A Former Auto Town's Economic Turnaround

Anderson, Ind. lost 25,000 jobs when General Motors closed up shop. But it put together a turnaround plan, highlighting its strategic location and skilled workers and lured another major employer - Nestle.
CBS
Auto industry downsizing has been hitting blue collar towns across the Midwest very hard for years. But officials in Anderson, Ind. didn't wait for outside help to try to turn things around, as CBS News correspondent Seth Doane reports.

Both Cortni McCorkle and her hometown of Anderson needed to be reinvented. Cortni lost her job at an auto parts supplier, while Anderson lost many of its jobs too.

Vacant General Motors factories are memorials to the 25,000 auto industry jobs that vanished.

"People moved. Friends, family..." Cortni said. Pretty much everyone left.

But, "When you've lost everything, you have a choice," said Mary Starkey, the former executive director of the Anderson Corporation for Economic Development. "You can just curl up and die. Or you can fight back."

Starkey led that fight by trying to lure new jobs to town.

She saw past Anderson's urban blight and highlighted the town's assets - its proximity to rail lines and central U.S. location for easy distribution, not to mention the abundance of skilled laborers looking for work.

"A lot of blood, sweat, and tears went into developing this over 20 years," she said.

All that work paid off when Nestle came to town about a year ago. Their new factory produces Nesquik and CoffeeMate for the company - and about 500 jobs for Anderson.

It took a lot of money to bring jobs here. The town promised about $48 million in tax breaks and infrastructure improvements. That means each job cost almost $100,000 to create.

But the town sees the plant as an investment and figures that each dollar spent by Nestle -- multiplies five times as it circulates through local businesses.

"The cost of doing nothing is so much higher than the cost of doing this," Starkey said.

Cortni McCorkle was one of the lucky ones to land a job with Nestle. She'd gone back to school after being laid off and now brings home $17.50 an hour - $3 more than she used to make.

"It revitalizes you," she said. "You get excited again. You know, I'm not going to have to leave. Anderson is going to be back and booming again."

It'll be a while until Anderson is "booming" again. For now, the plant is both a financial lifeline and a fresh start.