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BusINess » BusINess Story of the Week

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Hammond hopes for $80M deal with world’s largest fertilizer producer

Fertilizer maker PotashCorp is working with Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad on what would be an $80 million project at the Gibson Yard in Hammond, Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said. PotashCorp Public Affairs Director Bill Johnson confirmed the site, west of Indianapolis Boulevard, is one of several the company has looked at in the Midwest for its new operation. (Photograph by John J. Watkins/The Times)

Fertilizer maker PotashCorp is working with Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad on what would be an $80 million project at the Gibson Yard in Hammond, Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said. PotashCorp Public Affairs Director Bill Johnson confirmed the site, west of Indianapolis Boulevard, is one of several the company has looked at in the Midwest for its new operation. (Photograph by John J. Watkins/The Times)

The world’s largest fertilizer producer wants to locate a rail transfer center in Hammond at the Gibson Yard, which could kick off more development and job creation there, Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said.

City officials have talked about a “multimillion dollar investment” north of Summer Street for some time. But McDermott confirmed for the first time this week that PotashCorp, of Saskatoon, Canada, is the interested party.

The fertilizer maker is working with Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad on what would be an $80 million project at the Gibson Yard, the mayor said.

“It is a major, major investment that we are talking about at that location,” McDermott said.

In addition, Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad has told the city two other companies are interested in locating there if the deal is finalized, said Phil Taillon, Hammond director of planning and development. Total investment by companies at the site eventually could reach $200 million.
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Surging land prices have local analysts, farmers worried bubble could burst

Bobby Hayden, left, and Tom Vandercar walk to the grain bins to unload corn into a trailer for market while getting ready for the spring season at the Hayden family farm in Hebron. (Photograph by Gregg Gearhart | The Times)

Bobby Hayden, left, and Tom Vandercar walk to the grain bins to unload corn into a trailer for market while getting ready for the spring season at the Hayden family farm in Hebron. (Photograph by Gregg Gearhart | The Times)

Hoosier homeowners still are feeling the sting of the recession as property values are sticking in the doldrums after hitting peaks in recent years.

But after taking a slight dip during the recession, agricultural land values are continuing to rise and have doubled their average from a decade ago.

Industry observers are carefully analyzing whether a bubble burst is possible with farmland values akin to what brought the real estate market to its knees, triggering the global financial meltdown.

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Tourism chiefs face post-recession challenges

Fairfield Inn and Suites General Manager Jeff Lawn does a room inspection Thursday at the hotel in Hammond. Lake County hotel bookings and revenue are down. (Photograph by Jonathan Miano/The Times)

Fairfield Inn and Suites General Manager Jeff Lawn does a room inspection Thursday at the hotel in Hammond. Lake County hotel bookings and revenue are down. (Photograph by Jonathan Miano/The Times)

Tourism chiefs across the region are touting initiatives to rebuild after the recession devastated overall hotel revenues and lowered occupancy rates, with some recovery seen last year.

Some are building on existing programs to lure visitors, one is lucky enough to have an expanded convention center, while one is calling for a “game-changer” for the region.

“We need a demand generator,” said Speros Batistatos, CEO of the South Shore Convention & Visitors Authority, based in Lake County. “We need something that will bring people here and move occupancy up.”

That something is a 75,000- to 100,000-square-foot multi-use facility capable of hosting conventions, trade shows and sporting events, Batistatos said. A local sales tax on food and beverages at restaurants and bars is his favored means of paying for it.

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Fixing an ailing business culture has helped Youngstown

Various awards for Turning Technologies sit on display at its downtown office in Youngstown, Ohio. Turning Technologies produces software and hand-held devices used in school classrooms and business boardrooms in testing or audience engagement. Many business leaders mention the company among the city's gems. (Photograph by Tim Hunt/The Times)

Various awards for Turning Technologies sit on display at its downtown office in Youngstown, Ohio. Turning Technologies produces software and hand-held devices used in school classrooms and business boardrooms in testing or audience engagement. Many business leaders mention the company among the city's gems. (Photograph by Tim Hunt/The Times)

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio | Convincing people this city is open for business has been a battle during the last several decades.

The economic effect of the decline in manufacturing jobs since the 1970s has rolled through the area, accelerating a decline in industry-dependent businesses and those relying on workers’ incomes.

Investing in declining urban areas can be a tough sell, despite a glut of available real estate and a labor pool clamoring for opportunities.

