La PORTE — From sturdy iron castings to sweet and sour sugary confections, La Porte County’s manufacturing community is responsible for cranking out a plethora of different products.
On Friday, area students and residents got a chance to learn more about that industrial prowess during the 10th Made in La Porte County event, with nearly 45 companies, trade unions and other organizations participating in the expo at the former Whirlpool factory in La Porte.
The La Porte Economic Advancement Partnership and Economic Development Corporation Michigan City teamed up to the organize the event, intended to showcase products made, assembled or distributed in the area. The two agencies host the expo biennially, alternating between Michigan City and La Porte.
Around 2,700 students from school districts across the county attended, learning more about what it takes to land a job in the manufacturing and skilled trade fields. That's more than double the number who attended in 2017, LEAP officials said.
The number of participating organizations – who use the expo to expand their connections in community – also grew.
“It’s a testament to the value the event offers,” said LEAP executive director Bert Cook. “Businesses dedicate a lot of time and manpower to this day. It shows a big commitment to our community.”
La Porte’s Alpha Baking Company was among those joining in the action. Attracted by the packages of muffins and coffeecakes sitting at a pair of tables, guests who stopped by the booth learned more about the baked goods coming from the company’s ovens.
The expo was the first that Alpha Baking attended, La Porte plant manager Michael Hedge said.
“It looked like an excellent way to show off what we do,” he said. “Not a lot of people know what Alpha Baking is all about.”
Based in Chicago, the company has produced different baked goods from its La Porte factory on Fail Road since 1979, Hedge said. Alpha Baking currently employs around 350 people, who operate high-speed bun and bread production lines.
Though they may not recognize the logo, nearly everyone in La Porte County has tasted one of its products at some point. Alpha Baking makes buns for fast food restaurants like Burger King, Chick-fil-A, and Steak ‘n Shake, as well as products that line the shelves of Aldi or Costco, Hedge said.
Besides showcasing products, company representatives also used Friday’s expo to connect with others in the local business community. The manufacturer hopes to expand its presence in the community and continue to offer jobs, Hedge said.
“We are proud to be part of La Porte,” he said. “We’re proud to be a manufacturer here.”
Though not in manufacturing, the La Porte County Public Library had its own popular display.
Library representatives lined their table with miniature robotic arms, programmed to automatically manipulate the blocks surrounding them using a nearby laptop. The demonstration drew many students to the table – teens the library will soon reach through its new mobile classroom.
Filled with advanced technology like laser cutters and digital microscopes, the mobile unit will provide a space for lessons on science and manufacturing to area middle school students. The library intends to launch the program in December, using it in part to spark children’s interest in industrial careers, youth librarian Jenny Minich said.
Though its focus on the mobile classroom may be new, LPCPL is a regular at Made in La Porte County, having attended the past three iterations, Minich said.
“Every year we’ve been has been great,” she said. “This event just keeps getting better and better.”
Like with Alpha Baking, the organization uses the event to connect with local manufacturers, who they are hoping to work with to promote its new STEM education initiative, Minich said.
The library would like to work with La Porte County companies to produce videos showing how the lessons the mobile classroom offers will connect to skills manufacturers are looking for. For example, the Dobot robotic arm the children will get to experiment with are smaller versions of equipment used at plants like Arconic in La Porte, Minich said.