Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Opinion

June 29, 2014

'More Than a Feeling'

North central Indiana, particularly Howard, Miami and Tipton counties, had a pretty tough year in 2009.

Chrysler’s factory shutdowns, brought on by the automaker’s brief bankruptcy, pushed Howard County unemployment to 19.3 percent that May. Delphi cut salaried retirees’ health and life insurance benefits and later defaulted retiree pensions to the federal government. Many, if not most, area residents were working longer hours for less than what they made a year or two earlier.

Kokomo needed a party at the beginning of the Great Recession, and the Haynes Apperson Festival provided one.

And when members of the ’70s rock group Boston played the band’s most popular songs here during the annual summer celebration five years ago, we were reminded that civic pride is “More Than a Feeling.”

Haynes Apperson returns Thursday, and this community has much for which to be thankful.

Chrysler/Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne visited the Kokomo area in May to mark the launch of Chrysler’s Tipton transmission plant that today is churning out the company’s fuel-efficient, nine-speed transmissions. Since 2009, the company has invested $1.6 billion and added 2,600 jobs in the Kokomo area. Its four transmission plants will have the capacity to produce 800,000 units annually. And if all goes well, Chrysler could employ 7,350 in north central Indiana by next year — a 60 percent increase in its local workforce in just six years.

Stabilization of the area’s other largest employers – Delphi Electronics and Safety, General Motors Components Holdings and Haynes International – gradually has kept many more people employed. Our jobless rate now stands at 6.4 percent in Howard County.

Kokomo has quite a lot for which to be proud. Its residents produced among the first autos, carburetors and pneumatic tires in the country.

Other than our automotive heritage, let’s remember to celebrate our people this week. The economy in 2009 knocked many down, but they got back up. Two tornadoes tore through town in November, causing extensive property damage but no loss of life. Families, friends and churches continue to lift up those experiencing worry and heartache.

It’s what we do. It’s what we’re supposed to do.

It’s why we’re proud to call Howard County home.

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