrounds.
Larson-Danielson Construction of LaPorte and Design Organization of Valparaiso are participating in the design and construction of the new facility.
Douglas says the new headquarters will be able to meet the company's needs into the near future but the company made sure not to overdo it.
“We didn't want to overbuild. You don't want to spend all your money on something that you're not going to utilize until 10 or 15 years down the road. That's not a wise use of capital,” Douglas says. “We purchased what we thought would be our land needs for the next generation. We won't be landlocked. We'll control our own destiny.”
Education is another area that's helping to drive Northern Indiana's building boom.
The University of Notre Dame is moving along in building a new Executive Education building that will house state-of-the-art facilities for the Notre Dame's MBA program in the University's Mendoza College of Business.
“Our business school has been sorely lacking in space for executive education programs,” says Paul Velasco, interim director of ND's Executive Education program. “We basically live in a small wing, but it doesn't provide us the opportunity to have the flexibility of classroom space to deliver the types of programs we would like to do for client companies. They pay quite a premium for the education we provide; the rigorous pace we have doesn't provide the opportunity to serve them at the level we'd like to.”
But the new building, south of the famous Notre Dame's football stadium, will be 58,000 square feet and will include dining facilities for executive students and lounge areas.
It is expected to be completed by March 2013.
The building is being designed by Robert A.M. Sterns Architects of New York City, a firm with incredible projects throughout the world in business, medical and educational fields just to name a few.
The creation of the new Executive Education building was made possible by a $20 million gift by Ralph C. Stayer, a Notre Dame graduate and chairman of the board and chief executive officer for Johnsonville Sausage Company.
“Executive Education has a long tradition of excellence at Notre Dame,” says Rev. John I. Jenkins, the university's president. “We are so grateful to Ralph and his family for an extraordinary gift that will enable us to continue and expand upon this tradition.”
“As a longtime chief executive, Ralph knows well the importance of ongoing leadership and management training in business, and has, himself, been active in establishing such programs,” says Carolyn Y. Woo, dean of the Mendoza College of Business. “Our capacity to provide these programs – with a values-based emphasis that is the hallmark of Notre Dame – will be significantly enhanced thanks to this gift. We are most appreciative.”
Perhaps one of the most impressive projects is that of high-tech firm Fronius USA. The firm announced plans last summer to eventually move more than 500 jobs from its headquarters in suburban Detroit to Portage by 2016.
Company officials say the firm will invest $26 million at its new location, where it will lease up to 400,000 square feet of manufacturing space at the AmeriPlex at the Port business park off Interstate 80/94 and Indiana Highway 249.
The state is stepping in with more than $4 million in tax credits. “Indiana is grateful and excited about this decision,” Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels says. “There is no new job of any kind, there is no new company anywhere we don't welcome with open arms but there are special features about this great company that has had my attention for some time now. They are a global company, a leader in their field. Their products are going to gain and grow in their market.”
Austria-based Fronius has more than 4,000 employees worldwide. Started in 1955, the company specializes in battery charging systems, welding technology and solar electronics. The managing director of the USA division, Wolfgang Niedrist, says Indiana was chosen because it offers educated workers, access to highways and a solid supplier network.
The move to Indiana is the company's largest investment outside of Austria. The firm will keep a sales office in Brighton, Mich., where the company opened in 2002.
Thomas Herndler, chief manufacturing officer for Fronius USA, says his firm is among the world's top producers for solar electronic worldwide. “We expect to see enormous growth in the market. This production facility will serve to support and supply the expected growing demand for solar workers in the USA.”
Herndler says the Fronius culture is to aim for economic growth while ensuring professional growth for its employees. “Today, we have three divisions and one goal: We create technologies that allow the most efficient use of energy, welding technology, solar electronic and battery charging systems.”
The Portage facility will tentatively employ up to 512 people by the end of 2016 in a variety of capacities, including technology, production and office administration.
Some employees will transfer from the company's Michigan office. The current location will continue to support the surrounding regions with sales, service and application support.
Meanwhile, the Little City on the Lake is undergoing a big transformation. The city of Whiting is experiencing a sort of renaissance, with dozens of economic and community development projects most notably a project that improves access to its lakefront.
The Regional Development Authority is fueling the renaissance with a $19.45 million grant for the Whiting Lakefront Project with much of the work to begin in March. The entire cost of the project is $43 million, with much of it being paid by industrial revenue and other grants.
The project's full scope will focus on development of a boardwalk, fishing pier, bike path, and other amenities. The Lakefront Project should take about two years to complete. Improvements to the Whihala Beach launch area are also within the scope of the Lakefront Project and should begin in the spring. “The focus of the project is to transform Whiting Lakefront Park into a destination point for all to enjoy,” says Mayor Joe Stahura.
The plan includes a two-tiered boardwalk along the shoreline, connecting the Whiting trail system with Hammond's and then up into Chicago. The project also includes creation of a new nature area, renovation of existing facilities and a new gazebo event center, new parking lots, expansion of existing pathways, Whihala Beach boat harbor renovations, and a new Whiting-Robertsdale Historical Museum.
Bill Hanna, executive director of the Regional Development Authority, says the Whiting Lakefront Project is part of the RDA's overall plan for regional development and cooperation.
“The RDA was put in place to cause the kind of change that's needed on a regional scale that will attract new businesses and stabilize our assets. So far, we've been able to commit to half a billion dollars, mostly money from the outside, for projects that include changing the shoreline of Northwest Indiana,” Hanna says.
“As you travel from west Lake County and head east to Porter County you will find people on the job, working to transform our most unique asset, the Lake Michigan shoreline, into an accessible treasure that highlights our natural and industrial strength.”
Last June, the first phase of the project was completed. That was for a water and sewer infrastructure and installation of a 16-inch water main and lift station to provide for future improvements.
Much of the building boom in Whiting along can also be attributed to the $3.8 billion expansion and modernization of BP Whiting Refinery.
The project includes up to 9,000 construction workers at the refinery every day, with the number to ramp up to 10,000 by this summer. The project is expected to be completed by 2013.
“By continuing to invest in the lakeshore, we will continue to attract visitors who will stimulate our local economy, we will encourage families and businesses to invest in our region, and we will raise the quality of life for all those who live here,” says U.S. Rep. Peter J. Visclosky, a Democrat from Merrillville. Based on a request for assistance submitted by the City of Whiting, Visclosky secured $1.5 million for infrastructure investment. This funding, directed to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, allowed federal participation in the project.