Caught in Muncie
By Rick Yencer
MUNCIE, IN - Nothing retired news man Richard Longworth said Monday about the Midwest and globalization was more compelling than a couple sentences he wrote about Muncie four years ago in his book, "Caught in the Middle."
He quoted a nameless analyst then, probably a college instructor like Larry Riley who never got a master's degree, who said about Muncie, "There's a malaise here. A defeatist attitude. People have been so beat down by layoffs, they've lost the will...There's a lack of leadership. Indiana people seem to be content to be mediocre people living in mediocre cities."
That was four years ago when former Mayor Sharon McShurley, an outsider and reformer, first took office. Muncie Community Schools brought another outsider from Chicago, Eric King to run public schools. Today, Dennis Tyler, a veteran Muncie firefighter and former state lawmaker is mayor. Tim Heller, a Muncie schools institution who took a break to teach in Kentucky, is back running schools.
Longworth, product of globalization himself, is in Muncie this week talking about yesterday's news of factory closings, people leaving town, and public universities being taken over by big corporations and struggling with immigrants in the Midwest. Longworth was a veteran writer for the Chicago Tribune and was a foreign corespondent until big media like the Tribune, Times and Post ditched or downsized their foreign desks.
It was an attempt by the Muncie Action Plan group and their helpers like the university, Community Foundation and Ball Brothers Foundation to remind Muncie again that globalization is here to stay and people, particularly youth need to adapt or move on. Well some students did move on right after Longworth's speech, read from notes ended.
Others stayed around in a near capacity crowd to engage the old news man and even ask him autograph his book that some church leaders and other intellectuals panned as old news and irrelevant in 2012.
Longworth said tell the crowd to think and act globally as big corporations and Wall Street does. John Deere, Caterpillar, that just opened a Progress Rail plant locally, and Apple, that produces iPhones and iPads by slave labor in China, all operate in a global market.
The brave new world as Longworth put it dug at the heart of America, namely the Midwest that is the heart of manufacturing and food production for the entire world. That grasp has eroded with even General Motors and Ford looking to Mexico and Canada besides the Third World for cheap labor to build cars.
That is while the European Union is growing stronger with Germany leading in renewable energy and technology while the Far East like China is building its new capitalist word especially in southern provinces along with those billions in India have handle calls, communication and other technology needs.
So what's left for Muncie and the Midwest to do?
Longworth said think and act globally, whether with education, employment or life. And make sure that good old know how and ingenuity can make a career that will sustain life in the next generation.
Dale Mendenhall, longtime Methodist administrator and pastor at High Street United Methodist Church, reminded Longworth on Sunday that God did not create people to be mediocre. "He said you were very good."
Some 700 strong Methodists at High Street, an institution for 175 years in Muncie, also wonder why community leaders want youth to hear from an old news man and a four year old attempt at another Middletown study when so much as changed.
Muncie now is home to the North American locomotive maker, Progress Rail while Yorktown has the North American headquarters of Brevini Wind, a wind turbine manufacturer. There also that world known Bell Aquaculture fish farm near Albany that will soon be the largest perch producer in the world. And don't forget that Garfield the Cat still does business near Albany and BSU now has the world's largest geothermal heating and cooling system in the world.
Longworth hopefully can write a postscript from his Muncie visit that worldwide happenings still occur in Muncie despite a 10 percent unemployment and nearly a fifth of Muncie residents and their children in poverty. At least Muncie and Yorktown schools are on break this week, and only BSU, Ivy Tech and Muncie Library patrons have to hear Longworth's old news.