Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Ground broken on new Urschel facility at Coffee Creek Center

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By KEVIN NEVERS

More than a century after William Urschel’s design of the Gooseberry Snipper in 1910 became the impetus for the establishment of a small company in Valparaiso, the history of Urschel Laboratories Inc. moved a few miles north on Thursday, as ground was ceremonially broken for Urschel’s new manufacturing facility and corporate headquarters at Coffee Creek Center in Chesterton.

All 300 employees were bussed to the event, where they were fed AJ’s pizza beneath a Strongbow’s tent, then handed engraved shovels, asked to align themselves around a huge Urschel logo spray-painted on the ground, then told to put their backs into it.

A photographer in a hired helicopter caught the moment for posterity.

How exactly Urschel Laboratories--the world’s leading manufacturer of precision reduction equipment for the food, chemical, and pharmaceutical industries--ended up in Chesterton after its long association with Valparaiso is a question President Bob Urschel addressed in a few brief comments before the ceremony. After simply outgrowing its space--following 10 expansions of their current facility since 1956--it became clear that a new solution was needed.

Company officials looked at retrofitting a parking garage, Urschel recalled, “but we got a price on that and quickly moved on to something else.”

That something else for a while was a warehouse across the street. But officials in the end didn’t want to “break things up.”

Meanwhile, Urschel’s son Rick--vice-president--kept making this suggestion, to which Urschel confessed only half-listening. “Why don’t we build a new plant?”

“Why don’t we build a new plant?”

“Why don’t we build a new plant?”

Finally, Rick won through, a search was conducted for a suitable site, and after considering locations across the country the company settled on Chesterton.

To the Town of Chesterton, Urschel expressed his gratitude. “Thank you very much for putting out the welcome mat,” he said. “We’ve never felt more welcome anywhere.”

“It’s quite an honor to be selected as the location of your new facility,” Chesterton Town Council President Jeff Trout, R-2nd, said. “We look forward to a long and good relationship. It’s our honor to keep Urschel and everything it represents here in Porter County and we look forward to partnering with you for the next 100 years, growing jobs and stimulating the economy.”

“There is not a company we could think of that we’d be more proud to be associated with,” Trout added.

Porter County Commissioner Nancy Adams, R-Center, also expressed her gratitude to Urschel for staying in Porter County. “The employees of Urschel are amazing,” she said. “You do such a good job. And I’m excited you stayed in Porter County. That’s the main thing.”

Tonn and Blank Construction of Michigan City has been hired to build the new facility, as Tonn and Blank was hired to build the current facility in 1956 and also to perform the subsequent 10 expansions--“usually over a handshake,” Urschel noted.

“I apologize,” Tonn and Blank President and CEO Jon Gilmore joked, “for not getting the job right the first time, because just 57 years later we’ve got to do it again.”

The Project

Urschel has purchased a total of 157.41 acres at Coffee Creek Center, 75 acres of which will be home to the new facility. Company officials have not said how they might develop the balance, which are located north of the site and extend all the way to Harrington Drive in Morgan’s Corner.

The Town of Chesterton is helping to finance the project through its issuance of $25.86 million in economic development revenue bonds, which in no way obligate the town or its property taxpayers. Instead, the mechanism will work like this:

Urschel Laboratories will pay for all costs associated with the project--including the acquisition of the land, the construction of the facility, and the installation of infrastructure like a four lane bridge over Coffee Creek--with its own liquidity, that is, with cash which it has on hand. Then the company will recoup a portion of its total costs--but only a portion--through the 20-year, 85-percent break which the town is granting on real and personal property taxes, which Urschel would normally have paid as a property owner in a tax increment financing district.

Over the 20-year life of the arrangement, the town will nevertheless receive an estimated $4,566,455 in property-tax revenues.

Town Attorney Chuck Lukmann has said that the bonds do not constitute a debt to the town, that the town is not pledging its full faith and credit, and that Urschel Laboratories doesn’t have the ability to levy taxes.

Approximately 100 full-time construction jobs are expected to be created during the two to three years in which the facility is being built, with an annual payroll of $13 million. At the end of construction, 15 to 20 permanent full-time jobs will have been created, with a payroll of $1,080,000 in the year following construction. Consistent with state and federal law, the company has agreed to give preferences to qualified Chesterton residents when hiring.

 

Posted 7/12/2013