By RICK A. RICHARDS
PORTAGE, Ind. — Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor Director Rick Heimann can be excused for not being able to answer many immediate questions tossed at him. After all, he’s been on the job for barely a month and he’s still learning his way around the 600-acre Lake Michigan port.
“The opportunity to lead the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor is an exciting endeavor. The customer base, the synergies they provide and logistical capability of the port, including access to rail, water and roads provides anyone using the port a strong competitive advantage,” said Heimann.
Even though the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor has been around since 1970 (legislation creating the port passed the General Assembly in 1961) it’s still difficult for many Hoosiers – and a larger number of people from outside the state – to grasp the fact that Indiana has a deepwater port that handles ships from around the world.
“Our pitch is, the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor is unique from the standpoint in that we have capability to transport goods through the Atlantic Ocean, on the Great Lakes, on the St. Lawrence Seaway, but more importantly, we have access to the inland river system,” said Heimann.
“This allows our port companies and customers to deliver to 38 states and have access to all seven Class 1 railroads in the nation.”
And while the port sits in the heart of the state’s Steel Belt – ArcelorMittal Steel is directly to the east and U.S. Steel, directly to the west – nearly one-fifth of the cargo handled by the port is agriculture.
“Here at Burns Harbor, ag will make up approximately 19 percent of our volume going in and out,” said Heimann. “We have a very limited number of companies involved in the ag business.” In 2011, some 70 million tons of cargo were handled by the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor.
Cargill is the largest ag tenant and has been at the port since 1979. It sits at what is known as Berth No. 6 at the far north end of the port, closest to Lake Michigan. Cargill has 14 silos for grain storage, with a capacity of 5.4 million bushels.
The other ag tenant is Frick Services, which handles fertilizer. It sits at Berth No. 1 on the west side of the port. It has a storage capacity of 150,000 tons of fertilizer.
Annually, the port handles half a million trucks, 10,000 rail cars, 400 barges and 100 ships. Heimann sees a bright future not only for agriculture at the port, but for all tenants.
“We will do whatever our port companies like Cargill, like Frick Services, need to allow them to grow by utilizing the port,” he said. “Our pitch is that all business should come through the port.”
In 2011, the most recent year from which statistics are available, the value of cargo shipped through Burns Harbor was $4.3 billion. The port is responsible for 6,000 direct and 32,000 indirect jobs.
Along with the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor, the state also operates two ports on the Ohio River, in Jeffersonville and Mount Vernon. Those two ports contributed $2.1 billion to the state’s economy.
Heimann grew up in Decatur, in the northeastern corner of Indiana. He noted there wasn’t a whole lot of water transportation there when he was growing up. “My interest in transportation started with my first job,” he said. “When I moved to Cincinnati to attend Xavier University, I took a job with the Ohio River Company.”
Today, it’s part of Ingram Barge Co., based in Nashville, Tenn., which operates 4,000 barges on the Mississippi River, Ohio River, Cumberland River, Tennessee River and other inland waterways. “It just got in my blood,” said Heimann. “I really like studying the supply chain. I identify myself as a student of supply chain. I study them for moving bulk products – feeding steel mills, feeding elevators grain, the limestone to construction industries. That began to fascinate me.”
After college, he was transportation manager for AK Steel and later went to ArcelorMittal Steel.
“It’s like a giant chess board,” said Heimann. “I’m looking forward most to learning about the businesses here at the port, the opportunities here, the hurdles that our port companies are facing and having a dialogue, with the end result being how can we at the port help you succeed in your business model.”
He said there are 28 companies at the port (19 of them steel-related) and it’s his job to make sure their business needs are met, regardless of whether it’s iron ore, steel coils, wind turbine parts or grain that’s being shipped.
“We are a group that works together,” said Heimann. “My job is to remain financially self-sufficient and to benefit the state through economic growth, jobs and other measurements. They told me to make it grow.”