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City spotlight: Brazil - the one-time clay products capital avoids economic crumbling.

Residents of the indiana community of Brazil can fish or hunt in the quiet rural backwoods in the morning and still get a taste of major-league ball or big-city excitement at night. Brazil, with a population of nearly 8,000, is Clay County's seat, and is located on U.S. 40 about 50 miles west of Indianapolis and 16 miles east of Terre Haute. It is near Interstate 70 and U.S. 41, which offer quick access to other major U.S. cities. Whatever recreation is not in Brazil itself is within easy reach- an attractive combination for industry and individuals alike.

This one-time clay products manufacturing capital is surviving the plastic age that crumbled its clay businesses, and is back on its feet with a variety of moderate industry, a stable economy and a laid-back, take-it-easy lifestyle that is one of its main lures.

During the first half of the century, Brazil was well-known nationwide for clay products, such as sewer tiles. At one time, 1 1 clay factories - one employing 1,200 people - dotted the Brazil map. Clay bricks manufactured in the town still pave several of the city's streets, and remainders of clay pottery sheds still can be found as evidence of the once-thriving clay industry.

Today, the city's major industry is Great Dane Trailers inc., one of the Wabash Valley's largest employers. The plant located in Brazil in 1975 and since has seen steady growth. It began as a dry-freight trailer manufacturer, but because of increased demand it has opened two other production lines, a refrigerated trailer line and a large-order trailer line.

in periods of full production, Great Dane employs about 1,000 people. Periodic minor layoffs are part of the game at Great Dane, since production at the Brazil plant is based on orders received in the highly competitive industry.

The trailer manufacturer also has plants in Memphis, Tenn., Savannah, Ga., and Wayne, Neb., but its largest and highest-volume plant is the one in Brazil. About 55 trailers are manufactured each day at the Brazil plant. Siting the plant in Brazil was a decision based on geography, the city's cordiality and an available, dependable work force, according to Plant Manager John Flathman. 'It's been good for us and we've been good for the community,' Flathman says. We've found a home here.' It's a home Great Dane plans to maintain.

Officials of Brazil's newest plant, Wolf Industries, promise to focus the nation's attention on the city with a tire pyrolysis plant that is one of the first of its kind in the country. Wolf Industries will use an enclosed, odorless heating process to reclaim oil, carbon black and steel from discarded tires, a process the company says is an answer to the country's dilemma of what to do with used tires. it's a project that the state's environmental arm, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, is said to sanction.

Wolf Industries is expected to begin operations in November. It has invested $1.8 million in new equipment and the renovation of a former manufacturing plant that had been an idle eyesore for more than 10 years. It will employ 76 people its first year and expects to add another 50 the second year. The company will have a $1.2 million annual payroll.

Other industries that have operations in Brazil include the nation's third-largest coal company -- Amax Coal Co. - which employs some 230 at its Brazil Chinook mine. Two trucking companies, Central Trucking and Underwood Truck Lines, are based in Brazil. The city also is home to the internationally known horse-trailer manufacturer, Tracer Trailers Inc.

Brazil Custom Cord, an electrical cord manufacturer, employs 127. Metal industries, which manufactures screen doors and windows that are shipped nationwide, employs 100. There is also National Printing Converters inc., a laser label manufacturer that employs 70. A metal spinning shop, D & S Manufacturing and Engineering, and Hancor Inc., a plastic pipe manufacturer, both ship their products nationwide. indiana Oxide Corp., one of the nation's leading state-of-the-art lead oxide plants, is located in Brazil and is gaining worldwide attention with its new technologies.

These companies, plus three banks and two savings and loan institutions, are among the various industries and private enterprises that keep area residents punching the clock and feeding their families. Most of these businesses have called Brazil home for many years, and they continue to grow at a steady, healthy pace, which indicates a good business climate and economic stability. To my knowledge, there's no industry here that's not very, very healthy,' says Morval Pickett Jr., Brazil's mayor.

While Brazil relies heavily on its major industry, Great Dane Trailers, it is not solely dependent upon it. And it is appropriate that in Brazil, grain elevators tower behind city hall and that the view from industry's window is of corn, soybean and wheat fields. It is, after all, the city's encircling farming community that stabilizes its economy.

We never reach the peaks the rest of the country does in a high economy nor do we reach the depths of a low economy. A lot of that has to do with farming in the community, which is a big industry itself,' says a fifth-generation Brazil resident, Jack Pickett, who's also president of Brazil's First Bank & Trust Co. of Clay County.

Brazil Chamber of Commerce President Steve Hackett makes the same assessment of the city's stability. Hackett points to the early 1980s the heel of the nation's recession when unemployment in many Indiana cities reached 15 percent to 16 percent. 'I don't think it even got to 10 percent here.' Likewise, when the rest of the state was experiencing a low of around 5 percent unemployed, the rate in Brazil was a little higher. "This area seems to take the peaks and valleys out of the economy and be relatively stable,' Hackett says.

The city's rural base plus its moderate amount of industry are the major controlling economic factors, Hackett thinks. Brazil's mayor predicts that in the future the surrounding farming community will benefit from gasohol production, providing a secondary market for excess grain.

The farms that encircle the community also help to set the pace of the city's lifestyle. It's certainly not the rush, rush, rush you see in other communities,' Hackett says. It's pretty much country.' And that's an attraction to industries that can have half of the nation's population within a 500-mile radius and still enjoy a laid-back, take-it-easy lifestyle.

The city is always looking for more industry and business, and civic leaders believe it is competitive with other cities of comparable size. In an increasingly impersonal, mechanized world, quality of life is going to become more and more important, First Bank & Trust's Pickett says. We've got all the natural resources you need to make this a good place to live and to work. Brazil will expand in the future, will grow and continue to be a nice place to live.'
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Title Annotation:Regional Report; Brazil, Indiana
Author:Hopkins, Marjorie
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Oct 1, 1990
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