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Published: Friday, 5/22/2009

City leaders hopeful after visit of auto point man

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Ed Montgomery, the federal director of recovery for auto communities and workers, surveys a hybrid car during his visit. Ed Montgomery, the federal director of recovery for auto communities and workers, surveys a hybrid car during his visit.
THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner walked out after a tour of the Toledo Jeep Assembly complex yesterday afternoon not with millions of dollars in federal grants to save the struggling city, but with the next best thing: a fistful of federal business cards.

The cards came from the entourage trailing Ed Montgomery, the federal director of recovery for auto communities and workers, or ''car czar,'' as he visited Toledo to hear about economic devastation left locally from the collapse of the North American auto industry.

High-level representatives from more than a dozen different federal agencies and departments accompanied Mr. Montgomery on his visit to Toledo, each with a mandate to help where they could.

"I'm not sure that we have ever had a more powerful group of individuals from Washington, D.C., descend upon us for one afternoon in a long time," Mayor Finkbeiner said.

Asked if the conversations he had with officials overseeing various federal grant and stimulus programs might lead to the rehiring of 75 police officers laid off this month because of the city's $21 million budget deficit, the mayor responded: "It looks good."

Ed Montgomery tours the Toledo Jeep Assembly plant as part of his visit to Toledo. He said he s aware of how the auto industry s collapse affects more than just assembly plant workers. Ed Montgomery tours the Toledo Jeep Assembly plant as part of his visit to Toledo. He said he s aware of how the auto industry s collapse affects more than just assembly plant workers.
THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This Photo

For his part, Mr. Montgomery, a former dean at the University of Maryland who worked as deputy secretary of labor under President Clinton, toured the Toledo Jeep factory and met with dozens of local officials.

Unlike most of his visits to other hard-hit autocentric communities since his appointment by President Obama in March, Mr. Montgomery did not meet with local laid-off workers. However, he did stress that both he and the President understood that the auto industry's collapse affected far more than just workers on the assembly plant floor.

"I am always struck by both the human dimension of what's been happening, the extent of the job loss, the fact that both what happens in an [auto manufacturer] affects them but also affects the supplier base that supports them, affects industries from construction to plastics to rubber to steel, and how it trickles out across the community to affect the diner and the restaurant," he said.

"I'm also struck by the incredible resilience and dedication of the community, how people have pulled together, labor and management, the state officials and the congressional delegation are all unified and very determined to not only weather this current crisis but trying to build a strong base for the future."

Mr. Montgomery talked about an additional $50 million in federal assistance now available to auto-centric communities like Toledo to retrain workers for jobs in more environmentally friendly industries, such as renewable energy. The Obama Administration announced the program yesterday.

"This is but one piece," Mr. Montgomery explained. "We recognize that we need to one, preserve the industry, make sure that we keep these companies in business, make them strong and make them competitive."

In addition to touring Chrysler LLC's Jeep complex - dark and largely unoccupied during an extended shutdown caused by the automaker's bankruptcy filing April 30 - Mr. Montgomery met scores of local officials at the Toledo Central Union Terminal to listen to their assessment of the region's current economic shape.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, (D., Toledo), who hosted Mr. Montgomery's visit, used the opportunity to decry the nation's trade policies and said the ongoing crippling of manufacturing in the nation was hurting national security.

"From a defense standpoint, if you really wanted to hurt America, you would merely take an aircraft and bomb all along I-75 from Detroit down to Tennessee, and you would literally have destroyed the economic spine of our country," Miss Kaptur said.

While neither of Mr. Montgomery's events in Toledo were open to the public - or to the thousands locally without a job - those who advocate for them took some hope from the delegation's visit.

"The most positive thing I'm hearing is that everyone is basically saying the same thing from different perspectives," said Mike Veh, work-force development manager at The Source, Lucas County's one-stop center to help the unemployed.

"We've got to make changes that are functional in the way things have done. We can't continue to move forward the way we always have, and it's time for a change."

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:

lvellequette@theblade.com

or 419-724-6091.



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