It’s time to roll up our sleeves

It’s time to roll up our sleeves
 
Date December 24, 2004
Section(s) Columnists
By Peter Hussmann

Editor

 
 
It was another banner year in the old Newton and Jasper County household, to steal a phrase from George Bailey.

Well, not exactly.

The nearly four-week Maytag production strike — which was only a few days old when Maytag Corporate announced a major restructuring that would reduce its system-wide salaried staff by 20 percent, including about 600 from its headquarters and Maytag Appliances unit in Newton — shuttered the community like a Class V hurricane warning. The strike’s end just before the Fourth of July did nothing to secure Maytag Plant 2’s place in the future of production operations with management officials commenting the cost savings realized under the new four-year contract still did not make Newton eligible for new laundry platform launches. Production employment trends continue to cycle downward with some of the top brass at the plant deciding to leave the building.

Ouch.

While the involuntary separations of long-time Maytag employees were hard enough, Maytag put workers through another spin cycle last month when it sought voluntary separations at the same time internally announcing a salary freeze. Not lost on the employees was the fact that the major players in the corporation were divvying up their millions in annual stock options at the same time, an unfortunate timing situation according to the official word.

But Maytag wasn’t the only topic to put a glum exclamation on the year. The proposed Newton racetrack — the panacea to all Newton’s woes some see it –remains unfulfilled as developers — a new set the Newton City Council learned to their surprise — continue to seek private financing for the project. Twenty months ago we all thought we’d be set for full-time racing. Now we’re taking odds on whether corn or soybeans will be planted on the ground next spring. (To others, however, the city’s willingness to drop about $13 million in infrastructure and economic grants and $15 million in conditional financial backing for the developers’ loans makes the track’s lack of progress a good thing; a sort of fate saving us from ourselves.)

A few other things, in no particular order of importance, also marked the mood of the year.

* The Newton Mall, one of the oldest in the state, probably won’t last through 2005. (Unsubstantiated speculation, however, has it that a mega-grocery will be built to compete with Wal-Mart, a good thing to my mind.)

* We will soon probably be the largest town in the state without a jeweler.

* Maytag‘s new prescription drug plan will likely force the closure of a pharmacy or two.

* The city expects to eliminate at least a dozen positions from its payroll in the coming fiscal year.

Why such a dour column on Christmas Eve? Because what better time for hope.

But hope alone won’t do it. What’s needed is hard work. And much of that effort — to the credit of the communities that comprise Jasper County — is already under way.

Earlier in the year, Newton Mayor Chaz Allen and Baxter Mayor Doug Bishop (who recently helped receive a community award from the state for excellence in school/city partnerships) put together a loose organization of city executives and economic development representatives to brainstorm on ways to improve all the communities in the county. They meet periodically to discuss ideas and propositions for growth. These efforts need to continue. The potential exists to share services, pool resources and make the necessary connections to bring development opportunities to the county.

In addition, City of Newton and Jasper County elected officials have been meeting on a semi-monthly basis to not only improve sometimes strained relations (members of the board of supervisors really should attend) but look at how to better serve the residents of the Newton and Jasper County communities.

And in another move, the Jasper County Alliance for Economic Development, which was comprised of the Chamber of Commerce, Newton Development Corporation, Newton Housing Development Corporation and Newton Visitors and Conference Bureau, voted to disband itself in an effort to regain focus on each of the individual efforts. Former Newton Mayor Dave Aldridge, the consummate Newton booster, has agreed to serve in the development corporation’s top spot until such time as a full-time director can be found. Hopefully after his replacement is found, Aldridge will continue in at least an advisory capacity because few have his drive at working to fulfill the community’s needs.

Although the year has been less than banner, what it has shown, maybe for the first time to some, is that we are susceptible to regional, national and global economic forces. That is a fact we cannot ignore.

But how the greater-area-community responds to these factors, whether we throw our hands in the air and cry poor me or fight to make the quality of life we enjoy a continuing opportunity for future generations, is something we may be able to exact, providing we’re willing to do the necessary work.

We’re willing to roll up our sleeves. Join us. All of you.

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