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Despite Chrysler’s Struggles, Kokomo Mayor Remains Optimistic

Forbes Magazine recently named Kokomo as the third fastest dying city in the country due to the strong presence of Chrysler plants in the area. And Kokomo’s been named by others as the most Big Three-dependant city in the country.

Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight says those dubious distinctions don’t hold much water.

“It’s funny that every five to ten years somebody writes us off and says we’re done and we’re dying and we’re part of the past,” Goodnight said. “Kokomo always survives and eventually thrives. We’re a tough community and we’ve taken our lumps. But we get always get up, dust ourselves off and move forward.”

With the financial troubles of the Chrysler, Goodnight says the city is trying to maintain the auto industry’s presence, but also move past it by diversifying its economy. But Goodnight says United Auto Workers officials must convince both lawmakers and their constituents that it’s best not to let Chrysler’s 9,300 Kokomo employees in four Chrysler plants lose their jobs. Goodnight says it will cost taxpayers less to provide loans now for auto companies so they can avoid bankruptcy than let the automakers navigate through bankruptcy. Last week President Bush awarded more than $13 billion in emergency loans to Chrysler and General Motors. Goodnight says that should buy the automakers enough time to work out a plan to avoid shutting down.

“In my opinion he has empowered them to help, given them the ability to take charge of their future. Yeah, I think he’s done the right thing. I was very excited he did this,” Goodnight said. “I think [Chrysler] has a few months to get this thing together. I think they need to act swiftly. And I think as long as they focus on long term success they’ll be fine.”

Goodnight, a former union boss, has spoken to national and international media outlets over the past few weeks. He says he’s trying to put a face on the Big Three crisis so Kokomo’s 9,000 autoworkers have a voice in the debate. Goodnight says the city’s prepared an internal document that would treat Chrysler’s bankruptcy and the city’s subsequent rise in unemployment almost as if the event were a natural disaster. He says auto companies are being treated unfairly by national lawmakers.

When you’re talking about $13 or $17 billion compared to the $700 billion that was provided to Wall Street. It’s somewhat mind boggling they get all the extra scrutiny given to them for such a smaller amount,” Goodnight said. “Here we have companies leaving the country the past 15, 20 years  and a lot of us complain about it. And here we have three automakers that are fighting to survive and stay in this country and we’re making it as tough as we can on them.”

Chrysler had originally planned to have the plants sit idle for two weeks over the Christmas and New Year’s holiday, but the company changed that plan to a four-week break as a way to save money while lawmakers in Washington discuss a possible bailout for the Big Three Detroit carmakers.  Goodnight made his comments on WFIU’s “Ask the Mayor” program.

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