Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Urschel bringing thriving business to Chesterton

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By KEVIN NEVERS

Last summer Urschel Laboratories Inc. broke ground at Coffee Creek Center for its new manufacturing facility and corporate headquarters.

Here in Chesterton, municipal officials and the business community are eagerly awaiting the boost which Urschel’s presence will give to economic development in Duneland.

So maybe it’s possible, just barely, to forget for a moment that Urschel is still squeezed into its old plant in Valparaiso.

Tight as those quarters are, however, Urschel--the international leader in precision food-cutting equipment--is right now going great guns, is in fact in the midst of the busiest year in the company’s history.

In a wide-ranging talk with the Chesterton Tribune on Tuesday, President Rick Urschel discussed the future of the company in Chesterton, what he can say for sure about it and what at the moment is less certain.

Urschel Laboratories, he noted, may not be in a recession-proof business but it is “recession-resistant.” Whatever the economy may be like, “people still eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” and food processors still need the equipment manufactured by the company.

“We may see a slow-down but we’re never super-adversely affected by a recession,” Urschel said. “We tend to see an uptick in business right ahead of a boom. And we tend to see a downtick somewhere on the backside.”

Business, in any case, has been hot enough for the company to see a net gain of employees over the last few months of 37: which cumulatively is about the number hired over the last 10 years altogether.

Currently the company employs 350, Urschel said. Last summer only eight of those had Chesterton mailing addresses but roughly half of its workforce lives north of Valparaiso, some in Liberty and Jackson townships.

Urschel Laboratories is renowned locally for two things: its loyalty to its employees, and its loyalty to the City of Valparaiso, where it’s been headquartered for nearly all of its 100-plus years in existence. The company has been, not to put too fine a point on it, a philanthropic force in Valparaiso.

The question remains, though: although the company’s physical facilities may be moving to Chesterton, its center of gravity--so far as that’s comprised of people--is going to remain for some time in Valparaiso, maybe for years. Does Urschel himself foresee the emergence of a company commitment to Chesterton on the order of the one to Valparaiso?

Urschel believes that such a commitment to Chesterton will emerge, but exactly how and when he has no way of knowing right now. “We’re coming to Chesterton. We’re looking forward to whatever opportunities might be here.”

“We understand that not only do we have to live here but the people who live here have to live here,” Urschel added. “If you take an active role in the place your employees live, your employees are better and happier.”

Urschel expects the company to take full possession of its new facilities in March 2015. At that point the process of moving equipment from Valparaiso to Chesterton will begin. But the logistics of the company’s production methods are complicated--“non-linear” is the way Urschel put it, like a bowl of spaghetti--which means that the challenge will be to unravel those strands as “intelligently as we can” for the move north.

For some length of time, accordingly, there will be some degree of simultaneous production at the two locations, until August, when Urschel anticipates the move to be completed.

There are two things Urschel really doesn’t know right now:

* What will become of the old building in Valparaiso.

* What will become of Phase II of Urschel’s property at Coffee Creek Center, comprised of 80 or so acres immediately south of and adjacent to Morgan’s Corner.

Urschel, on the other hand, did make the following unequivocal commitment: that, at such time as an extended Dickinson Road is constructed through Phase II of the development and into Phase I--the latter Urschel’s private property--to link with the bridge over Coffee Creek, it will be a public right-of-way.

Kind of a rough winter at the work site, yes?

Oh yeah, Urschel said. The extreme cold--and resulting spike in the price of propane--sometimes made it more expensive to heat the buildings under construction than it did to pay the people to come to work.

“We shut down a few days over the winter,” Urschel said. “But things have been progressing.”

 

 

Posted 3/21/2014