Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Anderson, Indiana's Lessons For Windsor

I wonder if the City of Anderson, Indiana had a newspaper whose editors would write something like this to help out a Mayor who had failed in everything that he had tried to accomplish:
  • "Windsor is in the midst of a crisis it didn't create and it can't solve."

What a terrific excuse for a do-nothing Mayor and Council: "it can't solve." What it means is don't even try and point at the perfect storm of problems if the citizens' finger of blame is directed at you.

Take a look at the article below. Anderson sounds very much like the City of Windsor doesn't it. But there is a big difference. I did not read anything in this article about the politicians moaning and groaning with their hands out demanding that someone else solve their problems. They started to solve them on their own.

The article talked about "aggressive leadership" not stallers and obstructionists with no solutions other than THINK BIG dreams that are unrealistic and to say "NO, NO, NO." Their City welcomed business unlike ours which chases away business people.

What's the difference between that city and ours? They have a Mayor, and an Economic Development Commission as we do. They put the emphasis on "aggressive business diversification, infrastructure improvements and ability to hold the line on property taxes" as we can do as well. My Three-part series is a roadmap for success.

Look at us as a contrast. There's only about $2 billion of infrastructure improvements that the Ambassador Bridge Company and the Senior Levels are trying to throw at us but which we refuse to accept. Our Gazelle Feeders cannot even find brochures for potential investors. As for our taxes, I just do not want to get into that now after the WUC and fleet gas fiascoes.

Can you imagine what Anderson's Mayor would have done if he had Eddie's advantages, or for that matter, any other Mayor in Canada! Words cannot convey my disgust!

  • What works: Anderson, Ind.
    A success story

    By LARRY RINGLER / Tribune Chronicle POSTED: February 10, 2008

    Thousands of high-paying jobs vanish as General Motors Corp. auto parts plants close. Holes pockmark the streets, jarring drivers as they travel through the city.

    Abandoned houses and failed factories spread like cancer, withering its host with blight and broken dreams.

    The image very well could be the Mahoning Valley’s epitaph. It nearly was Anderson, Ind.’s.

    In a continuing series, the Tribune Chronicle examines ‘‘What Works’’ for communities that in many respects are comparable to Warren but which are rebuilding their economies.

    Today, the focus is on Anderson, for decades a thriving hub of parts manufacturing before plant closings wiped out all of its roughly 27,000 GM jobs.

    Through aggressive leadership, the city is winning national, even international, attention as a turnaround town in the middle of the Midwest Rust Belt.

    The Indiana State Chamber of Commerce in September named Anderson the Community of the Year for its aggressive business diversification, infrastructure improvements and ability to hold the line on property taxes.

    In April, Forbes magazine ranked Anderson 98th on its list of 100 best small cities for business and careers, based on cost of doing business, including taxes, job growth over five years and population over age 25 with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

    Large and small employers are rewarding Anderson with money and jobs.

    Global food giant Nestle chose the city over Lima and others for its biggest plant, paying 300 workers an average of $19.50 an hour to supply the world with coffee creamer and beverages. Another company pays 30 workers an average of $29 an hour to develop lithium batteries for vehicle, military and other uses.

    Helped by the city’s lobbyists in Washington, federal and state agencies have awarded Anderson nearly $25 million in grants over four years — money used to help create a cluster of business incubators, clean abandoned industrial ‘‘brownfields,’’ and replace the city’s public transportation bus fleet.

    City leaders cut taxes below the 2004 level, saved money by paying workers to retire, then combining jobs, improved streets, built a fiber optic loop that allows wireless Internet in six parks and upgraded sewer and water lines.

    As a result, the community — about 40 miles northeast of Indianapolis — is popping up on business radars from Germany to China, thanks to an aggressive marketing program that includes Japanese language Web pages.

    It wasn’t always so for a town that, like Warren, has been rocked by the loss of its high-paying auto parts manufacturing jobs.

    ‘‘The attitude was one without hope,’’ former Anderson Mayor Kevin Smith said of the gloom that enveloped the city as its GM auto empire crumbled through the 1980s and 1990s. ‘‘People equated Anderson’s existence to GM.’’

    Flush with GM supplier jobs at Delphi Corp., Guide Corp. and Delco Remy, the city once was known as ‘‘Detroit South.’’ It trailed only GM birthplace Flint, Mich., with the highest concentration of GM workers — one of every three workers to Flint’s one of every two.

    Near-death began in the early 1980s with job cuts that continued for more than 20 years, limping to an end with the shuttering of the 1,300 worker Guide lamp plant in January 2007. Delphi ended its presence in August with the closing of its ignition plant, which by then was down to a caretaker.

    Anderson’s plant closings mirror steep GM job losses in the Warren area, which at its peak also counted roughly 27,000 GM workers at the Lordstown car assembly and the Packard Electric vehicle wiring complex.

    The damage to Warren has been softened because about 6,000-plus hourly and salaried jobs remain at the two operations, and hundreds more at nearby supplier plants — although many at drastically lower wages.

    Even so, Warren’s income tax receipts ended 2007 down nearly 10 percent, or about $2 million, from 2006 — a year inflated by retirement and buyout payments to persuade workers to leave Delphi Packard.

