Healthy investments flow from Port of Indiana’s water connections.
Rick Heimann chuckled to himself while pointing to a mountainous pile of scrap metal near the entrance of his massive workplace, the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor. He recalled a snide comment from a visitor who suggested that piles of scrap metal “junk” are not the best welcome mats for the sprawling 600-acre facility on the southern tip of Lake Michigan.
“Those piles of so-called junk are here to be recycled and then made into refrigerator doors, among other household products,” says Heimann, director of the Port-Burns Harbor. He also cited the many shipments coming through the port for BP Amoco’s massive $4 billion expansion project, as well as 65 brewery tanks shipped from Europe to craft breweries in this country, including several located in Northwest Indiana.
“We’re somewhat hidden from public view, but we do so many things the general public has no idea about,” Heimann says. The port, one of three in the state, resembles a small town with its own intermodal infrastructure, security personnel and hard-working occupants. Located on the northern end of Portage, just 18 nautical miles from Chicago, it houses 17 berths for ships and other vessels navigating the Great Lakes, the Inland Waterways and the Atlantic Ocean through the St. Lawrence Seaway.
It also boasts easy access to eight rail carriers and five interstates, designed to quickly and efficiently transport products by ship, barge, truck or rail. All roadways are designated as “heavy haul” with no weight limits to accommodate the heaviest of truck traffic hauling multiple steel coils. “And it all starts with water transportation on Lake Michigan,” Heimann says. “Marine shipping is safer, greener and more efficient than rail cars and trucking, with less fuel used, fewer air emissions emitted, and a much lower fatality rate. Northwest Indiana is now the largest steel-producing region in North America, which plays a huge role in our daily operations.”
The port’s reach includes all 50 states and 31 countries, with Indiana ranking sixth in domestic waterborne shipping. More than half of the cargo shipments to the port begin or end in a country that’s an ocean away, such as England, China, Brazil, Japan, Taiwan, France and the Netherlands. In all, the Ports of Indiana ship enough truckloads of cargo each year that, if lined up bumper to bumper, would stretch around the earth 19 times.
Key cargoes are comprised of steel, limestone, minerals, oils, dry-liquid fertilizers, and bulk commodities of raw materials for the steel industry. Each year, the port in Northwest Indiana handles 125 ocean ships, 500 barges, 175 lake ore vessels, 330,000 trucks and 12,000 railcars. Nonetheless, more than 110 acres of property are available for development, including 9,000 feet of Lake Michigan dock space.
“We’re looking for businesses with the right fit for their needs and for the best economic advantage of the port,” says Heimann, who’s been director at the port for four years. Through the end of 2016, the ever-bustling facility handled more than 2.5 million tons of cargo, and it’s on track to record the highest three-year shipping total in its history, approximately 8.5 million tons from 2014 to 2016. Grain shipments alone were up 75 percent over the same period in 2015.
In turn, it generates more than $4 million annually in property taxes for local government. Despite Indiana’s seemingly landlocked location in the Midwest, 57 percent of the state’s boundary is water, with Lake Michigan and the Ohio River providing more than 400 miles of navigable waterways. To capitalize on this maritime advantage, the state has three public ports, all managed by a single statewide entity, the self-funded Ports of Indiana, which receives no taxpayer dollars. It was created by the state legislature in 1961, with the Port-Burns Harbor opening in 1970. The organization’s bipartisan board of directors is made up of seven commissioners appointed by the governor to serve staggered four-year terms.
By design, 100 percent of the port’s revenue, including from leases and user fees, is reinvested into the Ports of Indiana. “Most Hoosiers don’t know that Indiana has three ports,” says Rich Allen, communications manager for the Ports of Indiana, which is based in Indianapolis. “Everyone thinks it’s a landlocked state, until they learn about these vital ports.”
A 2015 study conducted by Martin Associates, a maritime economic consulting firm, states that Indiana’s three ports generate $7.8 billion in economic activity and 60,000 jobs annually for the state. This is an increase of 22 percent and 16 percent, respectively, compared to 2012. “Not only does this study quantify the value of the ports to our state’s economy, but it highlights the [three] ports’ growth,” says Rich Cooper, CEO of the Ports of Indiana.
Former Indiana governor and now U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said in a statement, “Indiana’s ports have been spectacular catalysts for job growth. The Port-Burns Harbor is Northwest Indiana’s port to the Great Lakes, serving as an integral part of the state’s transportation infrastructure and economic development.”
