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.
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.
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.
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
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?
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
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.”