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Rushville: "the road to success is always under construction." (Rushville, Indiana) (Regional Report: Southeast)

There's no doubt Wendell Willkie would take pride in many current aspects of Rushville--a small agricultural community where he lived much of his life and is buried--even though he might no longer recognize a lot of the city.

The 1940 Republican presidential candidate's ideas against a retreat to isolationism and toward a more international order, as represented in his book One World, have taken root 51 years after the book's publication.

The town has a population of about 7,000; Rush County is home to about 18,000. Yet where one might expect to find a rural ethnocentricity, there is a broader global perspective on a number of levels, including farming, business, education and government.

Pulling out a 1958 copy of the Saturday Evening Post in which the mayor at that time touts the lack of a "foreign" presence in the community as a strength, current Mayor John McCane stresses the evolution Rushville has undergone.

Today, while many U.S. companies continue to move jobs out of the country, the mayor notes that a large portion of Rushville's employment is because of foreign investors.

"Nowadays, we're moving more and more toward a global economy and you can't turn your back on anyone," the mayor says. "Who's going to bring jobs? And here, it's not like an us-them thing anymore. It's more one of those things where in a small-town community, you get to know them better and treat them as people."

Rushville's global attitude is exhibited by Ron Lienemann, general manager of the Rush County REMC, and local farmer Tom Tulley. The two are traveling with a group of Hoosier agricultural officials to France next month as part of a cultural exchange. Not even six months after U.S. and European trade negotiators clashed over American demands for lower farm subsidies--particularly in France--Lienemann is not sure what to expect. However, he says he can sympathize with French farmers.

"The problem in France is they have made the farmers rich with subsidies," he says. "You've got kids there that go to college to study agriculture instead of medicine or law, because it's so lucrative. That's hard to let go of and I'm sure our farmers would feel the same way if it were them."

Lienemann, who is past board president of the Rush County Industrial Development Corp., notes that in 1991 agricultural sales for Rush County were about $66 million. The county is fifth in the state in corn production and ninth in hog production.

Still, a better barometer of how well Rushville has accepted the global perspective is the way it has embraced two Japanese firms that have expanded manufacturing opportunities there.

Efforts of Dan Drexler, the new Rush County Chamber of Commerce and Industrial Development Corp. executive director, are a shining example. Drexler, 25, was hired in September and spent the previous year and a half as an intern with the Indiana Department of Commerce in Tokyo. "I started teaching Japanese language and culture classes on Wednesday nights almost as soon as I got here," he says.

"We've got a pretty good group attending and one of the Japanese plant managers called and asked if he could come help. He's the new manager at Fujitsu Ten, Niel Itomine. He just came here last summer."

Drexler says the traditional manufacturing job in Rushville used to be in the furniture industry, and one needed only good skills as a woodworker to earn a decent living. But about five years ago, the last of the furniture makers, Schnadig Furniture Co., closed up shop and took its 400 jobs to the South. This past December, the city was planning to accept bids from five prospective buyers for the 35,000-square-foot building that housed Schnadig. One of them is expected to take advantage of the state's "dinosaur" building legislation to earn tax abatements and other breaks in renovating the structure and creating new jobs.

Today, Rushville has four major manufacturing employers--Trane Co., Copeland, INTAT and Fujitsu Ten. They're known locally as the Big Four. INTAT and Fujitsu Ten are the Japanese firms. Both began operations in the last five years.

Fujitsu Ten, which opened in September 1987, makes car stereos and amplifiers for Toyota. In January 1992, it also began making CD players for Mazda. In April, the company celebrated production of its one millionth stereo unit. The facility has expanded twice and now encompasses about 200,000 square feet. It employs 236 people.

Dick Marks, human resources manager, says the company is not just an assembly plant. By mid-December the Rushville plant made its millionth circuit board. "That's important because it means we're making most of our unit," Marks says.

INTAT is the newest of the Big Four. It began production of automotive castings for brake- and steering-related products in May 1989, and today employs about 250 people. Workers there voted down an attempt to unionize the plant in October. "That supports the history of the county," Drexler says. "We're very unorganized in terms of labor."

INTAT's biggest customer is Toyota. Says Drexler, "A lot of Rushville's economy hinges on Toyota. But with Trane and Copeland, it balances out."

Copeland set up shop in 1979 in a new $6 million, 130,000-square-foot plant to recondition air compressors. It employs about 200 people, 30 of whom were added in 1992. The replacement compressors produced there go into refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment.

Trane, which makes variable air volume systems in heating and cooling, opened in 1971 on Benjamin Street. Its primary product is VariTrane, which is used in both small and large commercial buildings to control air flow, with units situated between floors.

In 1989, Trane introduced a second product line, VariTrac, which was the first to be developed at the Rushville facility. It's a smaller version of VariTrane used more for light commercial applications, such as in malls.

In the past two years, employment has slipped from about 200 to 165 at the 70,000-square-foot plant. The company has been focusing efforts on quality through "keisan" workshops with its employees for "just-in-time" production. Keisan is the Japanese term for continuous improvement.

Attraction of additional industrial employers now is being hampered by infrastructure. Plans are under way to extend water, sewage and other utilities to develop another industrial park that would start out on 89 acres on Indiana 3.

And the Indiana Department of Transportation has said it will begin a study this year to expand that highway to four lanes from New Castle to Greensburg. That would connect Interstate 70 and 74.

Business executives are excited about the opening this summer of a finer dining establishment, Miller's Family Restaurant, as well as the opening of a 58-room Holiday Inn Express hotel.

"The hotel is a tremendously important thing to us because we have a lot of international visitors and frequently have to put them up in Shelbyville," says Marks of Fujitsu Ten. "And with Miller's now open, we have a nice place to go to have a business lunch, also."

Like other companies, Fujitsu Ten has tried to communicate its needs as far as worker skills. "As a group, we've been very involved in trying to translate our needs as employers to educators and improve the quality of students here. There's been a fair amount of effort to make that happen."

Former Rush County Consolidated Schools Superintendent Suellen Reed, who was elected Indiana superintendent of public instruction in November, says those discussions have been very profitable to the school system as well. "We've spent a lot of time talking with the chamber of commerce and industrial development corporation about the kinds of concerns they have about graduates they need," Reed says.

She describes her efforts to modernize education as not only the "high-tech" approach of expanding computer literacy, but the "high-touch" approach of expanding personal interaction and communication.

Although she plans to continue living in Rushville, Reed says she hopes she left behind a good framework to keep momentum of local school reform moving forward. "I have a lot of love for this community in my heart because I was born here and am a product of this school system. There are a lot of good people here and a lot of good things happening. And in a small town like this, you have to do your part. Because if you don't, it's not going to get done."

That perspective is mirrored at the entry to Mayor McCane's office, where a sign points out: "The road to success is always under construction."

Last year was the first year in office for the Republican mayor, who at age 27 is the second youngest in the state. McCane talks about doing things differently and meeting challenges in Rushville head-on, a personality trait that at times has caused clashes with city council members.

The Ball State University graduate, who holds a degree in economic development, talks easily about the recent $1.5 million upgrade at the sewage plant, plans for a new police department building, improving the arts and parks to give people a better a sense of community, and the need to search for grants to help enhance housing opportunities.

Then he laughs about the fact that prior to being elected, he was a substitute teacher--and a waiter at the local Pizza King. "I still wait tables one or two nights a week," McCane says. "It keeps me humble."
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Author:Mogollon, Carlos David
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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