“The Port of Indiana is extremely important for the overall economic development of Portage,” says Andy Maletta, director of the Portage Economic Development Corp. “Having an international shipping port located 100 percent in Portage is something that really sets us apart from other communities as we compete for companies looking to locate in Indiana.”
The port generates 30,000 site-dependent jobs in addition to nearly 10,000 related jobs, according to Martin Associates. “The businesses located in the port provide a tremendous amount of really good-paying jobs for our residents,” Maletta says. The city’s economic corporation is working hard in conjunction with its schools to showcase the many varied companies and jobs inside the port.
“They were a big part of the Manufacturing 360 program we did in October 2016,” Maletta recalls. “That program escorted 200 high school seniors who hadn’t decided on a career path or continuing education, and it let them tour some of the port’s companies. The goal was to see what training the students would need and how to get them jobs within the city.
“Onsite companies such as Ratner Steel, which after only four years is nearly doubling its operation, have found a great deal of success due to the availability of multiple means of shipping that the port can offer,” Maletta says.
Dennis Szymanski, general manager of the port site for Ratner Steel Supply Co., says his firm couldn’t be happier since moving its operation into the port a few years ago. The company employs roughly 70 warehouse workers with more new hires expected in 2017.
“Between the port, the city of Portage and the state, it’s been phenomenal here,” he says. “There’s also talk of building a new truck staging area here, as well as other developments. We’re on a continued path for growth.”
The port is home to 30 businesses, half of which are steel-related companies, including ArcelorMittal, U.S. Steel and Indiana Pickling/Processing. Steel coils, billets, wire, rods, and raw materials and byproducts involved in the steelmaking process are all handled by the port.
“Many companies take advantage of port’s maritime industrial park to develop onsite warehousing, distribution and manufacturing facilities,” Allen says. Danny Gurgon, who handles Portage terminal operations for PI&I Motor Express Inc., says his company’s location within the port has been “second to none” during his 40 years of serving the flatbed trucking industry.
“We are minutes away from some of the top steel-processing companies in the Midwest, including Ratner Steel, Feralloy Midwest Processing and ADS Logistics’ Roll & Hold Division, to name a few,” says Gurgon, noting that all three firms are onsite port companies. Gurgon notes his firm’s neighbor and partner in logistics, NLMK Indiana, uses the raw materials brought into the port via ships to manufacture steel coils to be transported via PI&I trucks to the many processors within the port.
“Having direct access to barge and ship traffic when they come to port is invaluable and irreplaceable,” he says. “Plus, I can’t fail to mention another invaluable amenity at the port: its security, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.”
The port is a restricted area, meaning it’s under the provision of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security through enforcement of the U.S. Coast Guard. Every vehicle that enters the port–via only one access route, a bridge–must pass through a guarded checkpoint at the entrance. A second bridge is in the works with completion by 2020, according to state officials. A driver’s license must be shown, with security cameras recording all traffic in and out of the facility.
“We need to make sure that all visitors have a proper purpose and that they undergo a cursory check at the very least,” Heimann says. “We have been fully compliant since 9/11 occurred.”
An additional security perimeter also had to be created around the docks requiring special security credentials for access to certain ships. This special credential is awarded to operating engineers, longshoremen, laborers and all port employees.
In 2015, a Quebec-Indiana maritime partnership was formed to intensify collaboration in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence shipping and maritime economic development. Quebec’s ports act as gateways to North America for shipments entering and exiting the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway. Maritime transportation accounts for $34 billion in annual economic returns and more than 225,000 jobs in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region, according to Allen.
“Quebec and Indiana account for approximately 40 percent of those totals,” he says. “The Port of Indiana here at Burns Harbor offers a gateway for cargoes connecting to the U.S. inland river system at the other end of the Great Lakes.”
Heimann adds, “By 2030, $9 billion will be invested by Quebec in its maritime infrastructure.”
Heimann recalls some unique shipments, specifically barge movements of Indiana National Guard troops; restored World War I tanks from Europe; the world’s largest crawler crane; the largest wind turbines in North America; hay bales for drought-stricken farmers in the Deep South; and an entire Boeing 727 airplane for a Chicago museum.
“People have no idea how many goods come through this port that affect their lives–from refrigerators to craft breweries to products they’ve never heard of,” Heimann says.