Anderson battles back amid tough economy

Kevin Rader talks to Jerry Morgan
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WTHR-TV is on the road this election season. We'll be traveling to 11 different Indiana towns and cities to talk to voters about their concerns. Thursday was our first stop in Anderson.

If there is one constant in Anderson in this world of change, it would be the sound of children playing in Shadyside Park. Jasmine Slonaker played here as a child and now she brings her two children here, which gives her some time to talk with friends like Heather Craver.

"I've seen a lot of growth here and I've seen a lot of backwards here," said Craver.

Craver is looking for work after being laid off from her factory job. The growth she's seen includes 600 jobs at Nestle, gaming at Anderson's Racino, the Indianapolis Colts training camp and Anderson's jewel, Anderson University. But she needs a job.

"The big place here now would be Nestle. That would be the big factory to get into which is awfully hard to," she said.

The one-time bustling auto manufacturing town of over 70.000 is now down to 56,000 and the plants that drove the city's economy now sit idle. Those who were along for the ride feel left behind. Now even a face to face interview is hard to get.

"I don't know if it's the coldness of the computer or I don't have access to it and I imagine other lower income people don't have access to it," said Slonaker.

Rick Craig likes to eat his lunch at Town Center Plaza. He has worked in Anderson for 22 years.

"I remember it was nothing to work overtime on Saturday. Now very seldom do you work on Saturday. I don't think it only affected us. I think it affected a lot of people around here," he said.

Anderson is fighting back. Nestle just announced an expansion which could lead to a hundred new jobs and it will soon have a new neighbor. GTI, a Japanese auto parts manufacturing plant, broke ground on a new plant that will bring 300 new jobs.

"They will be manufacturing plastic component for Honda," said Mayor Kevin Smith.

Mayor Smith says the sky is the limit for Anderson.

"We can market ourselves and win significant new job deals in our city. And I just see this as a beginning," he said.

Jerry Morgan likes what the mayor is doing.

"Anderson is a laid back town. I hate to see GM leave but it will take time to build it back," said Morgan.

Dick Symmes has lived in Anderson all 63 years of his life. He explains that Anderson used to be a big union town. "GM closed its doors in 2007 and took 20,000 jobs out of this county."

He believes Anderson is "one of the worst counties in the state" economically. "When you don't have the tax base...right now General Motors retirees are the thing keeping this city afloat."

The Paramount Theater is the closest thing Madison County has to a convention center. We walked with Symmes through the theater.

"It is one of only 12 in the United States like it. It was opened in August of 1929 and Coconuts was the first show they showed," he said, calling the theater the "jewel of Madison County as far as I am concerned. I think everybody needs to see this."

The renovation of the theater has breathed new life into Anderson, and Symmes believes its citizens can do the same for the city's economy.

:I think Anderson is on its way back up. I don't think we are going to stay down. I think we are on the way back up," he said. "We have to get some jobs here where kids are not raising families on $7 or $8 an hour. We need some $15 to $20-an-hour jobs."

"NAFTA was the downfall of the US economy, just my opinion but that is how I feel. When you let them people take their jobs out of the country, they took our base and you got to have a tax base. But Anderson will come back. It's just a matter of time," he said.

Now Anderson is working to diversify and establish a new identity for the current generation and the next.