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The city is home to two Fortune 500 companies and a strong sense of community.

Bridges in Indiana are typically flat slabs of concrete designed to get drivers--efficiently and without fanfare--from one side of a river to the other.

But displayed in the glass-lined foyer at Columbus City Hall and proposed for construction is a scale model of a decidedly atypical bridge with 120-foot towers topped by flowing green plants. It was designed by Argentine architect Emilio Ambasz to create a feeling of grand entry and to give visitors an inspiring view of a city ranked among the top 10 in the nation for quality architecture.

As are other bridges, this span is meant to get motorists across a river, but it also reflects the high standard the community sets for everything from parks and sidewalks to economic development.

At the heart of what makes Columbus tick is an enterprising public-private partnership led by Henry B. Schacht, chairman and CEO at Columbus-headquartered Cummins Engine Co. Inc.

"A city needs a sense of place and purpose--a sense of what it wants itself to be," Schacht says. "Columbus always has had a strong sense of community and a cadre of public and private citizens willing to get involved that has really driven it forward and allowed us to achieve what others have not."

Focus 2000, an active partnership between the public and private sectors, was formed in 1984 in the wake of economic recession, when government and business leaders took a hard look at the community and saw trouble. Its five largest manufacturers had cut their payrolls from 17,000 jobs to just 12,000 in five years, kicking unemployment well into double digits.

"Columbus always has been affected by the ups and downs of the durable-goods manufacturing cycle, but what you saw during the 1980s was that each downturn was deeper and each upturn was shallower. You had an almost insidious decline in employment," recalls Brooke Tuttle, president of the Columbus Economic Development Commission.

Although it hasn't recovered fully from the hit it took in the early 1980s, the community is on much better footing, bolstered by a new wave of freshly recruited employers and expansions at existing plants.

"It used to be that when Cummins would lay off some people or put them on furlough, this community would come to a dead stop," says Columbus Mayor Robert Stewart, who was elected in 1983 and is running unopposed this year for a third term. "Now, you don't see that kind of shock, and I'll give credit to Cummins for this because it was one of the first to see that we needed some diversification."

Since 1985, with strong support from corporate leaders, the community recruited 23 new foreign and domestic companies and fostered 36 local expansions. The effort netted 5,000 new jobs, capital investment of more than $870 million and state grants totaling $9.1 million.

Although the share of the work force dependent upon manufacturing has dropped from 60 percent several years ago to about 45 percent, heavy industry is still king in a city that boasts two Fortune 500 companies--Cummins Engine, a maker of diesel engines, and Arvin Industries Inc., which produces mufflers and automotive replacement parts.

These are still the largest employers in town, along with longtime industries such as Cosco, Golden Casting Corp. and Reliance Electric. But other firms, large and small, now are contributing to the economy, buffering its ties to the auto and truck markets. Here are a few of the biggest new recruits:

* Enkei America, a manufacturer of aluminum wheels, which employs about 480 workers;

* Onkyo Corp., a maker of audio speakers for cars, which provides about 260 jobs;

* Blue Cross/Blue Shield, which hired about 400 office workers to process insurance claims for the military;

* Heekin Can, which put about 250 workers on the payroll to make metal food containers;

* Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing, a 250-employee maker of forklift trucks;

* NTN Driveshaft, which supplies constant-velocity joints to makers of vehicles with front-wheel and four-wheel drive and employs about 250 people;

* Star Container, the most recent addition to the corporate community, which plans to hire about 135 workers in the production of plastic food containers.

In its search for new employers, Columbus found a gold mine in the Far East. "We had a presence in the Japanese market and we worked very hard to let Japanese companies know that Columbus wanted their investment," Tuttle says. "We're doing the same thing in Europe and Canada."

In Canada, the team sometimes feels like a "fox in a chicken coop," Tuttle says, because businesses there are "begging to get out."

The forces in the labor market affect Columbus as they do any manufacturing community. Jobs lost in the early 1980s have been replaced with others that often pay considerably less.

