The Herald Bulletin

November 26, 2012

Editorial: Economic development must ... must ... must be diversified

— An echo is the repetition of a sound, or the re-sounding of a previous event. And signs indicate that Echo Automotive, the “new” company that has set up shop at the Flagship Enterprise Center, is truly an “echo” of Bright Automotive.

You remember Bright? That’s the company that planned to manufacture plug-in hybrid service vans. After failing to secure a $450 million federal loan to start production, Bright folded in February. You might also recall that Bright, despite our community’s best efforts, jilted Anderson for Michigan when it came time to lay plans for research, development and production.

So, it’s only natural that local citizenry regard Echo with a jaundiced eye. The company, heretofore based in Arizona, wants to produce battery kits to refit service fleet vans to run on electricity. Echo, which has already set up shop in the space formerly occupied by Bright and employs former Bright executives, employs 12 people now, and hopes to add 10 more by March, when production is scheduled to begin.

Echo’s plans are quite modest, compared to the thousands that Bright aimed to employ.

This isn’t to say that Echo might not be a good thing for Anderson. It’s only to say that we should proceed with caution, given the community’s experience with Bright — not to mention the auto industry in general over the past few decades.

Echo very well might be a part of the growing momentum of economic development in Anderson this year. The city has announced at least 10 new employers who are committed to bringing, collectively, more than 1,000 jobs to the community. But we haven’t seen many of those jobs yet, so there is reason for caution here, too.

Thankfully, these prospective jobs would create a variety of products, some unrelated to the auto industry. While Madison County can certainly capitalize on local experience in producing auto parts, what we really need is diversification of our economic development portfolio.

Otherwise, we’re just echoing an automotive past that is never ... never ... never coming back.