Port of Indiana plays key role in state's economy

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You wouldn't consider Indiana a major seaport, but in many ways it is.

The Port of Indiana is the entry point of international shipping, and Burns Harbor in Portage handles over $4 billion in cargo a year.

It is one of the most dynamic industrial areas in Indiana. The Port of Indiana contributes $4.3 billion annually to the state's economy which translates into 32,000 Indiana jobs. It is strategically placed in Portage, Indiana between two major steel plants just 18 nautical miles from Chicago along the southern edge of Lake Michigan.

Rich Heimann serves as the Port director.

"They all look like big pieces of steel. Big piles of rock, big piles of material but yet they are just a few steps away from being inside your home," he explained.

This is an industrial port. You won't find any finished consumer goods here. This is a works in progress.

"They are thinking about the car they are going to drive. The air conditioner. The refrigerator they are going to buy. That is what they are thinking about. What we are thinking about is how do we support Indiana commerce to give them those products," said Heimann.

Indiana is already known as the Crossroads of America but who knew that also applies to its ports. The 250,000 to 300,000 trucks and 12,000 rail cars that operate out of here annually are only a one day away from 80 percent of the country. The 100 international ships that anchor here ten months our of the year are six days from the Atlantic and only 16 days from Europe. River barges run in and out of here year-round.

Nikolas Szymarek is the Operations Manager.

"Usually ballpark about 40,000 tons. In this instance we are looking at a total of 6,000 to 8,000 tons," he said.

To give you some perspective, one ship can haul more than 900 truckloads of cargo. The crews on the port are union locals. The crew on the ship can vary, in the case of the Miedwie out of the Bahamas, the crew numbers around ten. We talked to Szymarek was he surveyed a bank of monitors in his office.

"We certainly keep the area around the slip secure. This is just another level of that security of people coming on and off the slip or those around the ship itself."

There are 29 cameras placed around the port to give round-the-clock security a good look at the comings and goings around the ships.

We asked the Port Director about safety concerns.

"Should we be concerned? Absolutely, because concern keeps you focused and if you are focused your concerns are minimal," he said.

That allows Indiana to focus on steel and industry.

The Port of Indiana also has shown a 20-percent growth in economic impact to the state since 2009.