Top local business stories in 2010
Labor unions’ strikes halt construction work
Unions in Northwest Indiana took to the picket lines this summer as an aggressive measure to curb concessions and make a statement during one of the busiest times of the year for the construction industry.
Members of Teamsters Local 142, Ironworkers Local 395 and other unions went on strike during the summer and affected projects ranging from school renovations to road construction.
The Teamsters strike was the most prominent job action involving more than 200 union truck drivers who were off the job for about two weeks in June.
Ford picks Chicago to build new SUV
Ford Motor Co. made a big splash in Chicago and Northwest Indiana this year by announcing it would bring production of the 2011 Ford Explorer to its Chicago Assembly Plant.
Ford made the production announcement in January and said it would add 1,200 jobs and invest about $400 million at its Chicago-area facilities this year. The company also announced it would build the Ford Police Interceptor in Chicago in 2011 and brought President Barack Obama to tour the assembly plant and praise the turnaround happening at the company.
As a result, employment and production increased with its supplier base including Lear Corp.’s Hammond seat manufacturing facility.
Production of the vehicles started in the third quarter and dealers started to take delivery on vehicles earlier this month.
Steel industry plunks millions into capital projects
Steel companies in Northwest Indiana spent millions of dollars to upgrade their facilities—whether planned or unplanned.
More than $10 million was spent at U.S. Steel Gary Works to fix a section of a series of rail tracks used to delivery materials to blast furnaces after a July 7 accident. Later in the summer, however, the company received the green light to spend more than $220 million to build plants that would create a product that can be substituted for traditionally manufactured coke in steelmaking.
ArcelorMittal spent millions to upgrade a blast furnace at its Burns Harbor facility and launched plans to build a $63.2 million boiler to reduce its reliance on buying electricity.
Universal Steel America and Olympic Steel announced plans to build warehouse and processing facilities in Crete and Gary earlier this year.
NIPSCO electric rate case goes on and on
In late August the state regulators gave NIPSCO permission to raise electric rates after a two-year proceeding. But when the utility filed new rates two weeks later increasing residential bills 16.8 percent, consumer groups cried foul.
State regulators then agreed to keep the new rates from going into effect until all appeals could be heard. Then, in late November, NIPSCO filed a second rate case that it hopes will replace the first one, raising residential rates only 7.9 percent.
Cline Avenue future still uncertain
In April, the Indiana Department of Transportation unveiled its $75 million plan for replacing the condemned Cline Avenue bridge over the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal with a permanent detour.
But in August, INDOT appeared to change course when it told an audience at a public meeting at East Chicago City Hall that plans for replacing the bridge still were up in the air and a dozen options were being considered. The 12 options range from rebuilding the bridge to using numerous streets and state routes to “stairstep” through the city.
Gaming regulators play hold ‘em with gamblers’ complaints
A Times investigation in early August found almost half of all complaints lodged against Northwest Indiana casinos by gamblers had gone missing at the Indiana Gaming Commission.
The gaming commission conducted its own investigation and discovered one of its own staffers had been hiding consumer complaints from across the state for more than a year. The staffer was fired, more than 81 missing complaints were found and answered, and the gaming commission instituted new procedures to keep the situation from recurring.
Home sales soar, then tank
Home sales roared forward in the first six months of the year, powered by federal homebuyer tax credits and low interest rates. Home sales reached levels not seen since the housing boom, with sales jumping forward by more than 50 percent in April compared to April 2009.
But by July, sales were tumbling more than 30 percent compared to the year before. They have stabilized at slightly higher levels since then, but most Realtors say the market’s recovery will be slow and then pick up as 2011 goes on.
Gary airport and railroad reach deal
The Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority in early November reached agreement with Canadian National Railway Co. on moving a set of its railroad tracks to make way for the airport’s $90 million expansion project.
The deal was years in the making and came just after the airport authority hired a national airport engineering firm to oversee the expansion project. The airport still must conclude smaller agreements with two other railroads to clear the final hurdles to expansion.
RBA expands former Hammond Transit
The Northwest Indiana Regional Bus Authority followed up on its January takeover of Hammond Transit by doubling service and expanding further into the suburbs in August.
Ridership has gained steadily since then on the bus service renamed easygo Lake Transit, with ridership up 58 percent in just the first three months alone.
RBA’s merger with Gary bus agency stalls
Negotiations throughout the summer and into the fall failed to produce even a preliminary merger agreement between the Northwest Indiana Regional Bus Authority and Gary Public Transportation Corp.
That prompted the Northwest Indiana Regional Bus Authority to turn down a GPTC request for the renewal of funding for three regional routes, which had steep service cuts in September. GPTC also had to trim service on some other routes because of continued financial difficulties because of state mandated property tax caps.
Schrenker case ends with sentencing
Merrillville native Marcus Schrenker was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty in Hamilton Superior Court to securities fraud charges.
Schrenker, a former investment manager, admitted in August he bilked clients out of millions, but victims will receive only 7 cents on the dollar because of the lack of funds available for restitution.
Schrenker, 40, is incarcerated at a facility in Bunker Hill, Ind. He must serve the remainder of his federal prison sentence tied to crashing a plane in a January 2009 attempt to fake his death.
Financial reform enacted at federal level
Massive reforms ruled 2010. Rules governing the financial industry were redrawn as a result of legislation approved.
On July 21, President Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the hotly contested, complex body of rules ranging from bank capital requirements to changes in supervisory authority of certain financial institutions.
Despite the bill’s passage, more rules must be promulgated by the federal agencies implementing policies and banks, and other segments in the financial industry will continue watching for the potential impact on their businesses.