Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

February 28, 2013

‘It’s awful good news’


The issue: Chrysler’s announcement that it will add 1,250 jobs to the Kokomo area.

Our view: The city has become an invaluable part of the automaker’s turnaround.

Awakening from a five-week, self-imposed information cocoon, Chrysler/Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne unveiled a five-year plan for Chrysler Group LLC in November 2009.

Seventy-five percent of Chrysler’s cars, SUVs and trucks would be brand new or altered by the end of 2010. By 2012, all would be made over. Four new Dodges would be introduced by 2013.

If all goes according to plan, Marchionne said, Chrysler will see a $5 billion operating profit in 2014.

Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight was among the 400 analysts, guests and journalists who attended Marchionne’s announcement in Auburn Hills, Mich., that November in 2009. Chrysler’s CEO asked the mayor to a get-together following the presentation.

Marchionne himself addressed and signed the invitation to Goodnight. It suggested to us Kokomo’s Chrysler facilities and then-4,400 employees were a part of the company’s five-year plan. We predicted a new transmission line could be in Kokomo’s future.

We were right ... and the mayor was, too, in visiting Turin, Italy — headquarters of Fiat. Some in Kokomo criticized Goodnight for the trip in July 2010 with Howard County Commissioner Tyler Moore, then-director of the Greater Kokomo Economic Development Alliance, Jeb Conrad, and representatives of the Indiana Economic Development Corp.

Business retention is as much a part of economic development as landing a new company. The Kokomo contingent helped make the case to Fiat that Kokomo could be an invaluable part of Chrysler’s turnaround.

Chrysler announced a new transmission line for Kokomo in 2010. The $343 million investment would produce eight-speed transmissions and retain 1,184 Kokomo jobs.

Later that year, President Obama visited town the same day Marchionne announced another transmission line for Kokomo. The price tag on the investment — which later turned out to be a nine-speed line — was $843 million and would preserve 2,250 jobs.

Thursday, Marchionne returned to Kokomo to announce 1,250 jobs for the area: 850 jobs at the former Getrag Transmission plant in Tipton, and 400 jobs in Kokomo. Chrysler soon will employ 7,350 in the area — a 60 percent increase in its local work force in just four years.

As Michael Hicks, director of Ball State’s Center for Business and Economic Research, told us back in May 2010: “Chrysler is making an investment in their Kokomo campus. ... It’s awful good news for Kokomo. I don’t know how much better to pitch that.”