Whirlwind of positive activity drives Portage’s economic development climate

Whirlwind of positive activity drives Portage’s economic development climate
By: Stacey Kellogg Last Updated: May 4, 2019

Injecting positivity and vibrancy into communities – both economically and otherwise—is only successful when great minds meet community-oriented people, all of whom are ready to roll up their sleeves and get the work done.

The professionals at the Portage Economic Development Corporation (EDC) know that the city is anchored in opportunity and are on call to bridge all the necessary partnerships for bringing businesses and new development to Portage at a rapid pace.

“We are really the first stop to doing business in Portage. Whether it’s finding a location, whether you’re a brand-new business, whether you’re expanding a business – we want to help you be successful in this city,” said Andy Maletta, Executive Director of the Portage EDC. “From the lakefront to what we’re developing in our beautiful downtown, all the way to our southern retail corridor, we’re proud of how much Portage has to offer.”

Maletta, along with Portage EDC’s Business Development Manager Amy Parker, are fierce advocates for the city and its success, focusing on industrial, retail, and housing developments while spearheading innovative programs to inspire younger generations to choose local careers and grow roots.

“Jobs and businesses come to cities where people want to live, and that’s Portage right now,” Maletta said during their annual recap of 2018. 

Retail & Industry

From peanut butter, to automobiles, to burgers and beer, the retail climate in Portage is booming.

Parker was particularly pleased to highlight that in 2018 alone, Portage EDC facilitated seven new businesses coming to the community – an unprecedented amount of growth in that amount of time for a community their size. Expansions are also happening.

One of the most recent and massive success stories is the upcoming Castle Automotive Group expansion. Last month CEO Joe Castle announced that Castle Subaru will take over the vacant and former Harbor Buick GMC dealership at 6100 U.S. Highway 6 in Portage and convert their current Portage location into a Mitsubishi dealership. The group will invest $2.5-3 million into both dealerships and bring an additional 40-60 jobs to Portage.

Parker said one retail business grabs the entrepreneurial eye as a true grass root success story, thanks to assistance provided by Portage EDC, the city, and other entities.

Joy Thompkins founded BNutty gourmet peanut butters in 2014, enlisting a small circle of close friends to prepare and pack the tasty treat into jars for selling at a few mom and pop shops in Northwest Indiana. Parker said the idea originally started as a fundraiser for her children’s sports clubs, but the artisan flavors and honey-roasted ingredients quickly took hold.

Retail demand for BNutty products has since exploded, so Thompkins and business operator Carol Podolak have moved to a 16,000-square-foot commercial kitchen at Portage’s AmeriPlex at the Port. The industrial complex is developed and owned by Holladay Properties.

BNutty is now sold nationally in Wal-Marts and on QVC, locally at all Strack & Van Til locations, and several specialty stores throughout the Region. Consumers can buy direct from BNutty online, and they’ve also developed a BNutty merch line. Parker stressed the importance of Portage EDC’s role in acting as a facilitator among the entities involved in bringing new business to the community. Development deals can be complex, involving a coordinated effort among private entities, city government, county officials, state agencies, the Chamber of Commerce, and other organizations.

Housing & Mixed-Use Spaces

One of the most outward-facing success projects helping to shape the Portage downtown is the Promenade at Founders Square. This $40 million development is the ideal example of mixed-use residential and commercial spaces. It is being developed by Holladay Properties, and attracted its first restaurant last year—Big Time Burgers & Brew. Founder and operator Roly Martinez made a deliberate decision to invest in Portage because he wants to see his hometown succeed.

“I moved to Portage 15 years ago from Chicago. I came with the intention of being part of something that had a lot of potential for growth,” Martinez said. He quickly made connections at city hall, the redevelopment commission, Holladay Properties, and the Portage EDC.

“They were all very important people who introduced me to the possibilities. The whole vision came into view. I got to see it from the very beginning; it’s very exciting,” he said.

Parker and Maletta both know that it’s important to have a keen eye for and then support the people who are hungry to make their town a better place to live, work, and play.

Maletta said the restaurant is making an impact.

“The food is fantastic. Big Time Burgers & Brew really builds momentum for Founder’s Square,” Maletta said.

Martinez is no stranger to having a business. He owns Gastro 49 Pub & Eatery in Chesterton and has worked in the music and publishing industries. That experience, plus the community pride he has for Portage, and the support of the Portage EDC and other agencies, is a perfect combination for success.

“The community has been amazing – how they’ve embraced us. I take a lot of pride in building my home here and raising my family here, and building great brands that people will love,” he said. “In the grand scheme of things, I have to say that I love to be part of building up the downtown district and having unique businesses in that area.”

Without disclosing too much, Martinez said he’s just leased another property on Central Avenue (the old Pizza Hut building) and is planning a special project there to keep the momentum going.

As projects succeed in this space, Maletta said Portage becomes attractive to others who want to help the community grow.

“Nearly every builder in the Region has active plans in Portage, and we have been pleased to be that ambassador between the developer and other agencies to advocate for a strong housing base,” Maletta said.

Careers

A key element of a community’s economic prosperity revolves around jobs and careers. Portage EDC has spearheaded Healthcare 360 and Manufacturing 360, programs designed to inspire high school students to explore skilled jobs in these sectors and build careers right here at home.

The programs bring together healthcare organizations, manufacturing plants, and educational institutions who offer comprehensive degrees and certificates in these sectors.

“Portage and surrounding communities will always need healthcare providers, and there are opportunities for students to stay in our own community both during and after education,” said Sandra Oliver, Physician Recruiter for the Porter Health Care System and a Portage EDC board member. “If we are going to inspire our youth to consider meaningful careers locally, we have to create career pathways to set them up for success. The 360 partnerships between businesses, Portage EDC, and schools is essential to making this happen.”

Oliver added that healthcare and manufacturing sectors bring employment, financial stability, flexibility, and an opportunity for people in those careers to make an overall positive impact in their communities.

For more information about the Portage EDC, or bringing a business to the Portage community, visit them online at http://portagein.org/.