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
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
“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
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
“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
“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.”
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.