by Dan Rafter
Northwest Indiana has long been a refuge for industrial users seeking lower land costs, a strong labor force and a respite from the higher taxes across the border in Illinois. And economic development officials in this slice of Indiana say that the industrial market here is only getting stronger.
There’s evidence of this taking place now in the Northwest Indiana town of Michigan City. In mid-May, Holladay Properties began construction of the Haskell Building, a 64,000-square-foot speculative light industrial building. The building is part of the Ameriplex-Marquette business park now under construction in Michigan City.
During a ground-breaking for the building, Mike Micka, vice president of development for Holladay Properties, praised Michigan City officials for their pro-business stance and for the efforts they made to attract a development such as his company’s business park.
“This city is doing a lot of amazing things right now,” Micka said.
Rejuvenating downtown, boosting industrial
He’s not alone in this assessment. And Michigan City is far from the only Northwest Indiana community attracting a steady stream of industrial users.
Clarence Hulse, executive director at Economic Development Corporation Michigan City, said that Michigan City, which always attracted visitors during the summer months thanks to its lakeside location, is now becoming a stronger magnet for consumers and businesses all year round.
That’s largely thanks to improvements in the city’s downtown, and efforts by city and economic development officials to attract new businesses to Michigan City.
“If you had been to downtown Michigan City just three years ago, you would have seen a lot of shutters on the windows of businesses,” Hulse said. “That is changing.”
Hulse said that during the last two years, 12 new restaurants have opened in downtown Michigan City. The fare includes sushi, Tex-Mex, farm-to-fork and high-end bars. Another new restaurant, an old-school Italian place, will open in downtown at the end of this month, Hulse said.
“People are discovering Michigan City,” Hulse said. “The beach was always packed in the summer. The outlet mall has always been busy. But now we are seeing more people coming to downtown Michigan City. There is activity downtown that hadn’t been there. This is helping to attract more businesses and industries.”
A new option in Michigan City
The new Haskell Building will have space for up to eight individual industrial tenants. The building is the first of three industrial facilities that Holladay Properties plans to open at the business park along U.S. 20.
The Haskell Building should be ready for occupancy by the end of this year.
“We are excited about the prospect of having a quality new product that we can market to increase business investments in Michigan City,” Hulse said.
Hulse said that the time was right for such a project. There is a lot of demand for industrial space in Chicago. As industrial users struggle to find the right properties in that market, it’s natural for them to seek space just over the Illinois/Indiana border in Northwest Indiana.
“Companies today are looking to expand not just in the communities right over the Indiana border, but throughout the whole Northwest Indiana region,” Hulse said. “We want to be ready for them, to have products available for companies looking at the entire Chicago region, including Northwest Indiana.”
What makes Michigan City such a desirable location for industrial users? Hulse points to the area’s strong labor force. He says that local high schools teach students the skills they’ll need to thrive in the industrial sector. This pays off when industrial users consider locations: They want to set up shop in an area in which there are plenty of skilled laborers.
Northwest Indiana’s lower cost of living helps, too, Hulse said, as does the area’s strong pro-business climate.
“The elected officials here are progressive in making sure the area stays pro-business,” Hulse said. “The politicians on the state and local level help us maintain that positive business climate.”
Demand not slowing
Joe Rurode, economic development coordinator with the Northwest Indiana Forum, said that industrial demand is only increasing in Northwest Indiana.
He said that this demand has only increased following the presidential election last year.
“The manufacturing tradition in this state has always been a strong one,” Rurode said. “The manufacturing clusters we have have always been active. But post-election, we have seen an increase in proposed industrial projects for this location.”
Rurode said that Northwest Indiana is just a friendly spot for industrial users. The state is known for its pro-business policies. But this region also boasts plenty of transportation options for industrial users. There are the busy highways, of course, but also the Port of Indiana in Burns Harbor, the Gary/Chicago International Airport and three class-1 rail lines.
“There aren’t many places that have all these things in place,” Rurode said. “Users in the distribution and manufacturing space recognize ow valuable it is to have all of that at their fingertips.”
The rising demand for industrial space in Northwest Indiana is leading to a small, but steady, rise in spec industrial projects in the area. Rurode pointed to spec projects either announced or nearing completion in region communities such as Hobart and Valparaiso.
At the same time, users are repurposing older industrial buildings and transforming them to more modern facilities.
“In the past, the Illinois companies wanted to stay as close to the Illinois border as possible,” Rurode said. “But now we are seeing spec development going up with confidence farther away from the border. Hobart and Valparaiso are good examples. They are not right on the border, but they are still close to Interstate-65. Developers are increasingly interested in locations away from Lake County.”