To the Point for 9/1/2005

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IT SEEMS AS THOUGH history repeats itself, especially here in Switzerland County.

Looking through some back issues of the Vevay Newspapers, I came across several weeks of newspapers from 30 years ago that chronicle the ribbon cutting and the beginning of construction on the bridge spanning the Markland Dam and Locks.

From Lee Hamilton to Gene Snyder, there were all types of dignitaries on hand for the official ceremonies, and when you read some of the comments that those on hand that day made, you can’t help but get a sense of deja vu.

The primary feeling that day 30 years past was that the construction of a bridge over the Markland Dam would be the beginning of economic growth here in Switzerland County the likes of which had never been seen before. The bridge would open up all points south, and business and industry would see the enormous untapped resource that was Switzerland County, and things would soon begin to happen.

It’s 30 years later, and things are pretty much the same as they were that day back in 1975. In some ways, you could make a strong argument that things aren’t as good now as they were then.

In 1975, Switzerland County had U.S. Shoe Corporation and Randall/Textron Corporation in Vevay. The Plastic Moldings plant was going strong in East Enterprise; and tobacco was still the foundation that our agricultural community was built on.

Move forward 30 years, and all three of the industries are now gone; and the elimination of the tobacco support program and changes in the burley production system have changed agriculture here forever.

The coming of the Markland Dam bridge also spelled the end of the Vevay ferry — which in today’s tourism-driven world could have been paying big dividends in terms of visitors if it were still running back and forth across the Ohio River today.

Switzerland County, right now, is experiencing development the likes of which few have ever seen in this area.

There’s a new, safer bridge being built over Indian Creek that will bring traffic into Vevay from the west in a more safe fashion. Visitors from the north will one day be able to navigate down State Road 129 more easily; and for those going across the previously mentioned Markland Dam bridge, a new connector road will grant them easier access to Interstate 71.

Revenue sharing from Belterra Casino Resort and Spa has allowed county government to make infrastructure improvements, from paving roads and replacing bridges to the construction of a new county jail and an expansion of the Switzerland County Courthouse. Belterra itself continues to draw people into the county to spend their money, creating more revenue sharing opportunities and more possibilities for growth.

The county has hired Jon Bond to lead the development of economic growth both short-term and long-term here. He brings a unique blend to his job, having grown up here and also having served at the very top levels of state government. His contacts and expertise will prove invaluable in the coming months and years.

All of this almost brings me to make the comment that Switzerland County stands on the verge of unprecedented potential for growth.

Almost — but not quite.

The cycle brings those feelings of a pending growth spurt for the county around every so many years, but very rarely have any of those feelings given birth to true growth.

Switzerland County is following a national trend of losing its industrial base. Gone are the “factory jobs” that formed the core of economic stability here and in other communities around the country, and in its place we find a growth in service industry jobs — many of which carry lower wages and few benefits.

Growing up near Richmond, Indiana, I watched my father get up early every morning and head to work at the Wayne Works bus factory. I remember as a child seeing the outside lots filled with rows of bright yellow school buses as far as the eye could see. I grew up with kids whose fathers also worked in that factory; and we had good lives because of it.

My dad had friends who were proud of the work that they did, taking seriously their charge to provide safe transportation for children getting back and forth to school. They also built ambulances and other vehicles at different times, and no matter what they were building, none of them were ashamed to put their name on it when completed.

Richmond also had Alcoa Aluminum and Johns-Manville and other factories that provided thousands of good, solid jobs. Nearby in Connersville the Ford plant did the same for those folks; and over in Hagerstown the Dana plant put food on many tables.

I remember then that the core of life in East Central Indiana was the industry that fueled the economy — but now much of that is gone, leaving people to try and retrain or relocate to other areas.

Monday is Labor Day, and as we approach that national holiday where we pay homage to the American worker, I think it’s only fair that we also acknowledge that he or she doesn’t exist any longer as they once did. If the American factory worker was an animal, he would undoubtedly be on the endangered species list by now.

But here in Switzerland County we see things happening and we get excited and we dare to dream that maybe all of these improvements will bring new jobs and new industry to this area.

Unfortunately there are no longer large numbers of small and medium-sized industries out there looking for a new home. If they hint that they are, the town they’re currently in jumps to make sure that they stay right were they are.

Maybe new bridges and straighter roads and new highway access will bring economic growth and needed jobs.

That’s what everyone said 30 years ago as they cut the ribbon to begin the construction of the Markland Dam bridge. Who knows? Maybe they were ahead of their time.