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Moment of Indiana History

Little Detroit

In its heyday, the automotive industry was so concentrated in Connersville that the city qualified as the manufacturing capital of the world.

During recent negotiations with a major police car manufacturer considering relocation in Connersville, Indiana, the Fayette County city highlighted its automotive legacy.

Settled by fur trader John Conner in 1808, Connersville came into the limelight about a century later, when it was home to a number of luxury automobile brands.

Such all-but-forgotten names as Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg, Ansted, Empire, Lexington and McFarlan were associated with the east-central Indiana city that came to be known as “Little Detroit”.

Industry was so concentrated in Connersville during its heyday that the city qualified as the manufacturing capital of the world, per capita.

Although well known for its luxury, limited-edition models, the Auburn Automobile company, which built Cords, Auburns, Duesenbergs, and Checker Cabs, was a high-volume producer as well. In 1931, Auburn registered 13th-highest in US car sales.

During the last decade, however, Little Detroit has been suffering from the same troubles that have plagued its namesake. Connersville’s Visteon plant, which supplied Ford Motor Company with components for auto air-conditioning and fuel injectors, was shuttered in 2007, eliminating 890 jobs, representing roughly one-third of the city’s manufacturing jobs.

Founded in Connersville in 1898, Stant Manufacturing continues to fabricate gas, radiator and oil caps there, but, in large part, the city’s automotive-based economy has toppled.

Each year since 2001, Fayette County has posted an unemployment rate among the top three in the state, taking the top slot in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Like Elkhart, whose unemployment rate reached 18% and warranted a presidential visit in February 2009 when its recreational vehicle industry foundered, Connersville’s plight is another indication of the twenty-first-century shift in the state’s economic base, from heavy industry to technology, life sciences, education, and tourism.

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