Special Report: Navistar Jobs May Not Be Leaving Fort Wayne Anytime Soon

By Brien McElhatten

June 18, 2010 Updated May 26, 2010 at 7:04 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana's NewsCenter) - Mayor Tom Henry has called it his biggest challenge this year- keeping 1,000 high paying Navistar jobs from leaving the Summit City. While he faces an uphill battle, the trail seems to be leveling out, at least for now.

That's because of a fierce debate 200 miles away in Lisle, Illinois, where Navistar leaders wanted to consolidate their resources into a new global headquarters.

That plan is now off.

"There is a small group that doesn't want us in Lisle for whatever reason and are misrepresenting Navistar and many of our supporters," wrote Navistar Chairman, President and CEO Daniel Ustian in a letter to Lisle's Mayor.

That small group has claimed a victory against one of the nations top truck makers, and as a result, have saved jobs in Fort Wayne at least for now.

Opponents in Lisle were concerned about the site Navistar had chosen to become their new headquarters. It's a 1.1 million square foot office building formerly home to Alcatel Lucent, which Navistar officials planned to renovate and expand. Their plans called for the addition of a diesel testing facility that would put the company's engines through their paces.

Many residents were upset. They were concerned about the site's footprint.

"Right now we're concerned about the air quality that might be coming out of the diesel testing facility. We're concerned about the tax issue, some of the economic issues," said Julie Schnell, a resident who lives in an upscale neighborhood just yards from the site.

In response, Navistar scaled down their plans and environmental impact studies showed the air quality would not be adversely affected by engine testing, but that wasn't enough to satisfy opponents.

City leaders considered turning the area into a tax incremental finance, or TIF district. The move would allow tax dollars to be used to help offset Navistar's renovation and expansion costs.That rubbed opponents the wrong way.

Navistar leaders continued to work with residents, even spending evenings in a series of seven hour long public hearings. On May 25th, Navistar had enough of the controversy, telling the village's mayor they were "pulling back."

Now company leaders will re-work their consolidation plans.

They are eying alternative sites in Alabama and North Carolina, which offer easy access to major ports and cheap labor. Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry thinks this might be an opportunity to not only save Fort Wayne jobs, but expand them.

"I think right now we're probably at that critical stage where we need to let Navistar know that we can offer them everything we can possibly offer," said Henry.

While city and county officials won't disclose the incentives they are offering Navistar, a major accounting firm is supporting their case.

A report from Earnst and Young shows consolidating operations in Fort Wayne would save Navistar $30.1 million. Labor costs, fuel prices and tax rates are all lower in Allen County. The cost of living is significantly less than Lisle or DuPage County, Illinois as well. But company leaders tell Indiana's NewsCenter they never considered Fort Wayne a viable location for their global headquarters.

Not so fast say company leaders.

They would have to build new facilities which incur massive costs not addressed in the Earnst and Young report, and moving the majority of their personnel, who already work in the Chicago area would be cost prohibitive as well.

In the end, Navistar's change of plans may only delay the inevitable, but 1,000 engineering jobs in Fort Wayne are safe for now. In the meantime, Mayor Henry and economic development officials say they will continue their talks with Navistar in hopes of a happy ending.

"The main focus is keeping the jobs and expanding as best we can," said John Urbahns, Fort Wayne Director of Community Development."Fort Wayne is the most cost effective place for them to do their work and we'd like to see them grow here."

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