We will survive and we will prosper

We will survive and we will prosper
Date May 16, 2006
Section(s) Columnists
By John Jennings  
Last Wednesday was truly an historic day in Newton. The announcement by Whirlpool on the fate of Maytag here was certainly not unexpected, yet still a shocker. There is no way to fully prepare for an announcement such as that, I guess.

The media descended on Newton like jackals on a wounded caribou, and local residents, both those directly and indirectly affected by the closure either ran for cover or prepared for an interview.

We will be assessing the effects of Maytag‘s closing here in Newton long after the other media hounds have gone home, and we here in Newton will be the ones who will experience firsthand what those effects will be. Many Maytag employees will no doubt be moving, some to Benton Harbor, some to other parts of Iowa, and some perhaps just to other parts of Jasper County as they find work close to home.

But it will take a while for the true meaning of a Newton without Maytag to sink in. Perhaps a couple of years down the road, or maybe five or 10 years will pass before we can truly look back and say the ripple effect is over. Still, no matter what happens in the future, Maytag will always be a memorable part of our history, and those who worked there will share the Maytag legacy with family and friends and co-workers.

Perhaps there was something that could have been done to change what seems now like an inevitable closure. Maybe more upgrades could have been implemented 10 or 20 years ago, or perhaps upper management lost sight of the issues of dependability and quality that the Maytag Company became synonymous with for so many years. Maybe the company became too diverse. Or perhaps global forces out of anyone’s control just caught up with them. Perhaps it was a combination of all those forces working together that spelled Maytag‘s doom.

Whatever the reason, the decisions have been made and the doors will close at the end of next year. What’s done is done. It’s history. As a community, we must certainly never forget our Maytag heritage, but after a sufficient period of mourning (someone said the closing of Maytag was like a death in the family), we must look to the future and ways to keep Newton a viable, vibrant and economically healthy community.

How do we do that? The Iowa Speedway, while definitely not a replacement for Maytag, can be a means to transition us into another era of prosperity. The speedway will serve as a tourist-draw that can power further economic development in the area and boost Newton in the eyes of other types of business, including manufacturing. Businesses looking to locate elsewhere will surely consider the vitality in a community made possible by a variety of entertainment options, right? Got to keep those workers satisfied, and what better way than an exciting racetrack and a happy waterpark nearby? And the draw is just beginning. Without a doubt, the track will attract more businesses, and while they will not offer high-paying manufacturing wages, they may eventually attract such jobs.

The trick for Newton and Jasper County leaders now is to prepare the area for the growth that is needed here. That will take cooperation, forward thinking and innovation. The track, the hotel and waterpark, the biodiesel plant now under construction, are all signs that Newton is not ready to commit itself to obsolescence after Maytag. We will survive the transition, and we will prosper.


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