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The Road to Revitalizing Anderson, Indiana’s Auto Sector

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Guest blog post by Thomas Guevara, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development and a native of Indiana

As auto communities across the country work to strengthen and redefine their economies, the Obama administration is making good on the President’s commitment to invest in American innovation and advanced manufacturing to spur growth.

In my home state of Indiana, the city of Anderson, located about 25 miles northeast of Indianapolis, was once home to one of the greatest concentrations (after Flint, Michigan) of General Motors facilities in the United States. Today, not a single one of those plants is in operation.

While this is a significant challenge, there is also opportunity. That was the focus of the Auto Community Revitalization Roundtable at the Flagship Enterprise Center that I recently attended in Anderson: to hear from communities affected by the loss of manufacturing jobs, offer practical tools, share available resources, and explore solutions for auto communities in Indiana that are on the road to revitalization. The forum was organized by the Manufacturing Alliance of Communities, the Obama administration’s Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers, and the RACER Trust, which was established to clean up and redevelop closed General Motors sites.

The road to revitalization requires a change of mindset. Rather than think of the abandoned facilities and their accompanying infrastructure as a disadvantage, cities such as Anderson are finding ways to repurpose these assets for future economic growth. The built industrial environment—including manufacturing plants, warehouses, road and rail links, etc.—can be refashioned and reused to suit the needs of newer, growing industries to replace the industries that departed. These industries are not the traditional manufacturers that employed our parents, but rather are modern advanced manufacturing sites that are leading the way in global competitiveness and attracting foreign direct investment.

And the federal government is a strong partner in this important effort. After significant investment by President Obama to help restructure this sector, the economies of auto communities are showing signs of recovery. Across the administration, federal agencies are working with impacted regions to accelerate growth. At the U.S. Commerce Department, the Economic Development Administration (EDA) invested $2.7 million in the Flagship Enterprise Center in Anderson three years ago to build a business accelerator to attract businesses, help emerging companies become viable, and create new jobs. It is a public-private partnership project that includes on-site support from Anderson University and Purdue University to accelerate the commercialization of innovative technology to create the jobs of tomorrow. In 2010, under its Community Trade Adjustment Assistance program, EDA awarded $1.5 million to the City of Anderson for infrastructure improvements in order to redevelop the former General Motors site. This project is expected to create 250 new jobs.

Beyond Indiana, in Ypsilanti, Michigan, last month, EDA’s Performance and National Programs Director Bryan Borlik joined Executive Director of the Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers Jay Williams to discuss how the private and public sectors can collaborate to boost economic development during a panel discussion organized by the RACER Trust at the Willow Run manufacturing plant formerly owned by General Motors.

And recently, EDA awarded funds to the University of Michigan to begin a pilot project that will use the power of the Internet to identify and market and match manufacturing sites across Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio, where excess capacity can be repurposed for companies looking to expand or invest in the United States.

The American auto industry has a way yet to go, but the progress that has been made over the last three years is a bright spot on the road to recovery and will help create an economy built to last.

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Anderson Autto Communities Roundtable

Thomas -- your participation in the Anderson Roundtable was definitely a boost -- thanks so much for your and EDA's leadership, Matt Ward