    The loss of such prestigious jobs — a painful reminder of the area’s steel industry meltdown 30 years ago — has battered the city’s self-confidence.

    ‘‘We spend so much time dwelling on how things used to be because of our dependence on the auto industry and steel industry. It’s frustrating,’’ Warren Mayor Michael O’Brien said.

    O’Brien insists hard times provide opportunities. Warren is looking to turn a closed Delphi Packard building into an incubator to nurture startup businesses — something Anderson successfully has done with its Flagship Enterprise Center and downtown Anderson Business Incubator.

    O’Brien said he’s meeting with companies that will decide in the next few months about locating in Warren. He declined to elaborate due to confidentiality.

    A Warren development agency just announced it is looking for financing to develop an arcade linking the city parking deck to Courthouse Square and a retail business incubator next door.

    Anthony Iannucci Jr., director of Warren Redevelopment and Planning Corp., said the agency has taken options on two West Market Street buildings for the projects — the former Showcase Books store and the former Job and Family Services one stop center. Iannucci said training would include Internet marketing and he envisions the businesses making as much as 75 percent of their sales online.

    Warren also is making strides in diversifying its economy, although at generally lower wages than Anderson.

    Last year, the city attracted Leedsworld, a light manufacturer from western Pennsylvania that puts names or logos on clothing, luggage, coffee cups and other promotional items for companies.

    The England-based company committed to hiring 241 workers in three years, paying an average nearly $10 an hour, plus benefits, at a former Delphi Packard distribution center.

    Warren leaders have made quality-of-life improvements — a paved riverwalk and the Warren Community Amphitheatre. Meanwhile, a business group known as Trumbull 100 installed free wireless Internet in downtown Courthouse Square.

    But Anderson clearly leads Warren in attracting a diverse mix of new employers at respectable wages.

    Anderson will be a world player in the food industry this spring when Nestle opens its $400 million plant. Workers will use a patented process to make Nesquik drink and Coffee-Mate liquid creamer.

    Altairnano Technologies, a company relying on former Delphi and GM employees to develop lithium batteries, grew from two workers in the Flagship Enterprise Center to 30 permanent workers averaging $29 an hour. Even the company’s 13 temporary workers average $23 an hour.

    For even more diversification, Hoosier Park race track and Centaur Gaming broke ground in October for a $100 million-plus slot machine casino at the track. The project is expected to add 500 jobs averaging $14.42 an hour, including benefits and tips, when it opens this summer.

    Much of the new economy took shape under Smith’s leadership. A business major in college, Smith said the first thing he did was hire a professional ‘‘city salesman’’ — Greg Winkler, a former sales person with a national engineering firm.

    Winkler’s job, Smith said, was to do ‘‘nothing but make contacts at the corporate level with industries that made a good fit with Anderson.’’

    The Winkler hire became a flashpoint during the election, partly due to his hefty annual contract. Smith, a Republican in a longtime Democrat stronghold, lost his re-election in November, although he’s challenging winner Kris Ockomon’s Anderson residency.

    The second thing Smith said he did was make sure the state government directed inquiring businesses to Anderson. Smith said he discovered the state was not mentioning Anderson when companies inquired about locating in Indiana.

    Dick Wohlberg, general manager of German-based manufacturer Muhlen Sohn, has no doubts who was responsible for attracting the company’s first factory outside its native country to Anderson.

    He said Smith and his staff rate ‘‘a big star as far as I’m concerned. They gave us instant answers and were very thorough. They’re very business-friendly.’’

    Smith said he also got his own house in order. For example, Anderson’s street department, he said, had ample workers, but not enough money to pave roads. So the city offered early retirements to workers and combined jobs, shrinking the payroll to 600 from 700 while boosting efficiency, Smith said.

    The move helped the city save $10 million on its budget over four years, when factoring in expected increases. Anderson paved more streets, built new ones and still had $3 million in the bank through 2006.

    Smith aggressively pushed Anderson onto the global business stage. He traveled to China, Japan and Israel to make personal contacts that he believes some day will pay off.

    Anderson also improved quality of life. It restored its 1929 Paramount Theater and Fine Arts Center — improvements cited in awards from Forbes and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

    Smith informed residents and the world about the city’s transformation through detailedweekly e-mails, along with public appearances.

    Anderson outstrips Warren in competing for and winning federal and state grants – a key resource for rebuilding aging streets, water lines and other infrastructure that can attract employers and residents.

    While the city was getting grants for brownfield assessments and incubators, Warren lost its grant writer, Heather McMahon, last fall to a position in neighboring Youngstown.

    Anderson’s future is still far from secure. The population continues to shrink, hitting an estimated 57,500 in 2006 from a peak of 70,000. About 13.1 percent of residents had bachelor or better degrees, below the state average of 14.4 percent as of 2000.

    Crime is increasing. The city’s violent crimes nearly doubled to 287 in 2006 from 149 in 2004. The city had no arsons in 2004; it reported 17 in 2006.

    But Smith, who received praise as a visionary as he left office, said he believes his administration will be remembered for the positive changes it brought to the city.

    ‘‘I think people probably will look back and say those years really began to change the direction of the city,’’ he said.