Lafayette is a fairly typical prosperous Midwestern agricultural and manufacturing center on the southeast bank of the Wabash River, across from the vibrant and dynamic college town of West Lafayette. West Lafayette is home to the 40,000-student engineering and agriculture rooted Purdue University. The combination of cities provides a diverse economy and a lot of interest compared to most metro areas in the region.
Lafayette is home to the likes of Caterpillar, agricultural processor Tate & Lyle (formerly A. E. Staley), Alcoa and a large Subaru plant, which just recently became an assembly plant for Toyota. The university brings a strong complement of research and technology firms, and employment and incomes especially on the west side of the river are strong and living standards are high. The university brings plenty to do for students, families and some retirees alike. The sports teams of the Purdue “Boilermakers,” a mascot celebrating the area’s role as a center of industrial and agricultural technology, are a local obsession.
Downtown Lafayette, tucked neatly into the Wabash valley, has some charm and a slightly European look from a distance, with mostly unattractive commercial sprawl spreading mostly north and east. West Lafayette, atop a bluff to the west of the river, is more modern and has a typical college town look. Town highlights include a low cost of living and especially housing for a major university town, good air quality, and high educational attainment. Downsides are a somewhat cyclical economy and some sprawl issues, and the northern Indiana climate can be harsh in winter.
Both cities lie along the shallow wooded valley of the Wabash River. To the north is a flat agricultural plain; to the south is a mix of level and gently rolling terrain. Most of the outlying area is agricultural. The climate is continental with four distinct seasons, including warm humid summers and variably cold winters. Wide temperature fluctuations and rainy periods are frequent. Precipitation is evenly distributed throughout the year, with occasionally heavy, spring and summer thunderstorms. Winters can bring windy, snowy periods partly arising from Lake Michigan to the north. First freeze is mid-October, last is late April.