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December 31, 2012

Drought, Chrysler lead big stories of 2012

In a year dominated by the weather and apocalyptic conversations, it’s tempting to say that the freakish drought this summer was the biggest story of the year.

Well, except for the fact that Kokomo fared better than many places in Indiana, and the corn harvest in northern Tipton County came in fairly well. And that who wants to have a natural disaster as the story of the year if you can help it?

No, we’d rather stay positive, which is why the continuing renaissance at Chrysler Group LLC is a better story. It dovetails with the national recognition Kokomo has been receiving for quality of life improvements — and it means jobs and prosperity for a community which faced near extinction in 2009.

 

1. Chrysler keeps improving

When Chrysler officials announced in November 2010 their intention to invest some $1.3 billion in Kokomo’s powertrain manufacturing facilities, it was such a huge announcement that President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden both traveled to Kokomo to help break the news.

That investment alone might have been enough for the decade, but two years later, Chrysler officials were back to say that the initial expansion investment might not be big enough.

Chrysler is now poised to invest close to another $400 million between the Kokomo facilities, and the company’s newly-acquired plant space in Tipton County.

At the 800,000-square-foot building at the intersection of U.S. 31 and Ind. 28, Chrysler officials say they’ll manufacture 9-speed transmissions at the facility, eventually creating 850 new jobs in the community. In Kokomo, the investment at existing plants is expected to top $162 million. Chrysler sales have been soaring, and the Kokomo area workforce is one of the biggest reasons why.

 

2. How dry I am

Farmers in Indiana like to brag about how this area is one of the best places in the world to grow crops, and they’re right. But even Indiana wasn’t immune to the drought sweeping the nation this year.

After months in which most of the state was classified as in a severe drought condition, rains finally fell in time to save much of the soybean crop. But corn was impacted throughout the state.

Bob Nielson, a corn specialist with Purdue University, said for most of Indiana the drought was serious.

He said there are large areas of the state where the yield was 100 bushels per acre, about 38 percent below a normal harvest.

“There were areas around Kokomo that caught some rain,” Nielson said. “There were also parts of northwest Indiana that received some late rain.”

The bad news is that the drought story is continuing, as food prices have risen. All of the Midwest was impacted; only the Northwest, Florida and a narrow band from New England south to Mississippi escaped the drought.

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