Chrysler woes may help Kokomo diversify

Greg Goodnight, mayor of Kokomo, Ind.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: As news of the bankruptcy developed yesterday, we got on the phone with Micki Maynard of The New York Times. We talked about what's next for the company. What the Chrysler filing might eventually mean for General Motors. And I asked her how some of Chrysler's lenders might be able to get their money back. Here's what she said:

Michalene Maynard: They can get in front of the judge and say, "Hi, I'd like to have the Kokomo transmission plant, please."

So we called the mayor of Kokomo, Greg Goodnight is his name, to see how things are going. Mr. Mayor, good to have you with us.

Gary Goodnight: Thank you very much, Kai. How are you?

Ryssdal: I'm well, thanks. How's the mood in Kokomo?

Goodnight: Well, we've been going through this for quite a while now, this chapter of Kokomo. We've obviously started last fall with talks of a GM-Chrysler merger, went through the automotive bridge loan process and, of course, have been watching since Fiat came into the picture.

Ryssdal: Help us understand how important the automotive industry is to Kokomo. I mean, what does it contribute in terms of employment, property tax, all that?

Goodnight: Sure. Just to give you a brief description, Kokomo's about 50,000 people, 45 miles directly north of Indianapolis. So we currently have about 5,000 employees at Chrysler and probably another 3,000 or so at Delphi electronics, which used to be a division of General Motors. You know, obviously, Chrysler's extremely important to Kokomo. It is the largest payer of property taxes, which go to the city, the county government, school system, things like that.

Ryssdal: While you'd probably rather not think about this, could this be -- this entire evolution with the automotive industry -- could it be an opportunity to diversify the Kokomo economy?

Goodnight: Yeah. Absolutely, we need to do this. And we had started down that path -- I was the first mayor in the state to come out with a green jobs initiative. We have done some things. We have an Indiana University campus is Kokomo. We have a large Ivy Tech facility, which is the state's largest technical school. So we've tried to do some of those things, go in a different direction, and we're still trying to do that. But I think it's important to stabilize things, that we hold on to our base, which is, of course, Chrysler.

Ryssdal: When you go out to dinner at a local restaurant or hold your meet-the-mayor sessions on Saturday morning, or whenever you do them, what are you hearing from constituents about how confident they are that they and your city is going to be able to bounce back?

Goodnight: When I talk with people I remind them that, you know, we've been through these times before. They understand that. People in Kokomo are good at weathering these times. And I think, you know, we believe that we have something to offer this country. Because of those automotive facilities, it's not just factory workers. We have a huge number of engineers, technicians, a lot of patents come from Kokomo -- from Delphi and Chrysler and Haynes International, one of our other employers. We're bracing ourselves for this whole ordeal. But the fact that it's a structured bankruptcy, with all the players in line going into it, we feel very confident that Chrysler's going to be intact and hopefully on the road to success here in the next 60 days.

Ryssdal: Greg Goodnight. He's the mayor of Kokomo, Ind. Thanks so much for your time.

Goodnight: Thank you.

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