Connersville’s economy in jeopardy after Carbon Motors pulls out

After four years of fits and non-starts, the promise of thousands of new jobs has disappeared from a shrinking Indiana community. People who live in Connersville are asking what’s next.

Carbon Motors promised more than 1,500 jobs has pulled out of Connersville in Fayette County. The southeastern Indiana county has the fourth highest unemployment rate in Indiana, 12-point-7 percent.

City officials say they haven’t heard a word from the owners of Carbon Motors in months. Until they get the official notice, or the lease runs out on the empty plant Sunday, they have to assume this deal is still alive. Residents, though, have given up on a big promise that’s become a bid disappointment.

Dick Guttman, a retired Connersville High School teacher, summed it up.

“I am mad, disappointed, but not surprised,” he said while eating lunch at Brian’s Bookstore and Coffee Bar.

Across the aisle sat Mack Lainhart and his wife. Did people see Carbon Motors as the future of Connersville?

“A lot of people sure did. A lot of people didn’t, either,” answered the small business owner.

Carbon Motors made plenty of noise and promises four years ago. At the height of the recession, company officials, Governor Mitch Daniels and a host of leaders announced plans to build a new brand of high tech, high priced police cars, providing high hopes to a city low on luck.

Donna Schroeder owns a small home decorating shop on Connersville’s main street. She was skeptical from the start.

“I thought it was a dream from the beginning and if it came through, then it was wonderful. I didn’t have a lot of confidence in it from the beginning,” she said.

The promises, to many, sounded too good to be true: 1,500 jobs inside the factory, another 10,000 jobs created outside its walls, in a community with less than 14,000 people.

An expected federal government loan didn’t come through. A few days ago a city worker watched office furniture being carried out.

In March 2012, the Department of Energy denied Carbon Motors’ $310 million loan request. CEO William Santana Li called it a political decision during an election year, pointing out in a company press release that the Department of Energy has not approved any loans under the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program since the Solyndra debacle.

“Carbon Motors simply appears to be the last victim of this political gamesmanship,” said Li at the time.

The old Ford auto part’s factory is as quiet and empty as the sidewalks and many storefronts in an area with one of the state’s highest unemployment rates.

Chris Fox has two small children. What’s the future in Connersville, according to him?

“Auto stores and gas stations…It’s?” he said, ending his answer in mid-sentence.

It’s certainly not the economic rebirth families hoped for.

Despite their disappointment, city leaders insist the community is better off that is was four years ago.

The vacant plant has been been cleaned up and fixed up to move-in condition.

The publicity of Carbon Motors’ bold idea, even though a failure, has proved priceless to Connersville as it continues to market this huge factory to other companies looking to make a bold move in a new and improving economy.

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