Decision 2012 On The Road: Kokomo

K.O. Jackson covered Kokomo's economy for the Tribune.
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Eyewitness News is finding out what's on the minds of voters as they get ready for the November election.

This week our Decision 2012 On The Road tour will take us south of Indianapolis to Johnson County, but Wednesday we returned to Kokomo, where we stopped last week, to follow up with one of the people who attended WTHR's community conversation.

K.O. Jackson moved from Dayton, Ohio to Kokomo in 2008 to cover the automotive industry for the Kokomo Tribune. He saw the city when it was at its lowest. Unemployment rose to more than 17 percent.

"It was ugly. This was not a nice place," Jackson said.

Kokomo, a town long bound to manufacturing, was struggling to stay afloat amid the recession and collapse of the auto industry.

"I got here and the story was all the same," he said. "Their parents worked at Chrysler, their grandparents worked at Chrysler and they figured they'd work at Chrysler or Delphi. You're going to make money, everyone would have a couple of cars, take vacations. Then it was all suddenly in jeopardy and no one knew what to do."

Fast forward to 2012. Since the Chrysler bailout, Kokomo is making a comeback. Chrysler has invested more than a billion dollars in its Kokomo operations and hired more people.

Driving by the plant parking lot Jackson said, "look at all these cars, it's very important, you won't find that anywhere else in Kokomo."

While Jackson questions whether the bailout was fair, he said it has "lifted us up."

Last year, Jackson left the newspaper for a job in commercial real estate. Driving through town, he pointed out properties where people are investing money.

While the Ohio native said he thought he'd stay in Kokomo, that changed when he saw how the community came together in crisis.

"The best time to know someone is at their worst. Because if they're worst it can't get any worse," he laughed.

What impressed him most was the "can-do" spirit of the community's leaders.

"The people who are positive about Kokomo are the moves and shakers," he said. "They were at the forefront of keeping the city going."

But Jackson also wants to see Kokomo get to the next level.

"I know manufacturing is going to be the meat and bread of the city, but we need to do other things as well," he said.

We asked the candidates running for US Senate what they would do. While neither offered specifics for Kokomo, Republican Richard Mourdock said he'd work to cut job-killing regulations promoted by the EPA and he'd push for cutting and simplifying federal taxes.

Democrat Joe Donnelly said he'd work to crack down on the Chinese government's unfair trade practices and invest more in job training programs at community colleges.

While Kokoko still faces challenges, Jackson, for one, said he feels good about its future and is proud to call it home.