Ohio Scoreboard Company Down But Not Out A business in Ohio that produces scoreboards for high schools now finds itself in the cross hairs of the recession. The owner says schools are putting off purchases that aren't essential, and the advertisers that help pay for the scoreboards are also short on cash. But in Ohio and elsewhere, people haven't given up hope.
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Ohio Scoreboard Company Down But Not Out

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Ohio Scoreboard Company Down But Not Out

Ohio Scoreboard Company Down But Not Out

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Last week, NPR began what we're calling our own 100 Days Project. Correspondent David Greene is on the road, talking with Americans about the recession and how it's affecting families, businesses and communities. He'll be traveling throughout President Obama's first 100 days. David's driving south on Interstate 75, and he has this report from Exit 52, Dayton, Ohio.

DAVID GREENE: When I drove from Michigan into Ohio last week, the bad economic news kept coming on the radio: new layoffs, more foreclosures, and struggling public schools.

Unidentified Woman #1: This is the most important speech Governor Ted Strickland has ever delivered.

GREENE: Ohio's Democratic governor was giving his State of the State speech. He said no one is going to be spared.

Governor TED STRICKLAND (Democrat, Ohio): I must ask all Ohioans to accept the sacrifices these times demand.

GREENE: As Strickland gave that warning, I was on my way to meet a guy who's feeling the ripples from this recession. His name is Bob Westerfield. We met when he was snowmobiling up in Michigan, and he invited me to come see him again when I made it south to Dayton. He works in an industrial complex off I-75.

How are you?

Mr. BOB WESTERFIELD (Owner, Side Effects): Great.

GREENE: A little warmer than snowmobile country.

Mr. WESTERFIELD: A lot warmer.

GREENE: Bob owns a company called Side Effects. They make scoreboards for high schools. He wanted to take me to a basketball game so I could see one of his scoreboards in action, but a foot of snow canceled every game around. Knowing how to satisfy a radio reporter, Bob played some sound and video of a recent game on his computer.

Mr. WESTERFIELD: Here at Springboro High School, Jake takes couple of steps and slams it home. You can see the scoreboard on the east wall in this video. On this scoreboard, happens to be River Valley Credit Union, Wayside Collision and Cub Foods.

GREENE: Bob's style of scoreboards has those banner ads that scroll every minute or so from one local company to another. There's an ad for pizza, then flip to the ad for the bank, and so on. Side Effects has grown. Bob now does scoreboards around the country.

Mr. WESTERFIELD: I don't know if there's a better way to state that, I am this city or this community's business, than being on the high school scoreboard. I mean, you can't get much more American pie than that.

GREENE: And for years, Bob made that pie, and everybody got a piece. Here's how the company works. Side Effects gets money from advertisers, and they build a scoreboard. Usually five, maybe $10,000 are left over, and the company splits the profit with the school district. Now, Bob's trying to hold on to that feel-good mission, but he's also in the crosshairs. He says he's not in danger of losing his business, but he's feeling the pinch. He's beginning to get calls he never got before, especially banks, Realtors, car dealerships. They can't come up with the money they owe for their ads.

Mr. WESTERFIELD: We had a Realtor up in Grand Haven, Michigan, that said the same thing: I just can't afford it, that, you know, that due to some things, I can't afford it. Just take me off. Well, I can't just take you off. I mean, we bought this scoreboard with the idea we were going to get your money.

GREENE: And on the other side of the business, there are the schools. Especially in Ohio, but elsewhere, too, public schools are cash-strapped. April Bellar works at Side Effects, and has been hearing from schools demanding their slice of the pie ahead of schedule.

Ms. APRIL BELLAR (Employee, Side Effects): My calls from schools are probably up 70 percent, where athletic directors are just panicking, asking, where's my revenue share? Where's my revenue share?

GREENE: April says when she got here in 2004, schools usually called to thank her for the new scoreboard in the gym.

Ms. BELLAR: It was the only job I'd ever had where everyone won.

GREENE: Because advertisers aren't paying or are paying late, Side Effects' cash flow is down by around 20 percent. What's more, Bob Westerfield knows his company is a gauge of the recession. He sees, every day, how desperate schools are for money. And he feels it when a business is short on money or worse, closes, leaving an ad behind on a scoreboard.

Mr. WESTERFIELD: I'm age 51, and I've never lived through times like this.

GREENE: Bob says he doesn't know when these times will end, but he says he's hopeful President Obama will figure out a way to lift the country out of recession. We should say Bob's a Republican, and was no fan of Mr. Obama in the campaign. But…

Mr. WESTERFIELD: I'm not only willing to give him a chance, I want to give him a chance.

GREENE: And so do other people. When I began this trip in Michigan and Ohio, I expected to hear a lot of despair, and it's out there. But I've also heard a lot of people who are muddling through, keeping faith, even laughing. Here are a few of the people I've met during this first week, starting with a guy named Shane Bailey, who lost his job and doesn't know how he'll pay the rent.

Mr. SHANE BAILEY: All my friends, even though we're probably in our late 20s, early 30s, they're all basically living together like a bunch of frat houses.

GREENE: Are you ready for that if you had to do it?

Mr. Bailey: Oh, yeah.

Ms. JOANNE UMBRASAS: One of the things we always laugh about up here, in the upper peninsula of Michigan, of course, is that we're economically depressed all the time, so we didn't know there was a problem.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ALI AL-HALMI (Owner, Lafayette Coney Hot Dog Island Restaurant): Nothing you can do. I mean, we just wait for the better day. We pray for good day coming. That's all.

GREENE: After Shane, that was Joanne Umbrasas of Sault Saint Marie, Michigan, and then Ali Al-Hami, who owns the Lafayette Coney Island Hot Dog Restaurant in downtown Detroit. Over and over again, I heard people say they're not giving up hope - at least, not yet.

Now it's on to Kentucky and Tennessee. I'm driving south from Dayton tonight.

Unidentified Woman #2: Snow on Monday into Tuesday as well, as temperatures stay below freezing. A big storm could be…

GREENE: Or maybe not.

I'm David Greene, NPR News.

SIEGEL: And you can follow David's trip on our Web site, and offer suggestions for stories along the way, at npr.org/100days.

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