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Progress And Promise For A Town Once In Crisis

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Progress And Promise For A Town Once In Crisis

Progress And Promise For A Town Once In Crisis

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Getting political consensus and making practical progress can be hard work for the mayor of any city. And we turn next to our series taking a look at how cities are being run in this challenging economy. NPR's Noah Adams met the mayor of Marion, Indiana.

NOAH ADAMS: Wayne Sebold is a Republican, 47 years old, now in his second term. His city, Marion, is in north-central Indiana - 30,000 people who've been through a tough economy. But now, on a drive-around in the mayor's car, you can see progress, the promise.

Here's a small example: Seybold's wife is from San Francisco, and she's been looking for a certain reassurance.

WAYNE SEBOLD: You know, she'd tell me, if we don't get a Starbucks, I'm leaving. So we went after Starbucks pretty hard, and there they are. And it's one of the top performing stores in the region.

ADAMS: The town is happy that a Kohl's department store is coming. People will see the mayor shopping in the grocery store and say, when are we going to get a Target, a Texas Roadhouse, a Panera? Marion, Indiana believes brand names help bring factories. The mayor says it's a holistic approach to job creation.

SEBOLD: You know, it's so expensive to take your family to a sporting event, or to a Broadway-type show, or those types of things, that a lot of us have replaced entertainment with eating out and shopping.

ADAMS: And this is always a stop on the mayor's tour - it's the Splash House.


ADAMS: The mayor said let's spend $5 million on a water park in town. We'll enjoy it and be proud of ourselves.

The next morning I went to Wayne Sebold's house to watch an ice skating video. The mayor's three young boys were waiting out front.

Unidentified Child: Welcome into our house.

SEBOLD: Come on in, guys. This is Joey. He's blind. He won't you hurt you.

ADAMS: I met Joey the dog, and Wayne's wife, Jennifer, and we turned on the television to see some of the 1988 Olympic Winter Games - Wayne Seybold with his sister Kim skating in Calgary.

SEBOLD: This was our long program at the Olympic Games.

ADAMS: Does that seem real that that's you on the television?

SEBOLD: No. That's about 35 pounds ago.


ADAMS: After the Olympics, Seybold spent a few years putting ice shows together. And he knew he wanted a small-town Indiana family life and soon he moved back home to Marion. He'd grown up here in a trailer park, the south side, the factory side of town. And right here is the spot where a new economic dream was born.

SEBOLD: This is probably the most blighted building and property we have in Marion today, and it's one of those old reminders of kind of where we were as a city.

ADAMS: It's now a mostly empty, huge factory that once made tube television sets. Seybold was the new mayor in the spring of 2004 when this place shut down.

SEBOLD: Nine hundred and eighty people on that day lost their job. They came to work and the doors were locked.

ADAMS: The mayor helped his city decide - it was time to go after new, diverse industries, offer land and buildings almost free, and really pay attention to the companies you've already got.

When General Motors started laying off workers and turning off lights in several states, Seybold said don't shut down your Marion stamping plant and we'll get tax breaks to help you expand. The doors stayed open. The expansion meant 500 new jobs.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

ADAMS: Quite often in the City Hall conference rooms, you can hear Chinese. These men are in the furniture business. Mayor Seybold had first met them on one of his seven trips to China. Now they're setting up in an old K-Mart building. The mayor wants to sell and live in a city that is itself a good business model.

Marion's unemployment rate is down. So is the city payroll, down a hundred people - and that's by attrition. The mayor has cut the budget and balanced the books.

SEBOLD: We didn't have an IT department, now we do. We were doing all the trash, now we don't.

ADAMS: The IT folks found the city was paying for a hundred phone lines it didn't need. And the trash? Now it's privatized.

SEBOLD: We have 22 parks in our system. Well, we don't need 22 parks. We're selling parks.

ADAMS: Selling parks, giving them away, so you won't have to go around and mow all that grass. The goal is five big parks - parks that people drive to.

SEBOLD: Years ago you had to have a neighborhood park in every neighborhood because people walked, but it's a different world today. And I think that's what you have to do with the federal government.

ADAMS: As for Washington, Mayor Wayne Seybold wants sharper thinking, less regulation, although he has managed to put four million federal dollars to work. Building a new water system helped Marion bring in 150 million in business development.

Noah Adams, NPR News.

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