Chicago steel shelving company Edsal Manufacturing Co. Inc. announces an expansion in Gary, creates 300 jobs

17 April 2015

A Chicago steel shelving company is expanding into Gary, creating about 300 new jobs — welcome news in a struggling city hobbled by poverty and high unemployment.

The jobs will come quickly, too. The Edsal Manufacturing Co. Inc. hopes to hire 200 people within 90 days and begin churning out products within 45 days, company officials said.

The business will be located in the Chicago Steel building, 700 Chase St., where it signed a five-year lease for 200,000 square feet. Edsal vice president and co-owner Mitch Liss said it likely will grow to 325,000 square feet within two years.

Edsal makes pre-packaged steel shelving and storage units, similar to products sold at home improvement stores.

Liss said the proximity to rail transportation, local interstate highways, and the Gary/Chicago International Airport pushed the company toward Gary. But Liss said cost savings, a ready workforce, and support from the city's leaders made the difference in its final decision.

"Instead of us maybe being a teeny little fish in a giant ocean, here we feel like we really have the attention of the senior people, leadership," Liss said.

The city is offering a 10-year tax abatement for property owner Robert Bobb, of Chicago, and a personal property abatement to Edsal. Bo Kemp, director of the Gary Economic Development Corp., said the city council is expected to vote on the abatement within the month. State officials knew about the deal, but no state incentives are involved, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said.

Most of the jobs will be entry level, paying minimum wage, Liss said. He also said the company offers opportunities for workers to move up the ladder and said it has four employees who've been with the company for 50 years.

Edsal, located on Chicago's South Side, has about 1,500 workers. It's already moved equipment to the Gary site. Kemp estimated the move to cost the company about $1 million.

"This is a huge opportunity for the city of Gary to get businesses in and a huge opportunity for citizens," said Freeman-Wilson. She said Edsal will target the hard-to-employ population — 18-to-25-year-olds, long-term unemployed workers, veterans and ex-offenders.

Edsal picked Gary for its expansion over existing company sites in Illinois, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and China. The move comes on the heels of a war of words over job poaching between Indiana and Illinois.

Last week, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner told the Chicago Tribune's editorial board he would come after jobs across the state border to "rip the economic guts out of Indiana." Gov. Mike Pence's office responded by touting Indiana's low corporate taxes and favorable business climate. Indiana became a right-to-work state in 2012 and its minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, the federal minimum. Kemp said Indiana's right-to-work status wasn't one of the factors the city pushed in the talks with Edsal that began last November.

Liss said Edsal, a company launched in a garage by his father-in-law in 1957, gained fresh confidence about its expansion after favorable rulings from the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission on its dumping charge against shelving imports from China.