The reopening of Cummins Engine's Walesboro plant on the city's south side illustrates how quickly wage rates adjust to global competition. When the company closed the plant as part of a consolidation in 1988, its workers were earning an average of $14.92 per hour. When it reopens in the first quarter next year to help meet a new demand for midrange engines, no one will be earning more than $9.20 per hour.

Executives at Cummins say they would have been forced to take production to Huntsville, Ala., had the Diesel Worker Union's local not voted to accept a lower-wage contract for the plant. The upside was a $206 million investment in the facility and jobs for 750 workers. Other parts of the deal included $5 million in state money for training and screening services, help with construction of water lines and infrastructure and a 10-year tax abatement.

Contributing to the resurgent economy is a small-business incubator, operated by the non-profit Columbus Enterprise Development Corp. It is one of the few incubators in the nation without ties to a major university.

The incubator was formed in 1986 with a $500,000 state grant and support from local foundations. It provides low-cost manufacturing space, help with business-plan development and access to high-tech manufacturing information for budding entrepreneurs and small businesses. Last year, the incubator and its small-business development program helped create 247 new jobs in the area.

Though economic development was at the top of the list, it was not the only issue targeted by the public-private partnership. Its agenda also included plans to restore a sense of vitality to downtown.

A $2.2 million renovation dubbed Streetscape was completed this summer along a six-block stretch of Washington Street. Concrete sidewalks and intersections were torn out and replaced with two-toned brick walks, concrete benches and new trees. Funding for this effort came from state lottery profits, private-sector contributions, tax revenue and the sale of bricks engraved with the names of residents and businesses. Streetscape also spurred several downtown property owners to restore their historic facades.

One of the most ambitious projects tackled by the city in recent years is a multimillion-dollar face-lift at Mill Race Park. Work on the 86-acre riverfront park is the keystone of the community's yearlong observance in 1992 celebrating the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' discovery of America.

In typical fashion, two well-known designers are involved in the Mill Race project. Landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh of Cambridge, Mass., is directing overall design, and Stanley Saitowitz of San Francisco is designing the structures, including restrooms and a fishing pier.

Two other projects driven by the public-private partnership are worth mention:

* A federal demonstration project--involving the city's Front Door Committee, the Indiana Department of Transportation and a team of respected architects, engineers and planning consultants--is generating ideas for improving the safety, efficiency and appearance of the entryway corridor from Interstate 65 to downtown Columbus. It will serve as a model for communities across the nation coping with interstate development.

* Construction of the fourth-largest convention center in Indiana, at the Holiday Inn, helped boost Bartholomew County's tourism business to 13th among the state's 92 counties last year.

Of course, the public-private partnership project that most noticeably left its mark on Columbus is one that predates Focus 2000--the Cummins Engine Foundation architectural program. It stems from 1957, when the foundation offered to pay architectural fees for the design of new schools, with the stipulation that distinguished architects be selected as designers. The program was later expanded to include all public buildings in Bartholomew County. As a result, the city of 21,800 has 50 buildings designed by internationally known architects.

The foundation has paid the architectural fees for the design of 25 public buildings, including schools, City Hall, the new county jail, several fire stations, the U.S. Post Office and senior citizen and youth centers. The other 25 are buildings commissioned by churches and private firms, all of which hired leading architects.

The bridge project displayed at City Hall represents the first time the foundation has applied its architectural program to a bridge and the first time the Indiana Department of Transportation has used a noted architect to help design a bridge.

Schacht, chairman of the Focus 2000 steering committee, says the success of the public-private partnership in Columbus is the result of participation by all groups.

"A sense of partnership is a part of our heritage," he says. "That it continues is a tribute to the vitality of the community."
COPYRIGHT 1991 Curtis Magazine Group, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:City Spotlight
Author:Gard, Jon
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Nov 1, 1991
Previous Article:From pigeons to partnerships.
Next Article:The new world order (for transmissions).

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