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Editorial: Company, union work together for plant's success

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The 2 millionth Ram pickup truck engine built by Cummins Inc. for Chrysler group is a milestone in a number of respects.

It certainly is reflective of the long-standing relationship between the two companies. Cummins has been producing Ram engines for more than 20 years, beginning with assembly at the plant in Rocky Mount, N.C.

While production began in North Carolina, the majority of the 2 million engines produced so far have been assembled at the Midrange Engine Plant near Walesboro. That facility is another success story in the history of Cummins Inc.

Opened in 1970 as a state-of-the-art production facility for assembly of the company’s heavy-duty engines, the Walesboro plant enjoyed initial success. That success extended over most of the following 16 years but began to tail off in the mid-1980s. By 1986, company executives were forced to make a painful decision — shut down Walesboro production.

Former Cummins Inc. Chairman Jim Henderson described as “the worst day in his life” the day when he had to tell the Walesboro workers that the company would cease operations there.

The plant, still bearing its ultra-modern appearance, sat empty from 1987 to 1991. The company explored a variety of options for its use — from outright sale to demolition.

Fortunately, there were no buyers at the time, and leveling the structure was simply too painful a step. Redemption came in 1991 when Cummins officials announced the Walesboro operation would reopen the next year to produce midrange diesel engines.

It was not entirely a decision based on sentiment.

The company had considered a number of other potential locations before settling on reopening its plant in Bartholomew County. Key to the decision was a collaboration among Cummins, the Diesel Workers Union and the state of Indiana that provided a number of incentives for the company to stay in Indiana.

Looking back on it several years later, Henderson noted that “the real key to reopening Walesboro was the Diesel Workers Union. They took a huge risk at the time because we were setting up a two-tier wage system. We also were able to adopt more flexible work rules with their help.”

That attitude, coupled with state incentives such as training grants, resulted in the reopening of Walesboro in 1992.

Just more than a decade later in 2003, the 1 millionth Ram engine rolled off the Walesboro assembly line. It took less than a decade from that point to reach the 2 million mark.

For that, a lot of people can take credit.

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