La Porte Economic Advancement Partnership highlights a year of growth for the city
La PORTE — There’s been a lot of economic progress in La Porte in 2022, with the completion and start of a number of new projects throughout the year.
Representatives from the La Porte Economic Advancement Partnership provided an overview to the La Porte Rotary Club on Monday.
“We like to think what we’re doing is incredibly innovative as we’ve brought together a lot of different offerings to best benefit the city,” LEAP Director and Rotarian Bert Cook said.
Continued development has occurred in NewPorte Landing, formerly the site of Allis-Chalmers.
“It was a massive brownfield or environmentally challenged property that’s been remediated and put back into productive use. There’s a host of projects that have occurred there over the last few years,” Cook said.
One project, a 196-unit resort-style apartment complex called The Banks, had its grand opening in October.
“We’ve been really pleased with that development. It competes with very little in our community. Many of the people that would live in a situation like that have previously ended up in Valparaiso or Chesterton or Mishawaka.”
Capturing these people, Cook said, is incredibly important for the city.
“We know that once you move into a facility like that, you join a church, you find your favorite coffee shop, your favorite restaurant. If that occurs in another community, the chance of being able to attract those people is very, very limited,” he said.
The Banks is at 75 percent occupancy and the remaining units are not quite ready to be occupied, Cook said. “It’s one of the strongest occupied facilities in the entire portfolio of Flaherty & Collins.”
The firm has applied for credits from the Indiana Economic Development Corp. for a second phase, which would be built across the street on land still available for construction.
“We’re not there yet to be able to say we’ve got a project, but we are working in that direction. The second phase would be about another 150 units,” Cook said.
Another project, Aldi, opened on Nov. 10 at the corner of Truesdell and Pine Lake avenues with more than 300 people waiting in line at 8 a.m. The store had previously been located on West State Road 2.
“It’s a great new store. We’re really excited for that and what that brings to the area,” Cook said.
Cook said the question they get asked most often is regarding the absence of groceries on the west side.
“The city never went to Aldi to say, ‘Hey, why don’t you move across town. Aldi wanted to expand ... all of their stores are going through a complete rework and expansion.
“The building they were in on the west side allowed for no expansion – zero. There was no potential to knock the building down and reorient. The site is just not large enough.”
The new store is 30 percent larger, he said.
“In that process, like anyone else, we worked with them to find a suitable or acceptable location ... There are a ton of variables that come into play when they’re considering what sites might be acceptable.”
Cook noted that Kroger was one of the biggest fans of Aldi being built at the new site.
“You build these facilities next to each other and then everyone comes to one area, and you compete on brand.”
Other NewPorte Landing projects are Smoothie King, which recently opened, and 7-11, which will be opening soon.
“As I drove into work this morning, they were loading product into the store,” Cook said.
In July, the city’s Redevelopment Commission received a proposal for a fun center on a portion of RDC-owned property on Hoelocker Drive.
“We are working through that process ... We think that would be a great addition to that area,” Cook said.
On the west side, activity is in store for Maple Lane Mall, which Rural King purchased in 2017.
Cook said Planet Fitness has signed a lease and should be open in early January. Dunham’s Sports has also renewed its lease.
LEAP has also worked with every grocer that might be interested in bringing a store to the site, and has one that is interested, he said.
“Frankly, the costs associated with it, have made it problematic. That doesn’t mean it’s a no-go; we’re working through how we might apply a different strategy and help them find a way to put a grocer there. We’re still very hopeful.”
Also on the west side, Kabelin Ace Hardware is making additions with contractor storage units. A franchise coffee shop will also open on the west side in the first quarter of next year.
Industrial projects are also in the works.
In the Thomas Rose Industrial Park, the 150,000-square-foot Qualls Spec Building, which broke ground in 2020, was leased to Patrick Industries, a major player in the mobile home and marine component industry, and to American Renolit.
“They actually built that entire building spec, meaning they did not have a tenant when they started, which is a significant risk,” Cook said.
“That building was completely leased long before they ever finished construction. The success we had there led us to the second phase. That developer is planning to build an identical 150,000-square-foot building right next door.”
Also, in the industrial park, Winn Machine, formerly located on Boyd Boulevard, purchased the former B&B Manufacturing site and expanded into that space.
“We love to do deals like that because that’s a local company who’s made good and really has been successful here. They’re operating under a new name, which is Winndeavor,” Cook said.
On Boyd Boulevard, two different developers, James Shoffner and Holladay Properties, are building spec buildings.
“For many of the same reasons I mentioned previously – this desperate need for product, for space. ... A lot of that comes back to ‘Do you have anywhere to put them?’ You’re really challenged to find appropriate square footage, appropriate buildings built by today’s standards,” Cook said.
One of LEAP’s other efforts has been aiding the city’s workforce.
Workforce Development Coordinator Erik Nelson works with businesses to understand their needs in terms of employees, skill sets and education.
He also works with individuals, connecting them with employers. “I’m happy to say I’ve been able to help 61 individuals find jobs here ... About 90 percent of that is high school students, but also, we come across adults that are looking for some assistance...
“I help anybody I can,” Nelson said.
He also works with area high schools to identify students that are not going on to pursue higher education.
“(We) engage with them throughout the year through different programs. Once they’re ready to graduate I can ... provide them some options and help them get their foot in the door at a local company,” he said.
They have other programs to support the workforce, including childcare voucher and soft skills programs. Newer programs include partnering with Ivy Tech and the La Porte Community School Corp. to start a class for maintenance technicians at Ivy Tech and a welding class at New York Blower.