Monday, June 26, 2006

Manufacturing Clusters Help Build a Town

I was in Logansport, IN (population 19,684) last week doing a talk for their ED group, which is run by a dynamic Skip Kuker. Logansport’s downtown sits at the confluence of the Eel and Wabash Rivers.

Dave Kitchell, newspaper editor and local historian explained how Logansport might have been Mouth of Eel. “The only alternative proposed was to name it for John Logan a War of 1812 Native American hero who was killed in that war. They had a shooting contest and a French trapper won the contest and liked Logansport better than Mouth of Eel.”

Logansport High School’s mascot is the Berries. I wondered if it wouldn’t have been different if Mouth of Eel had prevailed.

Kitchell talked about different boom periods for the town. “The first was when the Erie Canal stopped here in 1840. We would get products shipped in from as far away as Plymouth, IN (50 miles to the north). It opened up trade with the east. The second was when the railroads developed in the 1950s. We had the second largest crossing of railroads in the state. Only Indianapolis had more. WWII got manufacturing started in the area and we became a major producer of springs and other products for the war effort. The last boom was when Wilson Foods located here with their packing plant in 1970.”

The packing plant is now owned by Tyson, processing 15,000 hogs/day with 2100 employees. Hartz Mountain which turns pigs ears from the plant into pet treats and Cass County By Products are located in the town as a result of the Tyson plant. Another manufacturing cluster in the town is in the multi-slide area where eight companies use hydraulic presses to stamp out parts.

Kuker, who used to work as sales manager for one of the eight, Logan Stampings, explained to me how that industry has refocused, “We lost about a quarter of our business to China but we refocused and started producing metal roofing clips and recovered all of our lost business.” I’m seeing that kind of resiliency as I travel around the USA.

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