Port of Indiana – Burns Harbor: Feeding the Region’s Economy Since 1970

The Port of Indiana – Burns Harbor is one of the Region’s somewhat hidden engines. Home to a vast amount of real estate, cargo, and industry, the harbor helps propel commerce not just around Northwest Indiana, but worldwide.

The Port of Indiana was founded in 1965, right on Lake Michigan at the intersection of U.S. Highway 12 and Indiana 249. They broke ground in 1966 after decades of effort, but the first attempts at a deepwater port go as far back as the 1830s. The vision only turned into reality after Gov. Roger Branigin and the Indiana General Assembly secured $35 million in funding over three years. It quickly proved a perfect fit for the Region.

“It was an enormous benefit, especially manufacturing and steel industry-wise” said Amy Parker, Executive Director of Portage Economic Development Corporation. “Portage is about the same age, and the two of them coming together helped Northwest Indiana as a whole to solidify itself in the steel industry.”

Building the harbor was no simple feat. While Lake Michigan is ultimately connected to the Atlantic Ocean through the St. Lawrence Seaway, the area around the harbor was initially fairly shallow. The freighters that carry the iron, coal, and limestone necessary to make steel need deep waterways. The federal government helped by sending the Army Corp of Engineers to dredge the space that eventually became the Port of Indiana.

“Other ports, located on Indiana’s rivers, can’t handle the tonnage that we can here in Portage,” Parker said. “Those other ports down there are wonderful, and keep Indiana’s economy as a whole strong, but our port is more flexible since it can handle the heavy ships. We also get international ships that come in through the locks.”

The other huge advantage of the Port of Indiana – Burns Harbor is its proximity to the Region’s transport infrastructure. It’s just minutes away from multiple interstates and highways, contains over seven miles of rail tracks, and is within 60 miles of four different airports. The port receives about 100 ships, 400 barges, 300,000 trucks, 12,000 railcars, and 200 laker vessels every year.

“Having a port right at the southern tip of Lake Michigan is amazing,” Parker said. “Then there’s our highway system, which includes some major roads that go across the country. The port is kind of like a little city all its own.”

The Port of Indiana – Burns Harbor hosts 30 businesses, half of which are steel-related. Companies such as ArcelorMittal and U.S. Steel Corp., have some of their most important plants right in the harbor. Countless jobs and careers have been built at the port over the years.

“People often don’t realize the asset that we have right in our backyard,” Parker said. “People can drive past it all the time, and not realize that it contributes to our local economy in incredible numbers.”

To learn more about the Port of Indiana – Burns Harbor, visit www.portsofindiana.com. For more on the Portage EDC, visit portagein.org. Image courtesy Ports of Indiana.