But in the last few years, the city and region have been able to secure major job commitments from a steel company, a call center operator, a software developer and other employers.
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Unions working to capture attention, support of working families

Gary city worker Antoine Brown, 38, Brown poses for a portrait on his recycling route. The Teamsters Local 142 member says he and other union members are fighting for survival. Attempts to weaken labor unions have roiled Democrats in Indianapolis and Madison, Wis., leading them to flee to Illinois rather than vote on the measures. (Photograph by Jonathan Miano/The Times)

Gary city worker Antoine Brown, 38, Brown poses for a portrait on his recycling route. The Teamsters Local 142 member says he and other union members are fighting for survival. Attempts to weaken labor unions have roiled Democrats in Indianapolis and Madison, Wis., leading them to flee to Illinois rather than vote on the measures. (Photograph by Jonathan Miano/The Times)

City of Gary employee Antoine Brown worries about the American Dream becoming unattainable for many families.

Brown said he and other workers struggle to avoid thinking about not receiving a pay raise in five years and how budget cuts could further reduce salaries and personnel.

But Brown is one of the lucky ones. He’s still employed.

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Rail tsunami could swamp NWI in coming decades

Developments in far off lands could have a big impact on everyone’s drive to work in Northwest Indiana, with the number of freight trains lumbering through the region expected to double by 2035.

That is because a historic shift in shipping patterns has the potential to hit the East Coast with an “Asian tsunami” of seaborne freight over the next two decades, according to freight experts. Much of that freight will make its way to Chicago and the Midwest via a 15-mile-wide rail corridor in Northwest Indiana.
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Region business leaders say jobs still missing jolt from recovery

Tim Roper, of Smith Auto Group, speaks at The Times Board of Economists luncheon Feb. 9 at the Radisson in Merrillville. Roper said when serious job creation finally starts, buyers will return to auto showrooms. (Photograph by Jon L. Hendricks/The Times.)

Tim Roper, of Smith Auto Group, speaks at The Times Board of Economists luncheon Feb. 9 at the Radisson in Merrillville. Roper said when serious job creation finally starts, buyers will return to auto showrooms. (Photograph by Jon L. Hendricks/The Times.)

Northwest Indiana business executives are seeing the signs of a sustained—yet slow—economic recovery in the region this year.

But the 22-member Times Board of Economists is split on how quickly challenges such as elevated unemployment will be resolved to provide a boost for sectors such as manufacturing, entertainment and real estate.
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Razing buildings raises redevelopment hope

A crew demolishes an abandoned home on December 20, 2010, in Gary. U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., helped secure funding for the work after touring the house last year with a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development official. (Photograph by Heather Eidson/The Times.)

A crew demolishes an abandoned home on December 20, 2010, in Gary. U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., helped secure funding for the work after touring the house last year with a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development official.
(Photograph by Heather Eidson/The Times.)

For urban areas plagued by unsafe or abandoned buildings that drain property values and scar the landscape, the best way to spur development often involves a wrecking ball.

Hammond, Whiting, East Chicago and Gary—landlocked except for the lakefront—can’t build out by scooping up underdeveloped or unincorporated pieces of land on their borders, so they demolish sagging homes and outdated factories in the name of development.

“It’s a very important tool and it’s true redevelopment,” Whiting Mayor Joe Strahula said. “It’s very expensive, but you have to utilize a program like that or else, a small city like Whiting that’s landlocked, development doesn’t happen.”
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BP plans to shed 2 refineries, focus on Whiting

A worker builds around the current refinery at BP Whiting Refinery in November as part of BP's $3.8 billion Whiting Refinery Modernization Project. The company plans to concentrate its U.S. refining and marketing activity at Whiting and Cherry Point, Wash., as well as in its 50 percent stake in the Toledo, Ohio facility. (Photograph by Heather Eidson, file/The Times.)

A worker builds around the current refinery at BP Whiting Refinery in November as part of BP's $3.8 billion Whiting Refinery Modernization Project. The company plans to concentrate its U.S. refining and marketing activity at Whiting and Cherry Point, Wash., as well as in its 50 percent stake in the Toledo, Ohio facility. (Photograph by Heather Eidson, file/The Times.)

BP PLC outlined plans to rebound from the Gulf of Mexico disaster as a smaller, safer company—selling off almost half its U.S. refinery business—and restored its dividend payment to shareholders as it unveiled strong fourth-quarter profits Tuesday.

The company plans to concentrate its U.S. refining and marketing activity in Whiting and Cherry Point, Wash., as well as in its 50 percent stake in a Toledo, Ohio, facility.

But uncertainty over the final bill for the Gulf spill and criticism from some analysts that the company shunned a more drastic restructuring tempered the good news.
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