How Gary, Ind., Hopes To Soften Its Steely Image This city has been welded to the steel industry since 1906. But now Gary is embracing medicine, education and tourism with dreams of becoming more like Pittsburgh, which has already undergone a transformation, shedding its Steel City image and moving toward becoming a high-tech center.
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How Gary, Ind., Hopes To Soften Its Steely Image

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How Gary, Ind., Hopes To Soften Its Steely Image

How Gary, Ind., Hopes To Soften Its Steely Image

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MIKE PUENTE: Im Mike Puente at the main entrance of U.S. Steels Gary Works in Gary, Indiana. This is a gritty Midwest town that is trying to embrace some of Pittsburghs lessons, but is still very much involved in making steel.

Jim Robinson says Garys dependence on steel isnt likely to change anytime soon.

Mr. JIM ROBINSON (Director, District Office, United Steelworkers): Garys future is obviously not ever going to be decoupled from U.S. Steel, simply because its a major part of the city and a major part of the citys tax base.

PUENTE: Robinson started his career in steel more than 40 years ago. Back then, finding a job at a local steel mill was easy as pie.

Mr. ROBINSON: Used to be you could walk up to the employment office, and theyd try and talk you into starting in the afternoon. Certainly not true today.

PUENTE: Robinson should know. He heads the district office in Gary for the United Steelworkers of America. Hes seen jobs at U.S. Steels Gary Works dwindle from 50,000 in the 1960s to just over 6,000 today. Robinson says the huge mill still produces seven million tons of raw steel each year, about the same as it used to but with far fewer workers.

While Gary tries to attract new industries, moving toward fields such as education and medicine, like in Pittsburgh may be difficult here because theres not much of a base to build on. But there are some signs that Gary is trying to follow Pittsburghs lead. A Chicago firm wants to build a $100 million data storage facility on an empty lot here.

Ben Clement, whose job is to attract new development to Gary, helped lure the company.

Mr. BOB CLEMENT: We definitely want to continue to embrace our industrial past. However, from a business perspective, we have to recognize that attracting or luring clean industries and high technology is going to be important to Garys growth and our future.

PUENTE: Dean Kaplan heads Public Financial Management of Philadelphia, and is working with Gary on its budget shortfall. Kaplan says while this city has assets to exploit, it needs to shift its thinking.

Mr. DEAN KAPLAN (Managing Director, Public Financial Management): Youre talking about making a major sea change in how places are perceived and really leveraging their assets in way that may not have been done in a long time.

PUENTE: Rudy Clay is mayor of Gary. He says the city is committed to diversifying its economic base and is trying to expand its underused airport. It also wants to expand its own local college, Indiana University Northwest, and increase tourism. One way to do that is to honor its most famous former resident.

(Soundbite of song, Shake Your Body)

Mr. MICHAEL JACKSON (Entertainer): (Singing) Let's dance. Let's shout. Shake your body down to the ground.

PUENTE: Thats right. Michael Jackson was born in Gary in 1958 and lived here until he was 10 years old.

Mr. JACKSON: (Singing) Shake your body down to the ground. Let's dance. Let's shout.

PUENTE: But Mayor Clay still sees U.S. Steel as this citys anchor and hes not too worried it will pull up anytime soon.

Mayor RUDY CLAY (Gary, Indiana): No, theyre not going anywhere. I think were going to continue to be good cooperative partners with U.S. Steel. They will be here.

PUENTE: Of course, steelworkers in Pittsburgh said the same thing three decades ago. But after all, when Gary was founded in 1906, it couldnt link its future to U.S. Steel anymore closely. It named itself after the companys first chairman, Elbert H. Gary.

For NPR News, Im Michael Puente.

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