From candy to factory equipment, the industrial gears of La Porte County churn out products both big and small, all in colossal numbers. For one day, they came from across the county to join forces under one roof.
Every two years, the Economic Development Corporation Michigan City, Indiana (EDCMC) and the Greater La Porte Economic Development Corporation (GLEDC) partner to host “Made in La Porte County,” hosting about 50 firms to showcase their products that are manufactured, assembled, or distributed from the county.
State Representative Jim Pressel, District 20, said Made in La Porte is an eye opener to the powerhouse that the county is.
“You know about all of the business and industry that’s here, but you really don’t see the impact of it until you see them all here together,” Pressel said. “I knew they all existed, but to see them all here and what they actually do under one roof just sheds a whole new light on what La Porte County is doing and what we’re capable of, and to see the youth here is just huge.”
This year, the event was held at Foster Printing Facility in Michigan City, opening its gates early Thursday morning to welcome professionals, community leaders and busloads of students alike.
“Made in La Porte County” provided an opportunity for LaPorte County residents and students to not only view the diversity of industry the county has built, but to view and touch the products. Clarence Hulse, Executive Director of the EDCMC, said the event encourages attendees “to be curious and think a maker.”
“La Porte County has a broad range of manufacturing,” Hulse said. “We have companies that make candy – American Licorice. We’ve got Sullair, one of the world’s premiere air compressor manufacturer right here in La Porte County. So when we talk about diversity, you can almost go anywhere from a career standpoint in manufacturing, it’s such a broad path.”
Bert Cook, GLEDC Executive Director, said about 10 years ago GLEDC and EDCMC began a dialogue about benefiting their communities along the lines of economic development, sparking a new tradition: Made in La Porte. He said the participation has grown so much since their first event that full parking lots and bus traffic is the norm, bringing in as many as 2,000 students throughout the day.
“To see the students come in, their faces light up, they get a new appreciation for what manufacturing means,” Cook said. “I hear it said quite often that manufacturing today is quite different than it was in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I think that’s a piece that’s really important for the students’ perspective and from their parents’ perspective, to be able to see how clean and how high tech these companies are.”
Cook said that while it’s quite the undertaking, the organizations will continue their partnership strong.
“I think we are of the opinion that this is so well received both from the business community and school corporations, there’s no way we cannot host this event,” Cook said. “So we just continue to plan on how we can grow the event, how we can provide more opportunities for more students, more opportunities for the general public to dialogue with all of our companies. So just figuring out the next venue and how we deal with more people the next time is probably the biggest challenge.”
Multiple schools throughout the county bussed in students by the hundreds to spend a day experiencing everything their area has to offer, from products to, most importantly, potential careers.
Will Corneil, a young member of the Robo Blitz Michigan City Robotics Team #3936, came out with his team to show off the roving bot that carried them through last year’s robotics competitions.
“It’s what I learn, it’s what I get out of it,” Corneil said. “I’ve learned a lot of mechanical skills out of it, and I have learned a lot of stuff that I wouldn’t learn anywhere else.”
Audra Peterson, Principal at the AK Smith Career Center in Michigan City, hopes events like these keep the bright minds she interacts with every day close to home after graduation.
“We have all of our students attend because it gives them a chance to see a broad spectrum of what La Porte County is all about,” Peterson said. “I think from an economic development stand point this is definitely a really positive thing to happen, because we deal with brain drain every day – where our kids are going out, they’re getting a degree or they’re getting continuing education, and they go out and they don’t come back in the area.”
The owners of Peters and Marske, a machine shop that began in 1920 in Michigan City, said it’s been tough finding machinists to fill their team. They hope to catch young peoples’ attention at their booth.
“It’s nice to see the kids and get them interested,” Mac said. “It seems like it’s hard to find people in the industry and kids don’t really know what’s out there. This kind of gives them a taste, and hopefully gets them interested in this side of the industry.”
Heather Ennis, President of the Northwest Indiana Forum, said talent attraction is crucial for all businesses to thrive, which for La Porte County industries means getting kids excited about the career potential right in their neighborhoods.
“Made in La Porte County is a great event,” Ennis said. “It gives an opportunity showcase all of the great manufacturing jobs that are here in the region, I am so excited for these school kids to be able to come out and see what career opportunities there are for their future. It’s really exciting to see things you wouldn’t realize are made here in our backyard.”