Refineries and Steel Brighten NW Indiana

One of the bright-spots in the Midwest today is NW Indiana, and it’s not just reflections off Lake Michigan. The shoreline between Chicago and Michigan’s border is home to large oil refineries and steel mills, and both are humming with activity related to large construction projects. The projects themselves and the companies contracted to service them are providing a boost to the region’s economy. The unemployment rate there is at 8.2% while the rate in Northeast Indiana is 17%.

Oil Refining – Big Bright Spot: BP’s Whiting Refinery project is a multi-year, $3.8 billion (that is billion with a “b”) behemoth that is keeping job-shops, fabricators, and a host of other small to mid-size manufacturers busy. The modernization project, which will help the refinery increase its capability to process heavy Canadian crude oil, is employing about 700 operating engineers, and thousands of others in the other trades.

Steel Shining Through: U.S. Steel, ArcelorMittal, and other steel mills are also making major investments. U.S. Steel Gary Works launched a $220 million effort to produce synthetic coke in 2010, which will reduce harmful emissions. The project includes building four new plants, the first of which is now beginning to operate. ArcelorMittal is in the midst of a $63 million project to build a new more energy-efficient boiler. Announced in Nov. 2009, the project is expected to be completed by the end of this year and create 360 jobs in the design, construction and manufacturing of the equipment.  In addition, Ratner Steel, based in Roseville, MN, is moving into the neighborhood. In April 2012, they broke ground on a new plant in Portage, IN.

Utilities Follow Suit: Not surprisingly, this kind of expansion in heavy industry requires some upgrading of the utilities grid. Northern Indiana Public Service Co. (NIPSCO) is investing $800 million in its generating station in Wheatfield, IN. That project is part of NIPSCO’s effort to meet U.S. EPA guidelines, and once it’s finished, NIPSCO will also update environmental controls on its Michigan City, IN generating station.

Short-lived? Experts do not expect this to simply be a blip on the radar screen of economic prosperity for the NW Indiana region. Once the all-consuming BP project is completed, economists say the steel mills and others have big projects ready to go that were put on hold while the BP project is underway due to lack of manpower. Even BP has indicated it has other construction work to do and important improvements to make, once the Whiting Refinery modernization is complete. So “bright and sunny” is the prediction for NW Indiana not only today, but also looking into the long-term forecast.