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Ports of Indiana


Bordered by Lake Michigan on the north and the Ohio River on the south, Indiana offers a variety of multimodal shipping options with a statewide system of ports. The Port of Indiana – Burns Harbor is located on Lake Michigan in Portage, Ind., just southeast of Chicago; the Port of Indiana – Mount Vernon is located on the Ohio River near Evansville, Ind.; and the Port of Indiana – Jeffersonville is across the Ohio River from Louisville, Ky.

Indiana’s three ports are managed by the Ports of Indiana, a statewide port authority that operates as a self-funded enterprise dedicated to growing Indiana’s economy through the development of a world-class port system on two of the busiest inland waterways in the world. The Ports of Indiana is an agile, strategically-driven organization that does not receive any state or local tax dollars to support operations or capital investments. 

Together, the Great Lakes and inland waterways transport 33 million truckloads of cargo per year throughout North America. Parked bumper-to-bumper, that many trucks would stretch around the world 19 times. Indiana’s unique port system leverages the shipping capabilities of these two massive waterways with locations near the median center of the U.S. population to provide a unique value proposition for shippers and multimodal businesses.

“We operate three ports with approximately 3,000 acres of multimodal industrial sites at the ‘Crossroads of America,’ and we are very much a business development organization,” Ports of Indiana Vice President Jody Peacock emphasizes. “We provide industrial sites for companies that are looking for access to multiple modes of transportation, be it rail, highways, lake shipping, ocean vessels or river barges. We have Class I railroads and major highway connections at all of our ports. We also have over 60 companies on site providing various types of manufacturing, processing, storage and transportation synergies for steel, agriculture, energy and heavy industrial markets.”

Nearly half of the companies at Indiana’s ports are steel-related, most of which are located in Burns Harbor (near three of the largest steel mills in the United States) and Jeffersonville (next to I-65’s “automotive and appliance alley”). Port companies can save an estimated $7 to $10 per ton in transportation costs by being located on the water.

Three Ports

Indiana’s first port opened in 1970 on the coast of Lake Michigan in the world’s largest steel-producing region. The Burns Harbor port offers the unique ability to handle ocean and lake vessels via the Great Lakes, as well as river barges on the inland waterways. These capabilities allow it to provide year-round transhipment with ocean vessels in the Gulf of Mexico. Burns Harbor receives 100 to 200 ships per year, while Indiana’s other two ports receive strictly barge traffic on the Ohio River.

The Mount Vernon port opened in 1976 and is the state’s largest port in acres and tonnage shipped. 

“It handles more cargo than our other two ports combined,” Peacock says. “That is due to the large volume of agricultural products – such as grain, ethanol and fertilizer products – as well as coal, cement, salt, steel, minerals and project cargo. This port handles more coal than anything else and has one of the highest-volume coal terminals on the Ohio River.”

The Mount Vernon facility benefits from synergies with the agricultural and energy markets, including one of Indiana’s largest ethanol plants. Valero, the 10th largest company on the Fortune 500 list, recently purchased the idled ethanol facility and is making improvements to expand its future processing and shipping capacities. Valero operates 10 other ethanol plants in the United States, but this is its first ethanol facility on a river port terminal. 

The Port of Indiana – Jeffersonville opened in 1985 and has been one of the fastest-growing ports on the Ohio River. “It has powerful synergies being located in the greater Louisville logistics market,” Peacock says. “With access to the Ohio River at the center of the U.S. population, this port provides a sustainable competitive advantage for businesses that handle agricultural products, provide logistics services or process steel for auto and appliance manufacturers.”

All three ports have handled a variety of specialty project cargos, including wind turbines, microbrewery tanks, nuclear generators, historic World War II vehicles, building-sized oil tanks and even a fully-assembled passenger jet headed for the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. 

“There’s a tremendous logistical advantage for shipping unusually large cargos into the middle of the country by water because of the cost and complications involved in moving oversized loads on roads, bridges and rail lines,” Peacock points out. 

“If you can ship your heavy-lift cargos by water to the final destination, it can provide significant logistics savings,” Peacock adds.

Planning for Future Growth

Over 80 percent of the land originally allocated for Indiana’s ports has been developed, so the Ports of Indiana purchased 700 acres of additional land for future port developments. The Ports of Indiana also has the authority to develop projects anywhere in the state, regardless of whether or not the development is located on water.

“We’ve created some very unique multimodal industrial sites with competitive advantages that just don’t exist anywhere else in the world,” Peacock maintains. 

The Ports of Indiana has assembled several large industrial sites that are already connected to rail, highway and water transportation infrastructure, including a 500-acre site at Mount Vernon that is served by five Class I railroads, a 140-acre parcel in Jeffersonville adjacent to the new $2 billion Ohio Bridges Project and a 57-acre greenfield site at Burns Harbor with a dock for ocean vessels. 

“Finding large shovel-ready parcels on working ports is rare,” Peacock emphasizes. “These are ‘plug-and-play’ sites that allow companies to connect to roads, rail, docks and utilities with minimal investment. 

“Those types of industrial sites are the result of aggressive expansion planning for Indiana’s port system,” Peacock continues. “By expanding our ports and providing modern infrastructure, we are creating an ideal environment for future development by multimodal business in Indiana for many years to come.” 

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